ARCTIC SEA ICE —Northwest Passage Luxury Liner All Booked Up—

Luxury Liner 733

“1,700 passengers and crew” and an icebreaker to clear the way.  This is the holiday for me!

“Prices for the journey aboard the 14-deck luxury liner start at nearly $22,000 rising to $120,000 for a deluxe stateroom – and this year’s cruise is sold out, according to the company.”

Oh…well…who the heck wants to go up there, anyway.

In the wake of that ship will be the gray-water waste of 1,700 people, but in the bow people will clasp their hands and go on and on about how folk like me harm the environment, by staying home and working. Or…that’s what my somewhat grumpy imagination is thinking.

Guess who will be working as tour guides?

“Ice pilots, polar bear researchers, and veterans of other Arctic expeditions will be aboard to ensure passengers’ safety and to protect the local wildlife, environment and customs, the company said.”  (They may not call themselves “tour guides”, but I’m green with envy, so I do.) (I suppose that, if you love the arctic, you will do anything to avoid getting a Real Job down south.)

I sure hope nothing goes wrong. The big city of Nome, Alaska has only 18 hospital beds.

LOCAL VIEW –Sunny Gales–

The map shows the storm blowing up just after it passed us, to the right edge of the map.

20160329 satsfc

We got a drenching as the storm passed over New England in a weaker state, but today was dryer, and the wind hurried the drying, and the sky was soon filled with hurrying clouds. In fact there was something hurried in the air, though it wasn’t exactly hectic. At first the buffeting wind made you flinch, due to the winter-like cold, but the sun was soon high and the cold relented.

The children at the Farm-childcare are basically nuts. They have spring in their veins. As a so-called “Child Care Professional” (IE Babysitter) I attend state-ordained classes and learn a fair amount about how X, Y and Z make children hyper, but few remember the effect of spring. It is definitely a power all its own, and felt by the elders as well.

A few days ago a small boy happened to have an odometer attached to his belt as he got off the school-bus. Or, to be more scientific and precise, it is wrong to state he “got” off the bus. It is more accurate to say he “exploded” off the bus. I wouldn’t even let him indoors, except to use the bathroom, (and even that involved a brief time of pillaging and havoc amidst the smaller children). He is just the sort of a boy who should not be asked to sit at a desk for more than a half hour, and after six hours of first grade he needed to explode. He went racing about the playground, and the odometer measured his racing.  As a scientist I am sure I have whetted your interest. The boy covered 3.1 miles, in a fenced area about a third the size of a football field, in the 90 minutes he was with us before his parents arrived. (The widget on my cellphone (attached to my belt) tells me that today I walked 4,888 steps, or 2.38 miles.  And I’m expected to keep up with that boy!?)

He wasn’t the only one. He was one of eight who got off that bus, and all were equally berserk. I don’t pretend I have the ability to control that energy. Instead I dart about breaking up potential fights, a bit like a flea amidst a stampede of elephants. I happen to  be a very adept flea, but for the most part I set the children free, cursing beneath my breath about the school system that constrains them all day. I am of the opinion that six-year-old first-graders learn more running free than they do sitting constrained.

In a day at school a kid likely learns some six or seven one-word answers to questions. That doesn’t add up to a single conversation.

When they are all running about berserk I have to monitor their wild conversations. I don’t think there is any odometer that measures the mileage their conversations cross, but it is huge. Stick an elder in that mix, and maybe they can learn a bit more than that Concord is the capital of New Hampshire.  One rowdy boy, who was incapable of learning even that tedious fact in school, learned Concord is the capital of New Hampshire from me, for it somehow came up in the zany conversations.

Another boy, who back in politically incorrect times we would have called a “cry-baby”, surprised me by  laughing for an hour straight. He ran about with the others laughing in a way he couldn’t control, which was nearly sobbing at times, but never involved tears. I thought to myself that I could not think of a better example of spring in a child’s veins. (I will admit that laughing so much utterly exhausted him, and he eventually began sniveling, but even then laughter kept intruding. He just seemed tired.)

And that is on a dull day. On a day like today, when the wind is roaring and the sun is flashing in and out of purple clouds,  and the entire trunks of the pines are swaying, the berserk become berserker.  Nothing is stable, when the spots of sun slide over the earth with cloud-shadows at their heels, until you feel you are standing atop the energy of a Star Trek “transporter beam.”

Today’s spring gales mixed sunshine with purple
And entire trees swayed. Winter was mixed
With Spring, and yet dancing Spring had her full
Battle dress on. Her roving eyes were fixed
On you only a moment, yet white heat
Blushed like a boy. Then cloud-shadows hurtled
The sliding distance and purple gloaming beat
Against dented eyes. Exposed, then turtled
With armor of wool, and then again lured
Out, the roaring sunshine’s buffeting
Confused the staid, and yet completely cured
The dullard; and the mute learned how to sing,
And the sane saw it’s not bad being mad,
And grouches bit lips, to avoid looking glad.

ARCTIC SEA ICE —Barneo 2016 begun–

After some nervous discussions about not having a North Pole Base base this year, the Russians have apparently begun work on it.

Irina Orlova: Ice floe found for Barneo 2016 expedition


Ms Orlova, on March 18, two helicopters flew to find an ice floe on which the Barneo camp can be built. Did they find it?

I’ve just spoken with the head of the helicopter crew Yevgeny Bakalov who said they are going to drop equipment on a new floe. I don’t yet know its precise location but it’s about 70 km from the pole.

What kind of an ice floe can accommodate the camp?

A camp primarily needs a runway — 1,200 meters long and no less than 40 meters wide. It is pitched near the runway. So, an ice floe should be at least two kilometers long. Last year we found a very good ice floe, about five to three kilometers.

How do you deliver equipment for building a camp?

When a befitting ice floe is found, an IL-76 flies from Murmansk and delivers two tractors to it. They even out the runway where an AN-74 will deliver equipment. This is a technical flight and it carries an employee who approves the runway. Then the expedition center’s team begins building a camp. Some materials for the camp are just dropped while others are carried by next flights.

More to be found here:

No word yet about the planting of the North Pole Camera.

Local View –A choir of quackers–

Spring is way ahead of last year, for we have already heard our first quacker frogs. I heard them on March 24, and brought a small child who moved up here from Arizona to the side of the road to hear them. Last year I first heard them on April 16, and I remember there was still a bit of ice on the north side of the pond where I heard them.

They are not as shrill and overpowering as spring peepers, which is the first frog most notice. The quackers are more subtle, and when a car goes sighing by on the road the car drowns out the sound of them. In fact our Childcare usually drowns out the sound of them, which is why I brought the small girl to listen alone. If you bring many children they are too loud, and if you bring the dog it charges ahead and all you see is many ripples in the pools.

The quackers actual name is “wood frog”, but that is rather a drab name for an amazing critter. They can be frozen, and then come back to life. I can’t, though I’ve come close, and I always appreciate those who can outdo me, even if they are just a frog.

When I was younger I called them “banjo frogs”, (before I learned real banjo frogs live in Australia). The sound of their voices is somewhere between a banjo and a quacking duck. However all recordings I found make them sound much louder than they actually are.

Their entire strategy seems to be: To be done with the entire business of reproducing before the rest of the animal community knows what hit them. They breed in forest melt-water pools that are often dry by the end of May. Their eggs hatch into tadpoles that hop off as frogs in a matter of days. However in order to do this they have to be right in the woods, so they skip the bother of burrowing in the mud at the bottom of ponds to hibernate. They burrow down in the forest floor and allow themselves to be frozen solid. Or, actually, not quite solid. The center of their bodies contains some sort of natural antifreeze and never entirely freezes (or, if it does, they don’t survive.) If you’re interested, there is a fairly good post here:

And there is a melodramatic PBS YouTube video (with the overdone PBS music) showing a quacker thawing out here:

However in the actual woods there is no PBS music. Thank heavens. There is just the silence of a sunny day, with the forest floor brilliant as the closest thing to shade is the swamp maples, barely beginning to bud.Swamp Maples IMG_2154And on the sunny forest floor is what is barely more than a puddle, reflecting the sky. Wood Frogs IMG_2157And from that water you suddenly hear the soft, strange sound of something utterly unlike PBS music. It is reminiscent of a duck playing the banjo, however, as you’ve never heard a duck play the banjo, it a music unto itself, so soft that if the wind stirs leaves and sighs in the pines it can be drowned out. But when the wind quiets the sound stirs something in you, and you too are awakened. And it is then you cannot stay quiet, are inspired to write words to drown out the PBS music.

Before the geese make eyes wild by calling,
Before the first bluebirds make soft hearts weep,
Before spring’s strength is enthralling
The brown woods stir from their long, frozen sleep
And a strange music plucks from new, black mud
And ripples the waters of forest pools.

Too quiet to surge ones long unstirred blood
And too quaint to make austere men be fools
It is a background to a bright prophecy
Like a quiet herb in a warm mother’s love-soup.

I take a small child to hear it with me;
To watch her face, as time loops the loop
And see as she sees life’s not forsaking
The bleak; Instead the bleak are awaking.

LOCAL VIEW –The arrival of Robins–

(Photo credits: European Robin, (left)  Wivelsfield School @  and American Robin (right) Miss Young’s Art Room (1st graders) @ )

The first robin of spring is the subject of many poems and much folk lore, but is also the source of great misunderstanding between Europeans and  Americans, because we are talking about two totally different birds. One always needs to be careful, when dealing with symbols. After all, one man’s spider is a blood-sucking trapper, and is another man’s stringer of cobwebbed dewdrops at dawn.

The European’s fondness for robins may be due to the fact the little, pert birds like to hop about investigating the soil just behind a plow, and they are unafraid of humans and easy to tame. Before Christ they were said to be a favorite of the god Thor, and after Christ they were said to have been stained by Christ’s blood when they flew up to try to comfort Him on the cross, singing in His ear. That red breast was also said to be made redder because they took pity on souls in purgatory, and brought them water, and were burned by the fires.

American Robins don’t seem to have the same history and symbolic lore, but I refuse to get all competitive about it. I’ll merely mention our robins are twice as big, and can kick European robin’s butts any day.  Ours are edible, though we’ve become politically correct, (if not poetic), and not many people hunt them any more. Also European robins lay ugly brown eggs, while ours lay eggs of a beautiful sky  blue. Their robins are squeaky flycatchers, while ours are melodious thrushes, and John Keats never wrote poems about flycatchers. (What rhymes with flycatchers?) But I only mention this as scientific fact.

Anyway, our robins are back, and it is a great relief to me and a friend of mine, as we had noticed a scarcity. Usually a gang or two of American robins hang about all winter, usually in the swamps. They are so dull-looking that some once thought they were a separate species, and dubbed them “wood robins.” However they are just less dandied-up during the winter than they are when attempting to woo each other in the spring. (Just like humans.) They are also less polite. There is something about a gang of winter robins that hints at the mentality of a mob. However there were none to be seen last winter, despite the fact the winter was mild.

I figured that they had learned not to hang around after the previous winter, which was particularly brutal around here. I saw them in the swamps that winter, but not last winter. It makes no sense that a bird would hang around the north when the winter was bitter, and head south when it was mild. So I figured they decided they didn’t want to take the chance, and had headed south before winter even began. They all vanished during the final days of August

Some say birds can’t learn in this manner. They say birds follow “patterned behavior” and “imprint”. An example is that, when whooping cranes are raised by sandhill cranes (because the second egg of a whooping crane nest was placed in a sandhill nest, in an attempt to increase the population),  the young whoopers “imprinted” on sandhill parents, and became so convinced they were in fact sandhill cranes that they refused to mate with other whooping cranes.

I assert our robins are not so dumb as that, and it will be difficult to prove me wrong. (It is best to chose the high ground, if you decide to start a fight.) Others may assert there were no robins around this winter because the stay-north robins all froze, the prior winter. I just demand that they produce the corpses. They can’t, so I win.

However I was concerned by the lack of robins this spring, especially as both winter-robins, and the children at our farm-childcare, have a love of the withered apples on a crab apple in our pasture. The children, who will not touch good food prepared by loving mothers, like the apples because they are sour three degrees beyond inedible, and later, when they are too brown to eat, children like them because it is forbidden to pelt each other with them, and children are not known for always honoring rules. Withered Crab Apples IMG_1810

These crab apples are so amazingly sour that no bird will touch them all winter, even when snows are deep and famine makes foxes unfriendly. (Maybe they get sweeter after a winter’s worth of frost; I’ve never tried them once they turn brown.) Then, during the last week of March or first week of April, the robins descend.

The gang of robins is more like the Hell’s Angels than anything remotely poetic. For one thing, they don’t sound like thrushes, and just do a quick, clear chirp, their “alarm call”. For another thing, though no other bird has expressed the slightest interest in rotten apples, they chase other birds away. How the heck am I to write a “first robin of spring” poem about such unseemly behavior?  Consequentially, I never have.

I intend to make up for this shortcoming on my part, for, when I think of it, even among humans, spring is not noted as a season of good behavior.

This year, because I hadn’t seen a winter-robin all winter, I suddenly realized that this rowdy gang of birds was indeed a sign of spring, and, along with my friend, I worried about the chance something terrible had happened. As is often the case with worry, it was a waste of time, for yesterday a couple robins appeared, and today the entire gang descended.

During the summer robins are spread out, and chase each other from each others territories, so you seldom see more than two birds on a lawn. But today they were everywhere you looked. The pasture seemed covered with them, though I suppose there were only fifty at most, hopping here and flying there and chirping that alarm-call all over the place.

Robins arrive 1 IMG_2144

One slightly poetic thing they do, for no reason I can fathom, is to sometimes allow a few bluebirds to join their gang. It is likely sheer racism, as bluebirds are also thrushes. I hopefully looked about today, seeking a bluebird, because it is a heck of a lot easier to write a poem about a bluebird, than a pack of unruly robins. However there wasn’t a bluebird in sight. Robins arrive 2 IMG_2145

The crab apple tree is partially hidden by by the white object in the upper left of the picture above. That useless white object was erected for a wedding, and now sits there and gets in the way of my mowing, and makes people wonder if I’m some sort of Zen Buddhist. I’m not, nor are the first robins of spring.

They are in that crab apple tree and glutting themselves on the rotten fruit. I tried to take a picture, but few wildlife photographers run a Farm-childcare, and have a bunch of kids tagging along. Not that I want the kids to tag along, but small children have an amazing ability to see when adults are up to something interesting.

If I silently raised my camera to take a picture of a rare and endangered species, a child would bellow from far away, before I could frame and focus, “Whacha takin’ a pick-shoor uv?” Nor can I even get that far. Long before I even get close to the rare and endangered species, the children can tell, just by the way I’m walking, that there is something wonderful that they, (simply because they want to see it, and yell so loudly that they want to see it), will never see.

Unless…unless…I figure out a way to show them.

(As an aside, amazingly, we found a way to let small children see baby foxes outside their mother’s den, a couple of springs ago.   Even more amazingly, my amazing wife even got some pictures:      )

However there are times my wife’s brilliance seems to be the exception to the rule. The rule would be that if you want to take pictures of a landscape devoid of wildlife, run a Childcare.  And if you want to have photographic proof that robins never, never gorge themselves on rotton crab apples, walk in my shoes. I couldn’t get within fifty yards of that tree before the loud children scared the entire flock of robins, all chirping their loud alarm-calls, to the far side of the pasture.

So you can forget photographic evidence. You are going to have to trust me on this. There were a lot of greedy robins in that tree.

This brings me around to the conclusion that my mother didn’t raise me to be a wildlife photographer. She liked books, and I can only suppose she raised me to use something you are stuck with, when the camera doesn’t work:  Words.

I’d rather use a camera. A good picture of rowdy robins in a crab apple tree would be worth a thousand words. But it looks like I’m stuck with words, and must somehow compose a sonnet about how biker birds are a sign of sensitive spring.

(If there is a blank place below, it means I gave up.)

I don’t see what is so spring-like about
Robins. They arrive like a biker gang,
Chase winter birdsong away, and just shout
Their short, “Chirp! Chirp!” alarm-call. Give me the twang
And trill of red-winged blackbirds in the reeds
And I can thrill of spring. But these robins
Just bully about, and I have my needs:
My weepin’s; my wailin’s; and my sobbin’s.
Robins don’t understand poets like me.
They grub worms; then, worse than Adam and Eve,
They crab apples. So, unspiritually,
I hate them, and feel they only deceive…
…But then, after apples, they make poets blush
For they launch to treetops and sing like a thrush.



Camel startles child HAPPY

(I haven’t been able to find out who originally took this marvelous picture, in my searching of the web. They deserve credit. The timing is perfect. If anyone discovers who the original photographer was, please tell us in the comments below.)

(Apparently the photograph is from Mongolia. I bungled across the picture while researching the gloomy subject of the current Dzud in Mongolia, and it sure helped fight off my gloom.)

Sometimes intellectual arguments cannot reach us in the manner the above picture can. It is not that a picture is worth a thousand words; it is that no amount of words can persuade us to budge from a particular intellectual stance, for it not a matter of the head but of the heart. The word that describes being budged in this manner is “touched.” Our heart must be “touched”. The funny thing is that “touched” can mean “produce feelings of affection, gratitude, or sympathy in”, but (because it is beyond the intellect) it can also mean “slightly insane”.

My Dad had every reason to scowl
At the sun, but I was just a teen
And full of good advice. As round-eyed as an owl
I’d tell him that life was nice, for I’d seen
Sunny things. He’d then scowl at his son
But have to laugh. I’m not sure why. He’d say,
“A little bit of God is in everyone”,
And leave it at that, leaving me to pray
That I might understand how such a bitter
Man could beam, and be so spiritual,
Before I spoke my sermon. The glitter
I called proofs became strangely dull,
As the Dad who had been dark grew brighter.
My youth, and not my mind, was the enlighter.

Local View —Sap suckers—

If you linked to this post to learn about the woodpecker called a sapsucker, you can move on, because this post is about humans thirsting for the light after winter darkness, with that light seeming as vital to human survival as sap is to the buds of trees.

I am feeling elated about seeing another spring, mostly because I was downright maudlin in the autumn, and basically figured I’d be pushing up daisies by now. One of the benefits of being prone towards hypochondria is how darn good you feel when you don’t die.

One of the things I did last fall was to plant a mess of bulbs all over the place, thinking it was sweet of me to plant flowers I might never see, and that maybe I’d be fondly recalled when they came up and bloomed in unexpected places in the spring. In some cases I think it is the voles that are fond of me, as they got a free lunch, but here and there I can see a few starting to appear.  I’m glad to be here to see them.

We are not suppose to store up treasures here on earth, where moths can eat and rust can corrode, but rather we are advised to store up treasures in heaven. I’m not sure the tax collectors agree with that. They want us to sow so they can reap. At times I get fed up with them, for at times it seems doing the right thing is never a rewarding thing, here on earth. They have taxed my patience and taxed my philosophy, but I have seemed to come up with a bulletproof attitude in my old age. I know that, if I plant bulbs, the greedy will come to pick the flowers, but I also know where I have planted, and they don’t know about such things, for they don’t plant. They don’t know where to look. In many cases, by the time they register that flowers are blooming, and rush to pick them, the bloom is past its peak, and they wind up looking like ridiculous misers, hoarding withered flowers. I get my simple pleasures,  and they get to look like fools. I probably should pity them, but confess I do get a good laugh out of my way of looking at them, (even as they likely get a good laugh out of me).

In any case, considering I was not all that sure I’d be here, I’m getting a lot of joy from this spring.  It has occurred to me that a lot of the trees around here are my age, or even older, and this means I never planted them. I am the beneficiary of some one else, who I never knew, who planted them. In some cases it was a forgotten man, and in some cases it was a forgotten squirrel, or a wind I never knew blowing seeds through the air, but I do know it wasn’t me. I make sure to thank them.

I seem to be thanking a lot more than I used to, and am thankful even for the annoyance of this weather map and radar map:

20160321 satsfc 20160321 rad_ne_640x480

You can click these maps if you care to enlarge them, but they basically show a storm zipping up the coast of the USA, and giving us, on the first full day of spring, which happened to be a Monday and the start of a workweek, a picture like this:Spring Snow IMG_1976If you look at the picture you’ll notice signs that the driveway was hand-shoveled. I did it, which is pretty good for an old guy who thought he might be pushing up daisies by now. I just didn’t want the awful noise of the snow-blower, for only four inches of fluff. It was a joy to be out. When the drive was half done I mentioned, to an employee at the childcare, that I didn’t want to hog all the pleasure, and would trade jobs if she wanted to escape the kids and just enjoy the silence and beautifully white world. She jumped at the chance. It was a beautiful, brief time of whirling white.

At first the kids, who tend to only be half-wake when they arrive, only wanted to hear stories, or play with dolls or blocks, but soon they wanted out, and after the usual battle to dress them all, the silence outside was broken.

Sap 1 IMG_1981

However so high is the sun that by a little after lunch time the snow was shrinking, and the engineering of snowmen was downsized, because resources were shrinking and it was obvious they wouldn’t last long.

Sap 2 IMG_2068And so penetrating and brilliant was the sunlight that by afternoon the snow was completely gone by the south-facing wall, where the boys played with trucks (allowing us to clean the indoors before closing).Sap 3 IMG_2076

Of course the trees felt the sun, and the maple sap began flowing like gangbusters. My son, who has tapped 20 trees, can’t keep up, and now has 90 more gallons collected than he’s managed to boil on the back  porch.Sap 4 IMG_2089

I know how much work is involved, and my ambition has dwindled over the years, until now I only have a single tap, for the entertainment of the children at the Childcare. It never fails to amaze them how swiftly the sap comes dribbling from the tree, when you drill the hole, and they line up to take turns simply watching the drops tap the bottom of the bucket.Sap 5 IMG_2097

A lot of boiling is involved to make the syrup or candy. This late in the season it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, and a gallon of syrup only makes around three pounds of candy. The older kids were telling the younger kids how good the candy was, remembering from last year, but they had forgotten how long it took to boil all the water away. They wanted immediate gratification, so I told them we could skip the bother of boiling, and even could skip the bucket, and they could just drink the drops as they came out of the tree. Even though you can barely taste the sugar, the kids were amazingly enthusiastic, and lined up to take turns, and wanted “seconds” and “thirds”. Sap 7 IMG_2105Sap 6 IMG_2102

Even though I’ve seen all this before, I was strangely thirsty to see it again, because for some odd reason I seem to either be seeing it for the first time, or for the first time in fifty years.

How is it people forget how they craved
The spring when young; the way they sniffed sunlight
Like they’d gone prehistoric, preferring caved
Corners of south-facing cliffs to the bright
Nesting of their electric living-rooms,
And ran their eyes over greening tree tops
Like fingers through hair. Reborn from the tombs
Of midwinter gloom their eyes sought snowdrops
In dead garden leaves, with the sun so intense
Even the dead leaves made eyes squint happy,
And even without flowers one sniffed incense,
And even without poems one was sappy
As the wanted light filled ones very veins.
I cannot forget it, while this pulse remains.