February 25, 2017
Past-winners of the Newboro Lake Ice-out Guessing Competition
2016: Jim Waterbury (current holder of the bragging-rights mantle)
2015: Doug Fyfe
2014 Dr. Roslyn Dakin
2013 Louise Pritchard
2012 George Kitching
To the winner of this competition passes the mantle of Ice-Master/Mistress of the Lake, with all of the bragging rights and free-beverage privileges which go with it, until the mantle again passes on at the conclusion of the 2018 competition.
Entries may only be made by posting comments at the end of this post with the entrant’s first and last name and the geographical area of the Lake each has chosen to represent, and of course the date in 2017 on which the entrant predicts that judges and volunteers will no longer be able to find a patch of floating ice of greater than 100 square feet in surface area on Newboro Lake.
As usual, the dates are on a first-posted basis. If someone double-posts on an already-taken date, the moderator will void the second entry, using the date stamp of the message software to establish priority. The moderator will make a reasonable attempt to notify any thwarted aspirants to a particular date, but entrants would do well to read the comments section of this post religiously.
Emails to Rod with dates, or postings to the Ice Observations Page will not be accepted as entries this year.
Contest entries will be accepted until 11:59 P.M. on March 15, 2017, so beware the ides of March.
February 13, 2017
In Eastern Ontario turkey vultures arrived in 1969. We didn’t know what these strange birds were. Thinking it was a goose, my room-mate from Toronto shot one. That was my one up-close encounter with this spectacularly ugly bird. Its beak was strange. I could see through it: a big hole for nostrils with what must have been scenting equipment lying below the holes. But the consistency of the beak was even stranger. It reminded me a great deal of my thumb nail, flexible and not very thick.
A Canada Goose would be a more formidable predator than this critter.
While commuting to Smiths Falls for my first teaching job I began to pay attention to these ungainly birds after I noticed how a pair had figured out Hwy. 15 traffic. A tasty bit of carrion lay on the pavement near the centre line on an open section of road. These two evidently had decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to fly away from their feast every time a car came by. They simply stepped across the centre line to the other lane and waited for me to pass. That was pretty smart.
Turkey vultures always loved the buildings on the farm, especially the tall Victorian house jutting up from the side of the hill. I gradually realized that the expert sail planers were using the air currents for altitude. A couple of loops around the roof of the brick house on a hot day and the bird would be off on his afternoon glide. The lazy birds love to glide, and put considerable intelligence into perfecting their craft.
Many years later I was forced to abandon the barn on the property when the foundation collapsed but the timbers still held the thing in place a few feet downhill from its original position. It was too dangerous to enter. Expecting a quiet abode due to the diminished activity, a pair of ravens spent the late winter building a nest somewhere on the second floor, but then they abandoned it because I persisted in mowing the lawn around the barn. A family of vultures sat on the peak of the smooth metal roof of the barn and pondered these developments. Eventually they decided that my wife and I were harmless, though they made themselves scarce if strangers came around.
So for the last three years we’ve gotten to know a group of five turkey vultures. It’s clear their evolutionary advantage is their brain power. They recognize human faces. They observe. One of the summers I conducted trench warfare with the local raccoon population over a stand of sweet corn in my garden. After I had live-trapped and euthanized sixteen raccoons and had harvested a mere three dozen ears of corn, I gave up. By that time the vultures had learned that if I started my UTV and drove it down the hill to the garden, game was afoot. They’d be circling my carcass-dumping ground in a distant field by the time I got there.
Waking up in the morning is a chore for turkey vultures. The sun gradually thaws them out and they extend their wings a little bit and they seem to freeze there. Then the wings go out a little further to let the dew dry off. Much later, someone will try a tentative flap or two. Eventually one will catch a breeze and lift off the peak of the barn.
Then one morning I watched a sleepy vulture put a foot wrong and begin to slide down the long, smooth slope of the roof. He didn’t panic and flap, just controlled his slide, gained speed, and gently lifted off in a glide. From then on more and more of them tried this approach at the first hint of a breeze in the morning. They seemed to get a big kick out of their playground slide.
This year it was clear that someone was nesting in the barn, rather than merely using it as a roost. That fact slipped my mind when I needed a trailer wheel from the abandoned barn, so I wiggled through a collapsing door, hopped four feet across a chasm onto the rickety second floor, and with some trepidation located the trailer wheel. I heard a scuffle behind me and turned around to see a large turkey vulture frantically trying to fly straight up and over a beam 14′ in the air, and then make her way across two other similar beams and down through the open door to the other bay of the barn.
Turkey vultures don’t look all that big when they’re 200′ in the air. Inside an empty hay mow, trying to escape, the same bird is huge.
After the insult to his mate, the largest of the birds circled me steadily whenever I was outside the house. Then I guess he forgave me.
A couple of months later the barn fell down. It was far from sudden. At first it sounded like a heavily-loaded farm wagon being towed down the paved hill road, over bumps, but with no wheels. This went on for about fifteen minutes, amid a great cloud of dust. It had been very dry. The lime mortar in one section of the wall must have failed and the wall fell apart.
The vultures were quite perturbed about this noisy re-location of their home, but they continued to perch on the collapsed roof for several days, then one by one they went away. Except for one. She maintained a vigil over her lost nest for two weeks to the day. Others came back to visit her, but I don’t think she left to feed or drink, though I wasn’t watching all of the time. And then she was gone.
I should mention in conclusion that I detest pigeons because of their filthy habits. Our turkey vultures were very tidy birds: there were no streaks on the steel of the barn roof, even after years of summer roosting. As neighbours they were polite and clean. While up close they were far from beautiful, when aloft they moved with grace and elegance.
Not bad neighbours at all.
February 12, 2017
Over the last week I’ve been up to my elbows in barn demolition, a massive, high-budget job. The excavator arrived Tuesday and worked until mid-morning Friday. The knoll below the barn foundation is now festooned with hewn 35′ ash timbers on display for buyers.
The rest sits in massive piles: crumpled metal shingles, hay and broken wood, barn boards, choice hardwood accumulated over 40 years, roofing boards, rafters, feeding racks, old hay, and so on.
My immediate job was to rescue as much of the hardwood as I could in the face of the onslaught of the excavator. Of course everything was icy, and my landing area was uphill from the work site. My two 35 hp tractors have implements on them and couldn’t tow. The ancient trailer-hauler, the Massey-Harris 30, wouldn’t spark.
In desperation I pressed the little Kubota into service. It starts very well in winter. Its 4WD system with turf tires grips surprisingly well on icy snow. With trailer-loads of lumber it needed low range to climb the hill, but balked only on one occasion with an overloaded 6X11 tandem. Turned out the Massey Ferguson 35, even with the help of sand, couldn’t get the load up the hill, either. I had to use the winch.
The icy surface the 21 hp Kubota had worked on routinely was more than a conventional 2WD tractor could handle. The short wheelbase of the B7510 and its hydraulic drive made complex manoeuvres much easier in the frigid north wind around the lumber piles. With assorted lengths on every load, I’d move the trailer between piles, leaving the little diesel to idle while I worked.
With an excavator on site it’s easy to maintain a rubbish fire: just start it up, reach over to a pile, grab a bucketful with the thumb, drop it on the fire. It’s a lot more work to do the same thing with a pair of gloves and a pitchfork. I’m reluctant to risk one of the loader tractors on the barn-floor burn area for fear of damage to the calcium-loaded rear tires. The Kubota’s non-loaded tires would be much easier to repair, if punctured. If I mounted the winch on it, I’d have pulling power, as well as a very rugged 5′ blade on the back. This seems a brutal job for the lawn mower, but one fall the little Bolens pulled a lot of cordwood out to the logging road. It couldn’t tow a log, but it would sit crossways on the road and winch with the p.t.o. quite effectively.
January 31, 2017
The family pool vehicle is a 2008 Scion xB, purchased used from the Smiths Falls Honda dealership when we collectively decided that my mother’s beloved Honda CRV was too old for her to drive safely any more. Mom and I picked the car because it was the easiest thing on the lot to get into and exit because of its height-adjustable front seats. Very few cars for sale in North America have height-adjustable passenger seats.
The Florida-import posed a few difficulties for Mom in that the heater controls were counter-intuitive to an elderly person used to her Honda. Nonetheless, it was mechanically sound and she drove it until her eighty-eighth year.
Then the car became a pool vehicle, used primarily for ferrying Mom around, but also available when another family car was out of the country, broken down, or on loan to a friend. It had proven a favourite to leave in airport parking lots, for example.
Understandably, a machine this low on the depth chart would sit for considerable periods of time between uses. It’s always been pretty reliable. It needed ignition coils and plugs last year, but that’s been it.
But then it started to sputter when I was turning around after a visit to the Scott Island Ferry. Barely got home. Error codes blamed cylinder #3, then #2, Then 1, 2, 3 and 4, finally settling on 1 and 2. What the???
I went back to United Auto Parts in Smiths Falls where I had bought the coils and recounted my tale of woe to the guy in there who is both older and balder than me. I asked if there was some magic solution which would make the fuel injection system work, because I had no idea how to fix fuel injectors, and a new computer was too expensive.
“I use Sea Foam.” He walked over to a counter and handed me a can. “It’s very quick. Put it in and run the engine for ten minutes and see.”
I tried it and it worked. The Scion is restored to service again. I still don’t know what the problem was, but it was somewhere between fuel and injectors, and it’s better now. So I guess this is a testimonial to one of those products that line the shelves of parts stores which I have never noticed before.
January 25, 2017
Sean Spicer seems determined to protect Donald Trump from his own fabrications. This requires a level of intellectual dishonesty inconsistent with the correct use of English grammar. Look at the sentence below which I culled from today’s Toronto Star:
“He believes what he believes based on the information he was provided,” said Spicer, who provided no evidence to back up the president’s statements.
The use of the noun clause what he believes indicates a relatively sophisticated intelligence in that it indicates a willingness to deal with a known unknown.
But then comes the dreadful passive construction based on the information he was provided. Nobody believes the voice who utters a clunker like this. It’s a childish attempt to hide either the facts, or the lack of facts. It’s a passive “The front window was broken” when only the active “I broke the front window” will do.
So what’s wrong with Spicer? He uses the passive voice. The information he was provided will not do it. The White House Press Corps, the American People, and certainly we, Canadians, will have no use for him until he uses the active voice exclusively and he shows the source of every single bit of information which crosses his podium.
It’s all in the grammar.
January 24, 2017
If Trump’s crew continue with their program of alternative facts, what if journalists created an alternative president? What could Trump do if CNN, BBC, CBC, Reuters and other media outlets reported thoughts and activities of Mike Pence as though he were already Head of State? How long would it take for White House sycophants to catch on and switch their allegiance? A gradual increase of Pence standing could lessen the load of expectations for which Trump is clearly not prepared.
If world leaders denied standing to Trump and looked instead to Pence, could the Donald’s lies and loose-cannon rants be contained before he does any real damage? A figurehead president, Rapunsel-like, could live out his term away from the White House, pressing buttons on a mere video-game representation of World politics, and given his lack of interest in real input, remain none the wiser.
Over the years the Tower of London has housed kings and pretenders in similar fashion. This is not a new idea.
January 20, 2017
Today conditions were perfect for a bit of exercise, so I began to gather up slash left over from the trimming job on a stand of ten-year-old white pines.
Last fall a contractor offered the trimming in return for the pine needles which he sells in Toronto for wreaths at Christmas. The crew came back a couple of weeks later and dutifully trimmed the stubby branches off the trees, but I decided if I got a chance I’d clean up under the canopy so that I could mow it once or twice a year.
Five loads of branches transported to a burn pile were enough for today. If the weather holds I’ll get back at it. There’s little danger of running out of branches to gather in the near future: these rows are 700′ long.
Of course the best part is the unloading: just back up to the pile and flick a lever. The trailer dumps itself. A little overcapitalized? Maybe, but it’s fun.