March 24, 2017
For years I have told anyone who would listen that the most hazardous driving conditions of the winter occur in April, when a quick fall of snow is saturated by rain at 32 degrees F. I even had a name for the phenomenon, April grease.
We drove into some on the way home from Merrickville today. I was mildly curious to see how Ruby would do on zero-traction slush, but primarily I was eager to get her home without damage.
The trip began bravely enough, with very little traffic on the back roads. The few winter- hardy drivers plowed along, their pickups in 4WD and loaded tanks of sap in the back.
As long as I was exactly in their wheel ruts, things were normal. But if the right wheels climbed a 1″ pile of slush, Ruby let me know with a stutter-step to the right, the same as any other car I’ve driven in this stuff.
On a side note: because of this slush I quit using a Volkswagen for winter commutes. A light FWD like our Jetta would lose control for as long as both front wheels were floating on slush — in passing situations, for example. I opted for a series of Volvo sedans, those of the skinny, tall Michelins. They were pretty good, though I managed the odd front-wheel skid with them, as well. When the new 4Runner came along I learned just to drive it in 4WD through thick and thin. It was very stable in the passing lane unless in 2WD, at which point it behaved like an annoyed pig on ice.
Back to Ruby and the unfamiliar April slush. As we passed Toledo things became greasier, though I noticed that most drivers were still holding a pace for dry pavement. Then one guy braked to turn. His SUV split-arsed a bit, but he recovered neatly and continued into a barn yard. Though well back, I tried my brakes on the tricky surface. To my surprise nothing happened for a bit. It wasn’t a skid — no machine gun rattle from various corners of the car — but rather it seemed that the brakes just weren’t working. Ice on the rotors, or all wheels with zero traction? Likely ice. I’ve noticed that before on Ruby. This never happens on a Lexus, but Toyota designers didn’t have to worry about brake cooling on a sedan designed for geezers. Cayennes occasionally find themselves on a track, so the rotors are built to run very cold. 32 degree F slush, a whirling, shiny object and you have a perfect chance for ice to form.
So part of the routine for driving Ruby in near-freezing conditions is frequent touches of the brakes to defrost them.
Once they were dry, I over-applied the brakes as a test. The usual muted machine-guns went off, and the car slowed quickly, dead-straight. A basic safety line established, I experimented with the Goodyear winter tires and the grease. Frankly, I wasn’t all that impressed. The wheels are simply too wide for the weight of the vehicle on grease. The coarse off-road treads of my pickup would grip the asphalt better, I think. I slowed down to just a bit over 80 km/hr.
Why the critical attitude when I certainly should have been driving more slowly in bad conditions? In my wife’s Lexus, a pretty good slush car with a relatively high weight-to-tire width, I know how quickly I’m driving without a look at the speedometer. In Ruby, I really don’t know without instruments. Speed creeps up if I don’t use cruise control. Stealth speed is not what a driver needs in April grease.
Will I leave Ruby at home next time in bad conditions? Naw. I’ll just set the cruise at 80 km and go for it. It’s still by far the best, safest car we’ve ever driven. I just need to adjust the control nut behind the wheel.
And now that I think of it, on one memorable 5 a.m. drive to the Ottawa Airport on April 7th, I refused to drive my Volvo an inch further because I couldn’t keep it on the road. We went in our friend’s Dodge Mini-Van with AWD. It drove like a motorized living room, but it didn’t slide around on grease.
I searched online today for any news article dated after January 30th about the accused shooter in the murder of six men and the injury of nine others, all of whom were praying at their Quebec City mosque on January 29, 2017.
It’s been less than two months, but the killer seems to have vanished from the public record. Only the BBC continues to cover the story.
Last August I posted a column on this blog suggesting that one way to discourage domestic terrorism would be to deny notoriety to the perpetrators. Reporters seem to have done that in spades in this case.
I can’t help but wonder, however, if the news vacuum might have more to do with the pur lain surname of the perpetrator and the non-French surnames of the victims, rather than my suggestion.
The media silence, broken only by an Angus Reid push-poll today against 103, the Anti-Islamophobia motion, suggests that Canadians just want to forget that this massacre ever happened. We’re good at that.
March 20, 2017
No, I did not go out on the ice.
That’s a 24″ male splake, taken by casting from shore into open water. Splake are in the shallows at this time of year, easily reached with light tackle and a floating Rapalla. This one fought rather well on six-pound test line. I could feel every rock he rubbed the line over as I brought him in, each time expecting it to part. But my luck was better than his on this day.
Do not try this on the Big Rideau or the other Rideaus. Splake are considered Lake Trout on those lakes for season and limit purposes. On the bodies of water toward Kingston, on the other hand, splake and lake trout are all lumped in as splake, and they have no season, with a catch limit of five.
A lake trout is generally not as pretty as a splake, and it has a distinctive forked tail.
My catch produced two 1 1/2-pound fillets. Bet baked one for supper. As splake go, this one was pretty edible. Elsewhere in this blog you’ll find a couple of humorous articles: How to Catch a Splake, and How to Cook a Splake. If you click Fish Stories or Splake below, the server will cue up a number of splake-related articles.
March 15, 2017
A Quora reader asked, so I answered:
As a determined planter of black walnut trees, over the last 13 years I’ve had quite an ambivalent relationship to squirrels on my property in Eastern Ontario. First I have to make a distinction between Grey squirrels and reds.
The red squirrel provides no benefit to forests, and is as destructive to nut trees as a chipmunk. Both are larder hoarders: chipmunks bury nuts deep in the ground where they cannot germinate, and red squirrels are too stupid to remember where they have put nuts they have harvested, so they pile them in hollow trees or under fence rails where they can encounter them by accident each day.
Then there is the Grey squirrel. In my area most Greys have black fur due to a mutation in the gene pool. Rarer versions can be gray, blonde, or even white. But it’s not the fur that’s important; it’s the brain. The Grey has a formidable intellect.
Greys are scatter-hoarders, storing their food by burying nuts just below the surface and returning to collect them, as needed. Think of the spatial recall necessary to accomplish this when there’s a foot of snow on the ground. Researchers claim the Grey uses his sense of smell only in the last inch of two of the search. Of course about nine-tenths of the nuts thus stored are abandoned in a typical year. Forests and lawn plantings result.
So if you have a piece of property which you’d like populated with black walnut and oak, feed the squirrels. Gather a few bushels of black walnut seeds and create feeding stations on the property by placing burlap bags full of nuts in locations sheltered from the rain. There will be no need to open the bags, believe me.
The Greys will distribute the nuts over a wide area. On my property I have found black walnut seedlings growing a half-mile from the nearest tree. There was also this one kook who liked to jam walnuts into a fork in the branches of little trees. I have photographed these odd bits of art work all over the 114 acres of the farm. The little guys really get around.
Of course there is a downside to the presence of squirrels when one is attempting to establish a black walnut plantation by planting seeds on a 20′ grid: Greys have no respect whatever for rows. They’re also better at planting than I was in my early attempts. They’d dig up the nuts and, more often than not, plant them again six to ten feet from the original hill. Try mowing that. They’d also predate the outer rows of the field, popping out from fence rows for a shady snack, leaving the outer forty feet of the field virtually barren.
Attempts to discipline the squirrel population with my .22 rifle produced varying results. Red squirrels are too stupid to fear a gunshot, so while they’re hard to hit, they can be controlled pretty effectively by hunting. Greys adapt. A case in point: ten years ago a couple of grad students in biology discovered the woodlot and came frequently to help with sugar making and to hunt squirrels.
Clever fellows the biologists were, but individually they had little success against their agile prey, who would simply hide on the other side of the tree branches until their tormentor had given up. Then the guys started hunting in pairs, with an exponential improvement in success rate. The behaviour of the Greys mutated in a single generation: even ten years later, when a human enters this particular woodlot on foot, the Greys get out of the trees and run Hell-for-leather in a straight line across the ground until they are out of sight. A squirrel running through heavy cover is impossible to hit with a .22 shot.
Around our house one family of Greys has resisted all of my disciplinary efforts by living under a heavily vegetated fence line in a burrow which I have been unable to locate in many years of bemused observation. These guys seem to have learned that it’s o.k. to run across the utility cable from the tall cedar hedge to the edge of the roof to get to maple which leads to the walnut tree, but any further incursions onto the roof will result in death.
Yes, they learn rules. During a long renovation on our stone house I lived twenty miles away in town. The greys learned that as long as my truck sat outside the house, they had to stay out of sight. My mother lived on the site in another wing of the same house. She used to joke that as soon as my truck cleared the end of the driveway, the squirrels would be all over the lawn.
The most vulnerable time for squirrels is in late winter and early spring when they spend a considerable part of their days browsing elm buds. Once the leaves come out there are lots of bird’s nests to raid for eggs and chicks, but we don’t really know what they’re up to because they are hidden in the dense foliage until the young ones come out to explore their new worlds. Five or six adolescent Greys in a game of tag through a row of maple trees is quite a show.
But of course the question is, “What should you feed a squirrel?” Any bird feeder owner can answer that: sunflower seeds. If you want willing subjects for animal intelligence experiments, try keeping the Greys out of your feeder. You won’t succeed, but you’ll discover that the squirrels seem to enjoy a good battle of wits.
March 7, 2017
This evening I was just going to sleep when the bedside lamp suddenly went out. Then I noticed all of the LEDs in the room were no longer there. It was very dark. And I had lost my sense of direction.
With no idea of where a flashlight might be, I opened my MacBook and used its powerful flare until I could find my phone, then searched out flashlights, then candles. No matches. Found a lighter. A lifetime non-smoker, I couldn’t remember how to operate one. Woke my wife up to light a candle. She was less than pleased, but co-operated.
All lights off as far as I could see. Eerie. Then the street lights in Crosby came up. A utility truck began to flash lights in Forfar, lighting up half the houses in the hamlet.
My Internet was out, so I couldn’t even instant-message anyone on my phone. Had to text.
Soon I became bored with the darkness, so I went outside in the rain (46 F, thank goodness), lit up the Kubota, hitched it to the generator, and backed it up to the dangling emergency cable. I had already flipped the generator switch in the basement, so in a couple of minutes I had the 220v feed adjusted to 60 hz, and we now had heat, water, and refrigeration. And Internet, it turns out. Seems at some point I must have deemed the circuit to power the router essential, because I noticed it was lit up. I plugged a lamp into one of the plugs in the load centre, and we now had one light on the main floor, though the basement lights proved to be on the generator panel, as well.
A flashlight search of the house eventually located my laptop (upstairs bathroom, exchanged for large candle) and I logged onto the Hydro Storm Site. Surely enough, we have a power outage from a pole fire.
.Incident Id: 4919341
Customers Affected: 285
Crew Status: Dispatched
Cause: Pole Fire
Estimated Restoration: Mar 8, 12:45 AM
Oh, well. I didn’t miss anything on TV, and I finally had a chance to run the little pto generator I bought 3 years ago.
We don’t get many outages in Forfar since the Ice Storm.
Funny how dark it felt when the lights went out, though.
Update: 12:01, 8 March, 2017
There’s no longer evidence of work progressing in Forfar. All is dark. I checked the Storm Site:
Incident Id: 4919341
Customers Affected: 307
Crew Status: Crew Working in Area
Cause: Pole Fire
Estimated Restoration: Mar 8, 2:00 AM
Maybe they had to go get a pole, or a transformer. Meanwhile, the Kubota’s humming contentedly as the wind steadily rises.
Update: 4:04 a.m., 8 March, 2017
Power restored at 3:40. I had just refuelled the Kubota on-the-fly when the fire alarms bleeped and the lights came on. I waited for the furnace to finish its cycle and then switched the generator panel back to Ontario Hydro power. Neither the Kubota nor the 7.5 KW generator showed any sign of stress from about 15 litres of fuel turned into electricity over five hours on a warm, rainy night.
We are now in mud season.
Update: 1:30 p.m., 8 March, 2017
I have just spent an interesting hour researching pole fires. The short version is that at this time of year, dirt and road salt can build up on the ceramic insulators which keep the wires away from the large bolts which support the wires and connect them to the pole. Dry salt does not conduct, but under the right conditions of humidity, the accumulated salt can begin to conduct current through to the metal bolt beneath the insulation. This can in its turn heat the bolt which chars the post, sometimes to the point that the wood ignites. This produces a pole fire, the most common cause of power outages in cold climates. Repairs typically involve replacing the pole and any hardware attached to it, as it’s all toast if there is a fire.
Last night’s pole fire resulted in a six-hour outage to four hundred customers. Though they restored the power in that interval, I saw the crew was still at work on the pole (which appears to hold three transformers) in front of Baker’s Feeds at noon today.
March 1, 2017
On March 25, 1969, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau famously told the Washington D.C. Press Club:
Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.
This quotation has stood until now as the preeminent metaphor to describe Canada’s attitude toward the United States. I’d suggest that Trudeau-the-elder’s quip has worn itself out.
With the surprise victory of Donald Trump in the recent presidential election, an Indian folk tale* of the boy on the runaway elephant might apply more readily to the situation. Seized by the hormone surge of the must season, the massive creature, driven by his instincts and appetites, careens down jungle roads with little awareness of his direction or his effect upon the villagers in his path.
Enter the handler’s son, a young man with some understanding of elephants from his father and a good deal of pluck. He seems to have dropped from an overhanging branch onto the runaway’s back, and now has the task of doing what he can to calm the valuable behemoth and as much as possible direct him away from the more obvious hazards as he plunges through the labyrinth of jungle roads until the panic abates and the elephant can return to his work of moving logs as the economic engine of the village.
Having dropped into this unexpected role, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done rather well so far. His initial heroic impulse to leap astride the beast rather than confront him has received support from a team of wise and resourceful villagers who have run alongside and hung baskets of food and water bottles from branches in his path.
In President Donald Trump’s speech to the Joint Session of Congress yesterday he indicated at least an awareness of his youthful passenger, and generally accepts his presence.
Once the cartoonists draw it, it’s fact, so I eagerly await the first artist’s attempt at this meme. I’ve never liked the elephant-mouse bit.
* Dr. Robert Moore, a diplomat from Guyana, included this story in a lecture to the Lanark County Board of Education, sometime in the late 1980’s.
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.