A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Monday, September 14, 2020

Democracy, 2020

I usually remain relatively quiet about political issues on Facebook.  In part, this is because when I joined Facebook (oh so long ago) I did so in order to feel personally connected to friends whom I see all too rarely, not to find a broad platform for my political views.  It’s also because there are many valid reasons for current and continual anger that don't touch me as much as they touch others, due to disparities and inequalities in our society. Thus, I need to speak less and listen more. Plus, as we all know, diving into political threads – or the comments section on pretty much anything -- can lead to despair and madness.  But I also know that at a certain point, silence makes me disengaged and complicit. 

Figuring out where and when to raise my voice is hard.  I could go so, so far into the weeds on… well, on practically everything.  Immigration?  Yeah, none of my grandparents were born in America.  Healthcare, policing, prisons, militarization?  We desperately need to take care of one another, and to learn from our own past, and from the rest of the world.  Racism, sexism, homophobia?  We have… so far to go. Wealth inequities, screwed up economic incentives, and environmental and social externalities that drive us ever further over a cliff?  Ugh.  Capitalism is a mess.

I’ve occasionally engaged, when I feel that I have direct standing in a discussion.  I’ve written about climate change, because I work as a climate scientist.  I’ve tried to apply my own personal perspective to larger issues, as I did in a blog post that linked loving ones country (while also fervently wanting to make it a better country) with the same feelings about ones children -- patriotism as parenting, if you will.  I’ve tried, ineptly, to talk about racism, sexism, immigration, the dismissal of science, the death of my own father from a tragically politicized disease that we know as COVID-19, and my own failings with regard to making any of this any better.

There’s too much to say, and I find myself overwhelmed and immobilized.  I suspect I’m not the only one.  My friends seem to be divided between those who say very little, and those who never stop saying.  I get it.  But for now, I’m going to say… just this one thing.

This November – this tumultuous and often terrible autumn, in a tumultuous and often terrible year, in a tumultuous and often terrible world -- I plan to vote.  I plan to vote for Grier Hopkins and Marna Sanford to represent me in Juneau.  I plan to vote for Alyse Galvin and Al Gross to represent me in DC.  And I plan to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to represent our nation to the rest of the world.  I will be casting these votes with all my heart.  I will also entreat everyone else I know – and anyone else I don’t know -- to do the same.  I will also beg everyone to do their best to flip the Senate out of its current toxic-majority condition, and to keep the House from slipping in a toxic direction.  Vote.  Please vote.  Bring others.  Persuade others.  Vote.

I entreat this for many, many reasons. I can’t possibly enumerate all of them here.  But the key point is that those reasons aren't abstract or “political” or “partisan”. Those reasons are real humans, who are suffering. They are real elements of the natural world, which once lost cannot be regained.

Do I think that all Democrats are right all the time? No, of course not. Nor do I think that of Independents, such as Gross and Galvin.  Do I think that Biden or Harris agree with all my opinions, or would always adhere to the soundest science? No, I don't -- but I do think that they respect science, that they respect human rights, and that either of them would sign into law some amazing legislation that could make it through Congress, if we have decent people in Congress to create and pass that legislation.

Remember, the President doesn't make the laws. He or she merely needs to veto the bad stuff, refrain from vetoing the good stuff, and appoint sane and honest judges who do not undermine the good stuff for decades to come.

Would I make Biden dictator? Hell, no, but that's not an insult. I wouldn’t make Harris, Gross, Galvin, Sanford, or Hopkins dictator, either.  There is no human being on the planet who agrees with me on everything, and even if there were, I would not give that person absolute power.

Democracy is messy. It involves compromises. It doesn't change as fast as it should. American democracy needs revamping in some deep, painful, and fundamental ways that involve widespread social change, economic change, and educational change -- as well as passing a lot of better laws, regulations, funding decisions, etc.

I agree that some change needs to occur "outside the system". That's the part we make by marching, by protesting, by writing, by educating ourselves and one another, by raising our voices, by having each others' backs and recognizing our joint humanity. But some change also needs to occur "within the system". That's the part we make by running for office, supporting good candidates, and simply... voting.

I am a scientist. I will keep working to try to figure out what might happen to us, if we don't clean up our act on climate change issues, and how we can adapt to the changes we've already wrought. I'll keep fighting. I'll keep bugging politicians about science, using whatever privilege, leverage, or status I have to do so. And I'll keep voting.

Vote.  Please vote.  Bring others.  Persuade others.  Vote.


Ten Essential Tips for Remodeling your Privy


Do you ever rejoin your family after a rest stop in a National Park and feel compelled to note how the majesty of the vista was complemented by the stellar latrine?  Do you return from a barbecue at the neighbors’ place feeling a little jealous – not of the perfect angle of their woodshed roof or the impeccable notching of the logs at the four corners of their home, but of the subtle perfection of the smallest structure on their property?  When we find ourselves in a beautiful privy, it's easy to feel relaxed, content, and coddled. 

If you're looking for outhouse remodeling ideas, you might be feeling overwhelmed by all the choices. Every stunning design looks appealing, but which options are right for you?  We’ve compiled pointers that will help you craft a privy that perfectly meets your needs.  

1) Draft a budget

When the time comes to refurbish your outhouse, you’ll find the renovation costs can add up quickly.  Whether you’re choosing a brand-new cinderblock to act as a doorstep or purchasing this year’s Farmers’ Almanac to provide as reading material, the project can create unique demands.  These difficult budgetary choices can affect the long-term desirability and resale value of privy square footage.

2) Choose a contractor who understands your needs

Clear communication of expectations is key. Be sure that prior to signing on one of your teenage children for the job, she knows that the new hole needs to be at least eight feet deep, and that she must finish digging before the ground freezes. Rather than paying by the hour, consider offering your contractor the old gift cards to the local ice cream stand that you found when you were cleaning out the kitchen drawers. 

3) Decide whether you will include a bathtub

You will not include a bathtub.

4) Select a realistic and functional layout and design

While two-seaters may seem momentarily appealing, take time to think this through.  Really.  Take all the time you need, here.

5) Focus on materials

Just because you are building with CDX plywood doesn’t mean you can’t simulate the kind of higher-end look afforded by B or even A grades.  Go heavy on the paint.  Have you considered taupe?  It lends a more earthy look, and also blends well with actual earth.

6) Consider optimal lighting

A dark privy suggests “old-fashioned” and “giant spiders”.  Conversely, the direct light that results from entirely omitting the door may be jarring to some.  Instead, consider a crescent moon cutout. This will not only yield a classic-but-classy look, but will also allow for filtered, diffuse natural lighting -- perfect for reading the Almanac, and ideal for creating a flattering ambience for all ages, skin types, and weather.

7) Remember to provide necessary outlets

When it comes to wiring, it’s all about convenience!  Plan ahead for the darkness of January by buying a heavy-duty extension cord for trail lights in June, then forgetting where you put it.  (It’s in a Rubbermaid tote under the porch).

8) Don’t overlook storage space

Too many privies lack shelving area adequate for not just one Almanac, but back issues as well.  For extra style and comfort, consider adding an old coffee can to prevent your toilet paper from being stolen by squirrels.

9) Add a little luxury

Go for the best where it really matters, and embellish your wooden commode with a seat cut from the finest polystyrene board that money can buy. Yes, we’re talking about the extravagance of four-inch R10-rated foam.  True, a full sheet will set you back as much as $37.83, but trust us, by the time you’ve located that Rubbermaid tote, you won’t regret the indulgent insulation.

10) Incorporate adequate ventilation

We can’t stress this one strongly enough. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Delicious Seasonal Family Dinner Ideas Using the Produce from Your COVID Victory Garden


Spring Garden Salad with Radishes:
Toss together spring lettuce, young mixed greens, and a generous complement of thinly sliced radishes.  Enjoy with the salad dressing of your choice.

More Radishes:
Take a photo of all the additional radishes.  Share it on Instagram.  Make a comment about the vibrant color and abundance of your prolific early-season crop.  Slice up all the additional radishes.  Serve as a garnish for pasta, potatoes, or lemon meringue pie.


Sweet Pea Excitement:
Carefully cut the first snap pea of the season into five equal parts.  Share it among family members.  Fail to notice the rabbit burrow that has just appeared beneath your garden fence.  That single pea sure was tasty, wasn’t it?

Totally Normal Beef Stew:
Cut 40-50 white radishes into quarters and add to hearty beef stew.  Simmer.  Tell everyone the chunks are potatoes.  Serve with wine.


Tomato Surprise:
The surprise is that the kids have eaten every sweet, ripe, perfect cherry tomato straight from the greenhouse before you had a chance to pick any.  Not even one.  You’ve been tending those seedlings since the lockdown began, which was on March 12th, but who’s counting? 

Vegetable Stir-Fry:
Chop vegetables into bite-size pieces, sauté lightly in olive oil, season with soy sauce, garlic, and herbs to taste, and serve over rice.  By “vegetables” we mean “all eighteen zucchini that you’ve harvested since Tuesday”.


Carrot-Top Pesto:
Did you know that carrot tops are actually edible? Prepare using a standard pesto recipe, but replace basil leaves with carrot tops.  Serve over tortellini.  Spend dinnertime insisting to your family that carrot tops are actually edible.

Zucchini Subterfuge:
Finely grate four cups of zucchini and add to a cake mix that includes various forms of sugar as the second, fourth, and fifth ingredients.  Follow package directions.  When your children poke suspiciously at the green flecks, spray the entire cake with canned whipped cream.


Maybe It’s Borscht:
Slice carrots, beets, potatoes, and turnips.  Yes, we know that borscht doesn’t contain turnips, but we somehow ended up with a lot of turnips, okay?  The beets will make them look purple anyhow.  Just simmer it a for a long time, and add plenty of salt, pepper, and garlic.  And maybe a few more turnips.

The Last Salad:
Toss together crisp leaf lettuce, cucumber, bell peppers, and tender spinach leaves.  Garnish with sprigs of parsley and your own hot tears as you feel the autumnal equinox slip past, leaving you to descend into darkness.


Zucchini Boat:
Hollow out the terrifying, long-forgotten, late-season marrow found lurking beneath half-dead leaves in the darkest reaches of the garden.  Fill it to the gunwales with smaller zucchinis.  Push it downriver in the dead of night.

Roasted Turnips:
That’s it.  That’s what they are.  From the root cellar.  Roasted turnips.


Pumpkin Soup:
It was a smiling, happy jack-o-lantern, but now it’s dinner!  Stop crying, Tyler.

Turnips, Turnips, OMFG Turnips:
The root cellar may be haunted.


Snackin’ Seasonal Shapes:
Using a sharp cleaver, slice turnips no thicker than ¼ inch.  Hide the cleaver from the kids.  Hide the cleaver from yourself.  Give the kids cookie cutters and encourage them to form creative fun shapes from the slices.  Throw the extra turnip fragments into the cauldron that is now fermenting in the corner.  Throw the fun shapes in there, too.

Festive Holiday Extravaganza:
Drink the sour, fetid, pale-yellow alcohol you made from fermented turnips. Stumble down the stairs into the eerie, moaning darkness of the root cellar.  Lie for a few moments on the cool earthen floor.  Hallucinate quietly until you feel ready for the return journey. 


Unspeakable Horrors Through Endless Unmarked Days:
Mostly involving parsnips.