Native Plants, Habitat Restoration, and Other Science Snippets from Athens, Georgia

Thursday: 19 February 2015

Oliver Sacks  -  @ 14:07:52
Oliver Sacks, born 1933, neurologist and exemplar in many other disciplines, has a column today at the New York Times. Sweet piece of writing, and hits me like a ton of bricks. THe NYT being what it is, if that link goes behind a subscription wall, let me know and I'll summarize.

When I met Glenn in the late 70s, he had a subscription to The New Yorker, and we've retained that subscription all these years and even imparted it to others we thought might be interested. Oliver Sacks wrote quite a few articles for TNY over the years, and I've enjoyed every one. There was the fascinating article on "The Island of the Colorblind", the one on a field trip in NYC to find ferns and mosses ( Hunting Horsetails ), and many know of "The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat," as well as "Awakenings," a book that became a movie with Robin Williams, whom he adored, and Robert de Niro.

Among all the other fascinating things about Oliver Sacks, he was unable to recognize faces, did I mention that? There's a word for it!

Quite a human being, among the best.

Saturday: 14 February 2015

The Lives of Cats  -  @ 09:10:29
Or, how did we get here?

Glenn and I have been inextricably involved with cats since we met, in 1978. This wasn't my plan, but it didn't take long for me to get sucked in. There was never any overarching ethical motivation at rescue. But the occasional stray wanders into your lives and decides to stay, or a kitten(s) need a home, and what results over 36 years are the 27 cats you see below.

We've got the years on top, along with our two long term residences, and the catties are listed along the side. Simple enough.

You can click on the image to get a more detailed, larger version in a new window.

We've averaged a population of seven or eight cats a year since 1979, ongoing of course. But since moving out here, the number has been more like ten at a time, peaking briefly in 2003-2004 at twelve. We're now down to five, so it's not like we're quitting cold turkey.

Most of the cats have come to us as adult strays. The light green cell that precedes the darker green bars indicates that, as well as an uncertainty in the cat's age.

We've never allowed any of our cats to have kittens, although two cats, Blackie and Twyla, came to us already furnished with two newborns each.

We hadn't had kittens since Gene, in 2003. I'd forgotten how much fun they were until Colon arrived in Sep 2013. He's been a delight, and amazingly sociable and non threatening to the other cats. In fact, he's taken a lot of heat off the other three by engaging the hyperactive Gene, who the other three fear and loathe. Both Colon and Gene are black and white tuxedos, and their multi daily wrestling matches are eye catching.

Along with all the fun and enjoyment eventually comes death. That price is hard to take, and there are several - Daphne in 2004 was a particularly awful death - that were devastating and still haunt me.

After we moved out here in 1991, we began planting them in the Kat Semetary, with a little ritual that has scarcely varied in 24 years. The population is now 17. This excludes the only two cats who disappeared without a trace, Mitzi in 2001 and Brat in 2005.

The longest lived cat is, of course, Violet, who died at age 22 last year. Her brother Beaumont lived to be 16, and Squit was at least 17. All have been featured periodically here since I started the blog in 2004.

Several cats came to us under unusual circumstances. In 2004, Urchin arrived, knocking on the door and coming in like he owned the place, heading straight for the cat food closet. He so resembled our other golden boy Bart that it took ten or fifteen minutes to realize that he wasn't Bart.

MeMeow (aka Killer), a strident and imperious female tortoiseshell. She was a Katrina rescue who was foisted upon us in 2005, and died in 2012. During those years she ran the house, refusing to allow any cat within two or three feet of her, but craving Glenn's and my attentions.

We took on Sophie, a maine coon, in 2009 when her elderly owners were mauled to death by a dog pack a few miles northeast of here. A huge cat, and the most gentle one we've ever had, she daily walks Glenn up to his truck when he leaves in the morning. It's her job, and she's at the door every morning to perform it.

Twyla arrived in 1990 pregnant, or so we thought. After taking her to the vet for shots and neutering if early enough, we were surprised to hear that she wasn't pregnant at all. Or at least anymore, as we discovered, when we heard weak kitten cries from under a couple of bags of leaves in the back yard. And that's how Daphne came to us and stayed for 14 years.

Inevitably there will be some who see all this as a rather pathetic surrogate for being real parents. Of course they are also the same who would have that role denied to us, so it's not too important to take them seriously. In fact, Glenn and I have discussed that possibility a couple of times over the years. As you can imagine, adoption and fostering would have been just about impossible for two gay men in Georgia, and though we may be under rating ourselves, neither of us especially felt that we would be good parenting material.

In the end, what we did do was to make 27 sentient lives more secure, and a lot longer and happier than they would otherwise have been. I'm good with that. They've helped to make our lives happy.

Woody Allen: How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.

Or as John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."

Monday: 9 February 2015

Thank Goodness for Georgia  -  @ 10:14:37

That's what all the anti same sex marriage people are saying today, in SC, FL, NC, and, for the first time this morning, my birth state of Alabama, where good people now are being able to be married. Georgia is their last hope, I'm afraid. That's what we all say about some knuckle dragging state next to us when we feel superior.

Unfortunately, it's my own knuckle dragging state of Georgia that will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, and it will probably only happen in June, assuming the US Supreme Court rules against our unconstitutional mini DOMA law. This year we will have to fill our three IRS tax forms, one for the fed, and then another for the fed, so that we can fill in the state form, in order to accommodate Georgia, who refuses to recognize our marital rights as recognized now by 37 states and the District of Columbia. Neither of us is afforded health insurance as a family, nor benefits in some policies, nor social security benefits, because of the state of Georgia.

Still, Congratulations to my third cousin Joe, in Bessemer AL, who married his husband two years ago in Washington DC. Glenn and I did the same thing last year on Jan 2, and it was a grand time for us. A better time was never had by me, you can be sure of that.

A week ago, on Feb 1, we celebrated our 36th anniversary together. Is it odd that our most important anniversary date would not be our wedding day? Maybe, but how do you pick an anniversary date when everyone around you has told you for three decades that you're invalid? The best you can!

And yes, I do take note of one or two sourpusses. Suck on it. You don't know what you're talking about.

Saturday: 7 February 2015

The Month of January  -  @ 08:15:31
It's The Month of January, Number 108 in a series, completing the ninth-year run. It was cooler in much of the eastern US, and much warmer for January in the western and middle to north central US.


Here are the usual temperature anomalies products, at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. Displayed are the mean temperature anomalies, not the absolute temperatures.

Click on the image for the high and low anomaly graphic on a new page:

In December the country was nearly uniformly warmer than usual. The West and Central US north of most of Texas continued that trend, but much of the eastern US dipped at least a bit below average. The Northeast from the Great Lakes through New England was quite a bit colder than normal. Parts of the West and northern Midwest were as much as 8F above normal.

Precipitation: the closest I can find to the old familiar anomaly map is accessible from here. It's still much less flexible but at least looks a little more like a precipitation map should.

Drier conditions expanded their range for much of the US, leaving almost everywhere except Arizona, Texas, and Montana with no more than average precipitation. Most of the Pacific coastal states were very dry, and a broad band of drier than normal weather extended all the way eastward. For states, especially western ones, that depend on snowfall, this is very unwelcome news.

For the Athens, GA area:

Below is my usual daily rain/temperature plot visualizing the changes in temperatures and precipitation. The spiky lines are temperatures recorded roughly ten times a day, and the lighter blue columns are Wolfskin rainfall measurements. The black line is the 30-year average daily temperature, which is now slowly but steadily moving upward.

Temperatures have run about average during most of the month. We did have an eight day period of cooler than normal temperatures in early to mid January, but this was somewhat offset by a week of warmer than average temps Jan 19-23. There were three periods of rainfall occurring at regular intervals during the month. The first period, Jan 2-4, was also marked by a very strong cold front bring in that period of colder than average weather. Weaker cold fronts were associated with the rain periods ending Jan 13 and Jan 24.

So the mean January temperature in Athens ended up to be 41.9 degF, just a little over a degree below the normal 43.2F. No records were broken.

We had 3 days that were more than 1 standard deviation above normal highs (5.2 such days is normal for January). We had 5 nights significantly below normal lows, just slightly above the usual 4.3 such nights. All of this in balance supports the notion of a slightly cooler January for us.

The monthly histogram, which shows the breakdown of high and low temperature range counts from January 1948-present, confirms this. The error bars are just plus/minus one standard deviation, which I arbitrarily set as the limits outside of which are "significantly" anomalous.

There were significantly greater numbers of average events for only one temperature range, 50-59F, in the HIGHS half of the histogram. No single temperature range bar in the LOWS reached significance, though there is a consistent skew toward more average to cooler temperature events below 40F.

Below is the monthly accumulation of rain in Athens, GA. The river of peach is the long term standard deviation of all the daily black dots in the last 25 years, and the red line is the daily cumulative average. We're the green line this year, and for almost half the month it cradled that surplus of blue above the one standard deviation mark.

Normal rainfall for January in Athens is 4.05". This January Athens ended up with 2.98", and we in Wolfskin considerably more rainfall at 3.70". Both our locations, 12 miles apart, still fell below average for January.

Prognosticator stuff:

What is the prognosticator telling us (as of early February)?

Its temperature predictions for January were for a warmer month, and so it sort of failed on that for us in the southeast. It did get the warmer than usual January right for the West.

It continues to predict cooler than normal temperatures for the Southeast over the next month (Feb into Mar), and then an equal chance of any kind of temperature over the next two months. It predicts high chances for warmer weather in the West for all three months.

Precipitation: For us in the Southeast it predicted wetter than usual for January, and it seemed accurate for the first couple of weeks. Then we ended up with a bit lower than average rainfall.

As of now, we in the Southeast are supposed to continue dry for the next few weeks, then trend toward a slightly wetter next month or two (Mar-Apr). This seems to be the same prediction for the West.

ENSO stuff:

The folks at CPC have a version of PDF or HTML that is much different from their previous presentations, but at least it's there and the link isn't broken.

As of Feb 2, ENSO neutral conditions continue, and the probability of an El Niño developing in the next two months are still at 50-60%, with ENSO-neutral conditions afterward. The planet has remained ENSO neutral now for 32 months. The last time we had such a lengthy period without an El Niño or La Niña must at this point have been the 50-month normal period of 1978-1981.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for December is available. The summary for January will be available in a few days.

The annual State of the Climate report for 2014 is now available, regionally and nationally for the US. Here is the Global Analysis for 2014.

Below is the 2014 temperature departure world map. As you probably know, 2014 by most analyses was the warmest year on record. This may come as a surprise to inhabitants of the eastern 2/3 of the US, and to those in central Eurasia, but not to anyone else.

Friday: 16 January 2015

Passing On the Sacred Clipboard  -  @ 10:45:02
It's been quite a while since I've mentioned Glenn's and my long time association with Wolfskin Volunteer Fire Department. For those who don't know, Glenn and I have been volunteer firefighters since 1992, with some time out in the 1990's.

In December 2009, I was elected Assistant Chief, after having already unofficially performed the duties for the previous nearly two years, and have had that position since. On December 4, we had our annual elections, and for the first time in six years there was a major change - I stepped down as Assistant Chief, in favor of Charleen Foott, who has been an active force for the last four years.

A bit of background: Our fire department, unlike most of the other thirteen VFDs in the county, is a 501(c)(3) organization. There are some rules, and so we have an organizational structure that reflects those. There are eight Board members - the president (chief) and vice president (assistant chief), Secretary, and Treasurer; and there are two Firefighter Representatives and two Community Representatives. Election night on the first Thursday in December is always a blast - three meetings to open and adjourn before we are done.

The first record of WVFD is from 1978, when a group of Wolfskin residents identified a need. Some residents lived 10-15 miles away from the nearest fire department. Somewhere between then and 1982 they built much of our station, although I've not been able to locate records of those years. From 1982, when minutes commence, until 2007, there was one training session a month, which means there were usually less than twelve a year. In December 2006, we elected a Chief who decided that we needed more training (duh!), and for the first time we had training every Thursday night, totaling three dozen or more training opportunities a year.

Last year we had 38 training meetings, and 32 fire calls, the most ever. You might think we should have fewer training meetings! But it's that sustained six years of training that I'm most proud of. Prior to 2007, people thought one training meeting a month was too much, and I was there during that time. We didn't know what the eff we were doing, much of the time.

I would never have been able to have sustained 30-40 training meetings a year without all those loyal firefighters who continued to come to training, week after week, rain or shine, very cold or sweltering hot, over the last six years.

The Assistant Chief has an odd position. In our department, he or she conducts the weekly training sessions, and keeps those records. Fire calls have to be recorded, and entered into the national registry NFIRS. Behind the scenes there can be the need to goad the Chief into action. Getting back equipment from usually newer firefighters who stopped coming to training or fire calls, for instance, is a particularly odious example.

But the Asst Chief is often the innovator of the new, so among other things I also set up the Wolfskin VFD Blog. After a time it wasn't so much of a blog as a homemade calendar of events combined with important current documents, but we'd never had such a thing before. I also added much current and historical information that I kept and dug up from records.

And the Asst Chief can also end up as a shaker in addition to a mover. I'd been thinking about stepping down for much of 2014, and so I did after some private conferences with our Chief and the candidate. The Chief was reluctant only because he didn't think we should change when things were going so well. I thought that was exactly the time to make a change. I seem to have prevailed here; I'm a strong Keynesian who who sees expenditures in bad years that are fortified by savings in good years as a no brainer.

And then at last November's business meeting I made the announcement and nominated another who I felt deserved the opportunity that I had enjoyed. Charleen Foott was elected unanimously, and I think she'll have as much fun (and frustration) as I did growing into the job.

I also nominated Glenn to take Charleen's place as one of the two Firefighter reps on the Board. Although others don't necessarily agree, it's long been Glenn's feeling that the Board should not have two members of a household on it, and I do agree with him on that.

For the first time since 2008 I'm just a grunt, with no vote as a member of the Board!

It's easy for a volunteer fire department, or volunteer anything, maybe just anything at all, to fall into a dozing state, carrying on conservatively day by day and year by year. Sure, we get the fire calls, and we always respond - that's not the lassitude I'm thinking of. But when you've accumulated a few excellent newer members and they don't have much new to do, then that's not right.

So it was that at our first 2015 business meeting last week, with great ceremony, I handed over to Charleen the Sacred Clipboard (the one with the Holy Pen Compartment, no pencils, it doesn't count if it's in pencil). I noted that as a progressive fire dept it was up to us to ignore the silver sharpie adjurement to not remove the Sacred Clipboard from the station, and therefore to remove it at all times. I think everyone had a good time.

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