Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Click it or ticket?

On my way back from hawking the other day, I encountered one of those massive electronic signs on the motorway—hardly noteworthy, as they have become ubiquitous—except that I was struck yet again by how misused they typically are.


is useful, I admit.


could I suppose be useful as well, although one would think most motorists would have noticed already. But as often as not, these signs bear messages—multi-screen messages, mind you, with each screen displayed for several seconds to accommodate the slowest reader in the fast lane—along the lines of


(Have these DOT people never heard of the Stroop-Stirling effect? You can't really opt out of reading these things, not without a great deal of conscious effort, anyway.)

But the one that triggers my ire, despite its brevity, is CLICK IT OR TICKET. Really, that's the best we can do to promote the use of safety belts, CLICK IT OR TICKET? Pathetic.

Allow me to suggest an alternative. It would really work best as a PSA on the radio, read in an authoritative voice...British accent...hint of menace. I'm thinking Mark Strong, or maybe Vinnie Jones. But if DOT want to put it on a big flashy sign, I reckon the precedent is there... Anyway, here it is:


Monday, February 11, 2019

Tom Cade, 1928-2019

Dr. Tom J. Cade passed away last week. He was a falconer, ornithologist, and family man, best known as the founder of The Peregrine Fund.

The Peregrine Fund got its start, and its name, in 1970, when Tom Cade was at Cornell University. A couple of kids sent him a check with a note requesting that the money be used "to save the peregrine". He went to the bank, opened a new account for that purpose, and when the bank teller asked what name should be put on the account, he blanked for a moment. "Let's just call it the peregrine fund," he replied, and the name stuck.

But The Peregrine Fund was emphatically not just a financial arrangement, disbursing money to conservationists doing work on the ground. Tom Cade, Jim Weaver, and other P-Fund pioneers were decidedly hands-on—and make no mistake, they were pioneers. Peregrines had been bred in captivity—occasionally, rarely. Cade, Weaver, et al. set out to breed peregrines on an industrial scale, then release them into the wild through a modified form of the ancient falconry technique of hacking. Most conservationists assumed it couldn't be done. Quite a few, in fact, thought it shouldn't be done—there were people and even organisations arguing for "extinction with dignity" as preferential to "intrusive" or "manipulative" intervention in nature. (I equate this point of view with American isolationism in the late 1930s and early 1940s; thank the gods that neither prevailed in the end.)

P-Fund married faith to hard work and good science, and the birds did come, a trickle at first and eventually a torrent, while a small army of students, pensioners, falconers, and birdwatchers mobilised to oversee their transition into the wild as hacksite attendants. I'm proud to have been a part of that army.

Although I've trained some small falcons—several American kestrels and a merlin—I've never yet flown a peregrine. But I have participated in hunts with peregrines at pheasant, duck, snipe, and prairie grouse. I've hacked captive-bred eyasses on the Montana prairie and in the mountains of Georgia, seen hacked birds return to their "natal" territories, and banded eyasses from wild nests on skyscrapers. I've watched peregrines migrating down Appalachian ridgelines and along Gulf Coast beaches, and observed resident birds soaring over Sonoran desert and slickrock canyons out west. I've seen peregrines scatter city pigeons and herd flocks of shorebirds, seen them loafing beneath the Francis Scott Key Bridge (the "Car-Tangled Spanner") in Baltimore and casually scaling cliffs in the mountains where The Last of the Mohicans was filmed. I've arisen what I thought was early, only to find a blonde tundrius peregrine fresh from the Arctic plucking an even earlier-rising sandpiper atop a piece of driftwood, and stayed out past dark to watch young "cadei" peregrines catch bats in the floodlights of a state capitol building. And every one of these experiences I owe, directly or indirectly (mostly directly), to Tom Cade.

Thanks for everything, Dr. Tom.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Ginger binger 2018

After a three-year delay—exactly the amount we had promised to avoid—we rang in the new year with some new ginger beers and ginger ales; this is our review. Long-time readers will be familiar with the format, but for background, here are the previous posts:
As with the 2015 version, this post will be limited to new entries. Tasters were yours truly, Jessa, Ellie, and Ellie's beau, Nick.

Barons Ginseng Ginger Ale. The only address apparent from the bottle was  an e-mail address; later, Jessa discovered "a locally made retro California brand" under the cap, but California's a big place, so "locally made" is still a bit vague. This, plus a bland label, had our expectations low. Those expectations were met. Made with cane sugar and natural flavor, but flat tasting despite the carbonation. The ginseng didn't do much for it. Clear but with some colour, this is a GGA, but one we won't bother with again.

Brickway Brewery Ginger Beer. This one hails from nearby Omaha, Nebraska. Canned rather than bottled, so points deducted—then earned back on the strength of "cold-steeped with fresh ginger." Golden colour but not cloudy, smooth but not especially sweet; "almost really good", as one of our tasters put it. I think this judgment holds true if viewed as a GB, but it's actually on the borderline between a GB and a GGA, with cream-soda influences.

Misty Wither's Ginger Beer, by Orca Beverage in Mukilteo, Washington, was a nice surprise. In a clear glass bottle with ornate lettering and scrollwork on the label, it looks like an old brand—but it's apparently new. The drink itself is very pale and relatively clear, so we weren't expecting much spiciness. And, true to our expectations, it got off to a smooth start, but that was followed by a substantial ginger bite and a pleasant heat that lingered long after our glasses were drained. Similar to Caribbean GBs despite appearances. Cane sugar, ginger extracts and natural flavors.

Olde Brooklyn Park Slope Ginger Ale by White Rock Beverages is notable mainly for its marketing. I'll explain: One of our tasters noted right from the beginning, "You know it's old because it has an 'e' at the end." Furthermore, the address given on the label is Whitestone, New York, which a quick check of Google Maps informs me is located in Queens, not Brooklyn. White Rock's website goes on to describe "nostalgia-themed sodas" that "capture the flavour and spirit of the oldest and most famous Brooklyn neighborhoods". Uh-oh. Not inspiring. They did at least use cane sugar and natural flavors; the result is a decent but not standout DGA, comparable to Canada Dry or Schweppes. (If you want something from Brooklyn, I again recommend Bruce Cost Ginger Ale, which we reviewed in 2015.)

Pennsylvania's Reading Soda Works & Carbonic Supply has been making traditional cane-sugar and natural-flavor sodas since 1921, including Reading Draft Ginger Beer, our favourite of this year's offerings. Finally, some cloudy colour—and quality taste to match. Fragrant, almost musty, a true GB. In brown glass, which is also fitting.

Our last entry this year has a unique twist: cucumber. I'll let the label tell the story: "In late 18th century Grand Isle, Louisiana, when the gentleman pirate Jean Lafitte still patrolled local waters, you could find an abundance of two things—seafood and cucumbers; the latter being their biggest cash crop until World War II. Chances are if you walk into a Louisiana backyard garden on a warm summer day, you'll still find a few cucumber plants. Swamp Pop Jean Lafitte Ginger Ale blends the refreshing flavor of cool cucumbers with a spicy ginger nod to Jean Lafitte's southernly travels through Caribbean waters." This soda is actually made in Lafayette, not Grand Isle, and you wouldn't mistake it for a Caribbean GB—this is a clear GGA in clear glass—but the cucumber works with the ginger to produce a sweet and mild ginger drink. Made with natural flavors and, of course, cane sugar. (Could you expect anything but cane sugar out of southern Louisiana?)

'Til next time...stay thirsty, my friends.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Pawnee warrior

Stekoa with the first rabbit of 2019, taken this morning at Pawnee Lake.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

King of Bohemia

A few days ago, Stekoa, Anya, and I drove up to the Bohemian Alps—a region of rolling hills settled by Czech immigrants in the 19th century—near Prague, Nebraska. (Maxine, getting up in years and having hunted hard the day before, opted for a day off.) We were rewarded with lovely scenery and a fantastic flight on this, our last rabbit of 2018. There will be more before the season ends, inshallah.

"New Year's Day"

Monday, December 31, 2018

Yuletide visitor

This tiny plains garter snake showed up in our basement kitchen a couple of days before Christmas. Ellie named him Steve—after Steve Irwin, I assumed, but no. Apparently, "he just looks like a Steve."

We kept him in a terrarium, safe from the cat, for a day or two and then, on a warm afternoon, slipped him into the brushpile of Christmas trees past where we have seen so many other garters.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Postcard from Annapolis

A decidedly belated post—we were there in October...

A few snapshots from Maryland's capital city. Photos by Jessa and myself.

The most prominent building in Annapolis is the Maryland State House. (Please don't call it the "capitol building"; we don't, though it serves that purpose.) The dome, which features on the Maryland twenty-five cent piece issued in 2000, was built of cypress wood—and without nails.


Also on the grounds of the State House is the Old Treasury Building; the oldest public building in Annapolis, it pre-dates the current State House by three and a half decades.

The flags at State Circle are displayed properly, with a cross bottony at the top of the pole. Maryland is the only state that prescribes a specific ornament for the flagpole.

This cannon once defended Maryland's first capital city, St. Mary's, which was settled in 1634. Annapolis (originally called Providence) was founded by Puritan settlers in 1642 but did not become the capital until 1694 (at which point, after several previous changes of name, it also became Annapolis).

Maryland was founded by the Calverts, also known as the Lords Baltimore. Accordingly, the Maryland arms are the Calvert family arms. The motto, Fatti maschii, parole femine, is Italian rather than Latin, and means "Manly deeds, womanly words", though the state has gone with a more politically-correct translation: "Strong deeds, gentle words". (Incidentally, although there is a town called Baltimore in County Cork, the Lords Baltimore were associated with Baltimore Manor in County Longford—the same county from which the Farrells originally hail.)

Right next to State Circle is Church Circle. Maryland was conceived as a Catholic colony with a policy of religious tolerance, though it took a while (thanks in large part to the aforementioned Puritans) for that vision to be realised. The majority Church of England was also influential in Maryland history. I've mentioned before, I think, that the Anglicans are known for pretty churches, and St. Anne's is certainly one.

Okay, enough history for now. The photos that follow, though they are framed in such a way that they don't show much, nevertheless give a hint of the Old World feel of the town's historic neighbourhoods. (And Jessa is a big fan of the interior shutters.)

Annapolis is, of course, a port city as well, site of the United States Naval Academy (though we didn't visit the Academy) and unofficially "America's sailing capital".

Plus, squirrels!

But here's the real reason we were in town. Below, yours truly with newlyweds Erich & Laura Mair. Laura, née Grammer, is my cousin. She and Erich fell in love in Annapolis, so what better place for their wedding?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Peachblossom Meetinghouse

Just as I've always admired St. John's in the Valley [here and here] for its Gothic loveliness, I've always appreciated Peachblossom Meetinghouse for its elegant simplicity.

This little hexagonal structure was built on the banks of Peachblossom Creek near Easton, Maryland, in 1880 to serve as a meetinghouse for four local congregations: Swedenborg, Lutheran, Methodist, and Church of the Brethren. It has been known by several names: Union Meetinghouse for its multi-denominational origins, Peachblossom Meetinghouse for its location, and Round Top Meetinghouse for its shape. The four congregations initially shared the space, each laying primary claim one Sunday a month, but by 1903 they had all built, purchased, or leased buildings more conveniently located, and Round Top (now owned exclusively by the Brethren) fell into disuse.

Disuse, fortunately, did not mean neglect. The Brethren have kept up on routine maintenance and repairs, both before and after the meetinghouse's relocation in 1940 to accommodate the construction of US Highway 50, the Eastern Shore's main arterial highway. A cast-iron marker notes its place in Maryland history, and the Brethren once again hold services here on special occasions.

[Photos by Mark & Jessa.]

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A day at the lake

My girl catches fish...

...and I do okay too.

All fish caught on this particular day were on flies tied by yours truly: an orange-floss fox-squirrel streamer, a green-floss Serama beadhead soft-hackle, and a red peacock nymph. Each fly accounted for both bluegills and rainbows.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Red-sided garter snake

Okay, so it took a while...

Back in the first year of this blog, I posted some photos of a plains garter snake from the garden...and promised to follow up with red-sided garter snake pictures. I didn't expect it to be ten years before I had both snake and camera at the same time and place, but so it was. These were taken while fishing with Jessa and Ellie at Fremont Lakes last week; as I hinted last time, I only ever see red-sideds near water.

Meet Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis.