Sunday, December 19, 2010

Intention and Wood Splitting

I had an enjoyable few hours  cutting and splitting wood today, especially the splitting.  We took down a triple trunk black birch tree that was dead and threatening the house. 

 The wood split nicely in the cold.  I got all this done in about 30 minutes.  In my experience, intention is a big part of wood splitting.  You need to pay attention to the wood, where cracks are, where the branches are, split big ones near the edge first, and also to your technique (letting the axe to work and getting the most leverage) but the intention behind your swing and looking at where you want it to split seems to be a big part to me.  Of course, this is true in life too.

I am very thankful to the standing ones for providing this beautiful wood to keep us warm this winter. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ancient Dance

Ancient song danced round fire and tree
Dance steps become bear's stomp walk
Stepping hard and heavy to scent the path 
Building, building, building, building
Back arched back to bite bark
Marking the tree
Proud and strong
The power released with outstretched paws and explosive grunts 
Piercing the dome to the full, white moon

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Wake Up!

Many drivers seem to be asleep when it comes to wildlife.  I recently saw two incidents that got me thinking about this.  First, I saw two robin having a territorial, aerial battle.  I could see that they were very involved in their battle and heading right towards the road.  I immediately slowed down. The driver in front of me did not slow down at all (his brake lights did not go on.)  Feathers went flying as one bird was destroyed.  A few days later, I was driving up Route 5 in Deerfield when I noticed a young bear heading across the road.  Again, I immediately slowed down.  Again, the driver in front of me did not slow down or brake.  Luckily, the bear escaped by inches.  With all the wildlife in our area, we all need to stay alert! 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Horrendous Town Logging Project

Conway, Massachusetts used to have a Town Forest.  Jack Lockhead, former Conway Selectboard Member, who spearheaded logging on town lands, recently called it the Town Woodlot.  If there aren't any trees, I guess you can't call it the Town Forest anymore.   I recently toured the area and found large tracts with few, if any, trees.  This used to be a beautiful forested area.  Not it is a ugly, virtual clear cut full of ticks, prickers, and slash.   

When I first inquired about the project, I was told they were going to thin out some non-native species such as Norway Spruce and Red Pine.  These species were planted by the CCC in the 1930s.  A bad idea but these areas support large populations of red squirrels.  In turn, you see lots of predator and predator tracks in these areas:  weasels, coyotes, fishers, and bobcats.  These tree species don't spread but the wood is valuable and the logging industry, in their quest to make logging sound good, latched onto this as a way to make logging more palatable.  Of course, they don't tell you that they also take out large amounts of adjacent hardwoods.  Unless you know enough check the logging plan, you would have no way of knowing this.  There was a very large area of hardwood forest, again a formerly beautiful forest, that was heavily logged.  It is a shadow of its former self.  The Conway State Forest has a similar project planned, again with the Red Pine and Norway Spruce being used as a cover to take out lots of other species.  They use to tell us that is was important to leave slash for animals and for the soil.  Now that the slash is a possible source of biomass fuel, it is no longer important for the soil or animals, I guess.  I wish the logging industry would at least be honest with us.

The biggest problem with the project was the oil spills.   The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), decided to put the landing, where the logs are loaded onto trucks, within 50 feet of a large wetland area, which is a violation of the recommended Logging Best Practices document endorsed by the state.  This landing area is on my daily 3 mile log run, which I do with my 2 dogs, and used to enjoy tremendously until the logging project started.  I started to notice frequent oil spill from both the skidders, forwarders, and the large logging trucks that take the wood out.  Even though the supervisor tried to provide absorbent pads to the loggers, the loggers subcontracted by Lashway Lumber refused to use them. 

The DCR and the Town were horrendous and refused to acknowledge the issue despite photographic evidence and lab reports, done at my expense, documenting the oil and hydraulic fluid leaks.  I documented 18 spills covering over 100 square feet of land and water, most of which were adjacent to the wetland system.  The wetland system feeds the Town of Deerfield's water supply.  We were confronted with strong petrochemical daily on our beautiful trails.   Despite frequent attempts to address the issue with the town, the DCR, the DEP, and the Conservation Commission, the loggers continued to spill oil.  The forester would come up and put down pads herself after I complained and after oil was spilled.  Worst of all, these officials all denied the issue and responsibility, despite massive evidence to the contrary.  At one point, six of us that live in the area were disturbed by the strong petrochemical smells.  DCR Service Forester Alison Wright said she could not smell or see any problems.  Only after the area was heavily bulldozed to cover up the oil spills and pretty things up, was I able to get the CC, DCR, DEP, and Town to tour the area.  Even though I showed my lab reports, and oil spills the bulldozers had missed, the DCR sent a curt report saying they broke no laws.  I was told by a source in the logging industry that the DEP deliberately delayed the meeting until the area was bulldozed and the evidence covered up. DCR forester Alison Wright called the project an exemplary foresting project.  If this project was exemplary, I would hate to see the bad projects. 

I am still trying to get the DCR to move the landing for an upcoming state forest logging project but the DCR logger in charge is still denying the issue and using the term "so-called oil spills." Why the officials can't acknowledge the issue and make reasonable efforts to address citizen concerns really perplexes me.  Hopefully, the state project, which is on hold, will be canceled because the land will be added to a reserve under the new visioning project.  I found that the oil spills were disturbed and came back to the surface when a salvage project was completed on the Town Forest.  That's why the landing should be moved for future projects.  The DCR refused to let the forester move the landing away from the wetland for the salvage project.  It's hard to understand why the would not allow the project to reduce the chance of polluting the water supply if it was easy to do so. 

The thinning of the Red Pine and Norway Spruce, was supposed to protect the forest from wind and ice damage.  Oops, that didn't work.  A salvage project, which removed the great majority of remaining trees in the Red Pine and Norway Spruce area, was completed after the ice storm of 2008. See photo above.

See for more details on this project.  

Photo of an absorbent pad.  Before I complained about these leaks, the fluids were spilling directly on the forest floor. 

This spill was adjacent to a vernal pool.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

First Experience With Death and Dying

Aiden greatgrandmother died last week.  She was the last of Dawn and my grandparents.  We took Aidan to the service.  There was no open casket, which was a relief.  I did not want to take him if there was.  So, of course, he started to ask a lot of questions. 

"What is dying?"

"People get really old and they stop breathing."


This is when I repeat the previous answer!

So he was OK with this.  He was concerned that his grandfather was sad so we explained that his mother had died. 

But the next morning, he made the connection to me and to himself.  He asked, "Daddy, are you going to die?"

"Yes, everyone dies but not for a really long time."

"I don't want you to die."

So this not an easy moment but I had to keep a "normal" tone of voice.  I snuggled him and we talked more, mostly along the same lines. 

A hard conversation but a good one that will hopefully be a good base for other deaths in the future.  Hard as it is, death is a part of life.  

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Agony of Defeat

Aidan has gotten to the point where he can play a whole game of Chutes and Ladders and understands winning.  He beat me first and apparently beats his babysitter.  However, I did win the other day and he was quite upset.  I explained about winning and losing and that we can't always win but the point is to have fun together.  He seemed OK but woke up the next morning and said, "Daddy, I am still a little bit sad because you beat me at Chutes and Ladders." 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Funny One

Aidan and I were discussing some of the plants and trees in the yard and he asked about the crab apple tree, which he initially thought was poisonous.  I told him, no it was just sour.  We were talking about which animals eat what and he told me woodpeckers eat frogs, and I told him, "No, they eats insects."  Then he asked what frogs eat, and I told him, "Insects."  He then asked very sincerely, "Do crabs eat the crab apples, Daddy?"

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Teaching Kids Math Strategies

I was co-teaching recently with a lower elementary colleague.  We were doing a FunBrain activity called Guess My Number.

You guess a number between 1 and 100 (or 1 and 10) and the computer tells you if the answer is higher or lower than the guess.  This process repeats until you guess correctly or you run out of turns.  You have 7 guesses for 1 to 100.  My recollection from my Computer Science graduate work was that a binary search is the optimal strategy for this type of problem.  So, your first guess would be 50.  If the computer said lower, you would then guess 25.  If the computer said higher, your next guess would be 75.  This allows you to rapidly hone in on the answer.

When I asked my colleague if she taught the kids this strategy, her response was that she never teaches kids strategies but always lets the kids find their own strategies.

I really questions this approach, which seems to be an extreme interpretation of the constructivist philosophy of education.  From wikipedia, Constructivism is a theory of knowledge, which argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from their experiences.  If taken to its limits, teachers never actually teach anything but provide the materials and experiences so that children can discover everything for themselves.

In my experience, it is an excellent practice to give students a chance to explore problems on their own without giving them the answer or the strategy to get the answer.  However, not all algorithms are the same.  We know from the field of computer science, that algorithms can be mathematically evaluated as to their efficiency.  Of course, they need to be correct too!   Some teachers (and I am not sure if my colleague is one or not), seem to feel that all ways of getting the answer are equivalent and equally valid.  This is clearly not true.  So we should encourage different ways of getting the answer but we should also be evaluating them as to which methods are better than others.  I think it is misguided in the attempt to preserve self esteem to say that all methods are equally good.  Some even think that getting a correct answer is not important, but only the method.  I would say that both are important. 

I also think that we most definitely need to teach kids strategies and methods after giving them time to explore on their own.  To not do so robs students of all the mathematical work that has gone before them.  You would not get very far in math without understanding what has gone before us.  So I teach specific problem solving strategies and computational algorithms.  Frankly, some students would never arrive at good algorithms if never shown to them.  Children also construct knowledge from what we teach them.  In my view, they need to make sense of not just their own ideas but the ideas of those that have been gone before them.  That can be done in a hands on way with math manipulatives with young children.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Self Sufficiency

I feel really good fixing things myself recently.  I installed a dishwasher, installed 2 hard drives including 1 on a laptop (tricky), replaced a car battery, and have been working on our plow truck.  Even though I was not able to completely fix the truck, I did identify one problem.  It is very satisfying to feel self sufficient this way though it is helpful to have a community of people to whom you can ask questions or get help.  The Internet is a new source of community and information that can also be helpful.  It does take longer to do it yourself, especially the first time, and it can be frustrated, but it is satisfying for me to learn new things.  It reminds me of some of the guys in the neighborhood where I grew up who would always be fixing their own cars and doing their own remodeling.  My father is also good at cabinetry and woodworking.  It does take time and energy though and that can be tricky with  a young child. Hopefully, when he is older, it will be easier to find ways he can help.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Further or Backwards?

I went to the Further show at UMass Amherst last Friday night.  Further is Bob Weir and Phil Lesh from the Grateful Dead, 2 new drummers, a piano player, and a guitarist and singer from the Dark Star Orchestra, a Dead clone band.  There were many fine moments musically and I enjoyed the show but I could not help but feeling that maybe the time was past for this scene, at least for me.  The vending scene was very small and a shadow of what is used to be.  While musically very good, Jerry's presence is sorely missed.  Listening to some of Dick's picks after the show, I felt that the magic and energy of a Dead show can never be recreated with different people today. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Irregular Past Tense

Aidan still loves his regular past tense of adding "ed."  I have been worked gently with him on irregular past tense.  He said to Dawn today, "Mom, did you gave me some gobbles?"  Gobbles means goggles. 

Monday, February 15, 2010


I recently experienced a phenomenon known as denialism.  Denialism is defined as  the practice of creating the illusion of debate when there is none.  See for a full description.  I have been very active in Facebook.  I have discovered that you can add friends that are on the extreme fringes.  Through my interest in dog training and whippets in particular, I have added some friends that I subsequently regretted.  One person was adding groups that were clearly racist and/or extremely prejudiced against Islam.  Typically, these are fundamentalist Christians.  I have inherent problem with these folks as long as there is an acceptance that there are multiple paths up the mountain of experiencing God.  Unfortunately, fundamentalists of many religions (even fundamentalist atheists) think their way is the only way.    One example of denialism is the denial of the validity of evolution. By the way, I don't feel that some kind of intelligent design is a contradiction with evolution.  The "creator" or "force behind everything"  can be behind evolution. 

Another fellow, posted a denial of climate change and I was surprised to find a number of denialist climate change sites.  I think there can be a healthy debate on the details of climate change but, overall, there can be no denial that there is drastic change going on caused by our activity.  The denialists hand pick a few fringe scientists and politicians to try and "prove" their case even though the vast majority of scienctists are in agreement.  When I pointed out the numerous environmental problems we have caused, he had a irrational answer for everything.  For example, when I pointed out the numerous species extinctions we have caused and the large number of species in trouble, his answer was that new species are being created and that species have always come and gone.  No understanding of the tragedy of man made extinctions.  It is very scary to me that this type of thinking seems to be becoming wide spread.  That journalism appears to be in decline.  That entertainment and news are becoming more and more merged.  That we seems to be becoming more and more polarized.  That intelligent debate is becoming more and more rare. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I was at UMass Amherst researching the use of robots in education.  Research is so much easier now than it used to be with most scholarly articles online.  No more looking things up in a card catalogue (that was online last time I did research) and taking the elevator up to the stacks.  Makes you wonder how long libraries will need all the storage space for journals.  Once you find the article, you can print it right there and/or email it to yourself. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Time to Be Bored

You know how some people (and I include myself at times), always have a big project going?  In my experience, it is important to have times without big projects.  You have to be bored for a while and see what emerges.  Also, the busyness can be a way to avoid feelings. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


As I was sitting getting my haircut last weekend, I noticed that I no longer had brown hair.  It is now "salt and pepper."  I have noticed other changes such as really needing reading glasses rather than it being better to have them.  I am trying to take a balanced and positive view of these changes.  It does seem like an oppurtunity to slow down a little bit, enjoy life more, and refocus on what is important:  family, dogs, and creative pursuits like music and animal tracking. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When I Was A Baby

Aidan's favorite saying now is, "When I was a baby, ...." 

Seems to have come out of watching some DVDs of when he was younger and, I assume, some kind of development milestone of understanding that he is growing and changing.