A blog about a first-time house owner learning to maintain his backyard, and thoughts about nature, science, history, and life.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lots of Water

The creeks have been swollen lately with rain and snowmelt. The above photo is of the top of the waterfall at the west end of Beebe Lake.  The water is overtopping the dam along its whole arcing length, and the falls are roaring.  I took this photo on Wednesday.  After well over an inch of rain across the area on Wednesday night, I'm sure the falls were frothing today.  Much of this water, of course, passed by my dock, following the course of Fall Creek from its headwaters, through Freeville, and on to Beebe Lake.  Below these waterfalls, Fall Creek passes through a deep, narrow gorge (frequented by Cornell students when it's warm out) then tumbles over the Niagara of Ithaca, Ithaca Falls, on its way to Cayuga Lake.  These falls are likely the source of Fall Creek's name...though most creeks in the Ithaca area have waterfalls.  Once the weather makes its inevitable turn toward warmer temperatures and the trails become safe again, I'll begin visiting some of these sites.

I'm Back

Please excuse me for not posting so much in the last couple of weeks.  I was out of town attending to family matters for much of that time.  But I've been collecting material for the blog in the meantime.  I have a work deadline coming up, but I hope to be able to resume posting later tonight.  Stay tuned!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Extreme Weather Grows in Frequency and Intensity Around the World

I posted not too long ago about how 2012 was the warmest year in the instrumental record across the U.S., and I also showed how it's been warmer in many places around the globe.  But this broad-brushes reality.  It's been a cold winter in Russia.  They've had snow recently in Israel.  This doesn't negate the overall trend towards global warming. - on the whole, the world is still warming - but the fluctuations in the weather seem to have gone a little haywire.  It reminds me a little bit of watching a seismograph during a small earthquake...the needle is jumping up and down a lot quicker and a bit farther than we're used to. 

The dual nature of the weather - hot and cold, wet and dry - reminds me of the increasing polarization in the world: Democrat and Republican, Liberal and Conservative, Secular and Religious, Economic and Social, and so on.  Now I'm not saying that this is the cause.  From our Western perspective, with our assumption that nature operates of its own accord, or by God's will, depending on one's view, it's crazy to think that our way of viewing the world and interacting with the world actually affects how the world works!  But it is an interesting correlation, nevertheless.

Here's the article from the New York Times.

Extreme Weather Grows in Frequency and Intensity Around the World

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Knowing some of my most loyal readers, I imagine that they're pretty familiar with the famous Footprints poem.  The basic premise is that the writer saw two sets of footprints, until one set disappeared.  The natural assumption of the writer was that those footprints - the one set remaining - were hers.  But no, that was when she had been carried through her troubles by the help of the other one with her.

I open with this reference because I looked out the front door to a befuddling sight: one set of footprints.  Here are some photos:

Above, here's my view out the front door: the first thing I saw.  It was just one set of footprints, awfully close to the house.  Most of the footprints that I've seen in the backyard were deer footprints, so I naturally assumed that these were deer footprints as well. 

I looked to the left of the door from the screened-in porch, though, and I got more confused.  I now clearly saw two sets of footprints.  

I looked even farther to the left, and I saw that the two sets of footprints had merged into one path with two distinct sets of prints. Then, finally, I thought to look to the right of the door.

Now I began to see what I was dealing with...something sneaky!  Two deer - or something else? - entered the yard via the same path, then took different paths as they approached the porch.  But, just to be sure, I opened the front door...

Yup, cat prints!  And right along the brick wall of the porch.  Just as cats slide along, rubbing against your leg, a couch, or the leg of a chair, here one had moved right along the grating brick edge of the porch.

I think the "cat effect" in the Footprints poem is the other footprints, the ones that aren't there, like the ones that aren't in the photos: the ones that I made getting out to my car to go into work, and the ones that I later made to check the mail and take a short walk in the brisk air tonight.  I'm referring to the actions and impacts that we all have on each other.  We have no idea just how much influence our words and actions have on the lives of others.  So, like cats, even if we're sneaky, we should try to make a good impression, in hopes that our words and actions will return to us with even greater potency.  And maybe some warm milk.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Transparency in the Wildflower Patches

Now that winter is here, the wildflowers have died off (except for the thorny plants), and I can see what they've been hiding all this time.  I'll have to decide how to manage these areas, and whether I want to replace the wildflowers with something else.

Can you see the path towards the left in the above photo?

There's a big pile of accumulated branches that I'll have to get rid of.

There's a whole bunch of thorny plants in this patch; I have to decide whether to keep them or not.  There are also a couple of random piece of wood that were tossed in there that I should extract before the vegetation grows back in the spring.

Here's that same patch from a different angle....the growth looks a little fuller from this view.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

When Weather Computers Go Down

When you work in meteorology, you're bound to know at least a few people who do the weather on TV - broadcast meteorologists.  As with any job, sometimes things go wrong.  But when they do, some people handle it better than others.  Here's a YouTube video I've run across that shows a pretty excellent example of how to present a weather forecast when the weather computers go down and all those fancy graphics aren't at the broadcast meteorologist's disposal.  This is from Channel 8 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, earlier this week.

And then...there's Southern California.  Temperatures dropped into the 50s in the Los Angeles area, and people weren't very happy about it.  See the video below from the Jimmy Kimmel Show.

Freeville Tour: Uptown Freeville

You know, it seems almost silly to divide Freeville into segments, considering that the whole village comprises all of one square mile, and most of the civic and commercial buildings are clustered within maybe half of that area.  But for the sake of the blog and dividing things up so the posts don't get too long, I've divided Freeville into segments anyway.  This post will look at the rest of the civic and commercial buildings that haven't been covered in previous installments of the Freeville tour. 

The first two pictures in this post show the pink-and-white Fox and Hound bed and breakfast, which sits about a quarter mile up the road from the post office.  It looks like a nice place to stay if you're interested in checking out the sights of Freeville, Ithaca, and the Finger Lakes.

A little farther up Main Street is Finger Lakes Physical Therapy, one of the few businesses in town.  This used to be the site of a general store, the Red and White store (a reference to Cornell, perhaps?).  Even farther back in time, Riverside Park was located in the site of the current parking lot and behind it...this was where the tourists mentioned in Tuesday's post came.

Next to Finger Lakes Physical Therapy, in the same building, sits a vacant office.  Right in the heart of Freeville, it's prime office space if you ask me!

A little farther down Main Street sits a little bench, a community bulletin board (which in the fall had a list of the Methodist Church's chicken barbeque dates), and a sizable flagpole. 

The Suburban Shopper is a little local newspaper that comes in the mail every week.  This picture reminds me that as I was walking around Freeville taking pictures for this post, I saw quite a few houses with flags hanging out in the breeze.  Freeville is a patriotic little town.

One of the main attractions of modern-day Freeville, the Water Wheel Cafe serves delicious food 5 days a week (Wed-Sun).  If you live in the area and you haven't tried it yet, I suggest that you do!

Above is the entrance to the Water Wheel.  Most patrons park either on the street or in a little parking lot just down the road.

The next building over is a tile and flooring store, with what appears (through the window) to be a large selection. 

The site of the TileTec store used to be a two-in-one general store (I.G.A., it was called), with half of the store devoted to groceries and half of the store devoted to dry goods.  You can probably see that it's really two stores in one above.

Behind the Water Wheel Cafe...there's the water wheel.  It runs on electricity, I think; it's not powered by the water.

Here's a better view of the creek, looking downstream, in the direction of my house.

And here's a view looking upstream.  Back in the day, this bridge was not here, and the main crossing of Fall Creek was a little farther upstream, so the steamboat could go just a bit farther.

Here's the village hall.

And here's a close-up of the village hall.

Freeville has its own volunteer fire company.  The meeting hall was my polling place for this past fall's election.

For a small village, Freeville appears to have a sizable fleet of fire trucks.

The fire department has its own barbeque pit.  Freeville likes its chicken barbeques.

One more picture showing the fire department from a different angle.

There's another restaurant in town - Toad's Diner.  It's open for lunch most days and for dinner on Fridays.  It seems to be popular with the locals, especially on weekends.  I'll have to try it sometime.

Across the street from Toad's is the seasonal Toad's Too! Ice Crean Oasis.  It looks a lot nicer during the summer, when it's open.  This is a popular summertime hangout for Freeville residents and folks who happen to be passing through.  They've got over 100 flavors of ice cream!

There's another church in Freeville besides the Methodist Church - the Temple of Truth Church.

I'm guessing that the white building back there is the church.  It looks like a church, anyway.

And here's the driveway entrance to the church.

That garage is the Freeville Department of Public Works, and the road in front of it is called, appropriately enough, DPW Drive.  You can see that a bunch of people have dropped off their Christmas trees by the garage to be disposed of.

And that's it for this edition of the Freeville tour.  Between this post and the previous one in the series, I've covered the major commercial and public buildings in the town.  Ok, so Freeville's not too busy of a place...but it's still a nice little place to live.  I still have a couple of Freeville tour posts on the docket.  One will come in the next week or two and the other will have to wait until it gets warmer.  Can you guess what they might be?

If you missed the other Freeville tour posts to date, click on the "tour" tag below and they should pop up for you!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Light Snowfall in Freeville

Last night's storm moved just a bit farther north than expected, so we wound up with perhaps a bit more snow than expected.  I measured 0.9" on the snowboard this morning.  I like these dustings of snow better than heavy snows.  It's a lot easier to walk and drive in, and it still makes everything look beautiful.  Maybe I'll get out for a quick walk this afternoon to take some pictures in one of the parks.  (I'm working at home today.)

The stick is plenty tall to mark the snowboard!

I love the look of branches with just a dusting of white snow on them.  Here are a few pictures.

Cornell is Gorges

Last week a had a post showing the water flowing from Fall Creek (the creek that flows behind my backyard) into Beebe Lake, a small man-made lake a few miles downstream on the Cornell University campus.  I took a few more shots that day, and here they are.  The above picture was taken from a bridge over the creek looking toward the lake and campus beyond.  The tall building toward the left is Bradfield Hall, home of the Atmospheric Science half of the Earth and Atmospheric Science department (on the top, 11th floor).

The picture above and the pictures that follow were taken from the same bridge, looking back upstream.  Entering Beebe Lake, the creek enters a short, narrow, steep gorge.  With snow and icicles in the winter, it (like all of Ithaca's gorges, and there are quite a few!) looks spectacular.

While I was out taking these photos, I ran into a woman who was out walking her dog.  The dog was named Kepler, after the astronomer Johannes Kepler.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Freeville History: Come One, Come All

I grew up outside of Philadelphia in the town of Hatboro, so named because local hatmakers made hats for soldiers in the Revolutionary War.  The next town over, site of my high school, is known as Willow Grove.  For much of the 20th century, Willow Grove was a tourist destination - a popular day-trip for the denizens of Philadelphia.  They would take the train and the trolley to Willow Grove Park, an amusement park where John Philip Sousa made occasional appearances with his band.  Up until the early 1970s or so, "Life was a Lark at Willow Grove Park".  The park was eventually torn down, and the location was later turned into a popular shopping mall.

Similarly, believe it or not, my tiny village of Freeville was once a popular day-trip tourist destination for folks as far away as Pennsylvania and Buffalo.  You see, during the railroad era, Freeville sat at the junction of two major rail lines.  One ran roughly north-south, from Pennsylvania to the village of Dryden, through Freeville, up to the village of Groton, and then continued north to Lake Ontario.  A second line ran from Ithaca to Cortland, which is roughly a southwest-to-northeast route.  They met right in Freeville, not far from the current junction between Route 366 and Route 38, the major intersection in town.

If someone came to Freeville for the day, what did they do?  Well, there was a park, Riverside Park, near the current site of Finger Lake Physical Therapy.  This was the age of oration, so one of the highlights of the park was an auditorium where speeches were given on Sundays.  There was also a boardwalk, picnic tables, swings, row boats, and perhaps the highlight, a dock where patrons could board a steamboat that plied the waters of Fall Creek between the old mill dam (the current site of Mill Dam Park), and the old bridge across Fall Creek on the road to Groton, which was north of the current Groton Road, Route 38.  The steamboats would have passed right by my backyard!  This is a bit hard to believe, because this summer when I moved here, the creek appeared to be barely deep enough for a kayak, much less a steam boat.  The village historian thinks that the creek may be a bit lower nowadays because there is a sizable Cornell farm upstream that may be drawing off water from the creek.  Of course, back then, the dam was still in place, and it likely kept the waters higher as well.

Here's an excerpt from a document that I've just obtained, "Life Along Fall Creek in Freeville in the Past", by village historian Joan Manning:

"There was also Harris Rowe's, Riverside Park, with its ticket stand near the street [Main Street] and park on the lots where the Park-It Market [Finger Lakes Physical Therapy] and its parking lot are today.  Along the bank over-looking the creek, pleasant rustic seats and picnic tables under the trees invited those who had come for the day.  There were cinder paths, and board walk.  There was a broad, low-roofed auditorium where there were political and semi-religious talks given on Sundays.  East of these buildings was an oval goldfish pond, and just below it, toward the water was a refreshment stand.  On the higher ground, in the western corner, stood a long scaffold of big steel swings.  A wooden dock stretched along the bank of the creek.  Tied to posts along the dock, were a number of gaily painted rowboats, always in demand on nice Sundays.  Couples would sit on the dock or out on the creek in rowboats.  At the east side of the Park stood a sizable boat-house, home of the steam launch 'Clinton'.  It made regular trips to the mill dam and back to the Brooklyn Street bridge (that bridge crossed Fall Creek from Fall Creek Rd. straight across to Brooklyn Rd.), turning about at each end of the trip by being snubbed to a stout post.  The fare was five cents a trip.  A plume of black smoke rolled out behind [the] steam boat and people waited on the dock for a ride."

Falling Creek

After a long day of running high and submerging the dock, Fall Creek is falling.  Only the upper left corner of the dock remains under a little bit of water.  The snow has been largely melted for a couple of days, but it took some time for the water to filter down through the ground and out into the creek through the groundwater system.  And just in time, too, because it's getting a bit colder out there, and we're looking at the potential for a light dusting of snow tonight as a storm passes to our south.  The snowboard is ready, and I've found a new, taller stick to mark it.  It's become warped a bit, curling into an arc by the dampness.  I don't think that will affect the snowfall measurement tomorrow - if there's anything worth measuring.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Music and Driving

First, a quick update on the creek, which remains swollen with meltwater.  The dock is completely covered by about 3 inches of water - which makes it about 2 inches higher than it was late yesterday afternoon.  I think that the creek actually peaked overnight, and I expect it to slowly recede over the course of the day today.  It has turned cold and windy out there, with temperatures back down into the 30s, after a warm and humid weekend.  The rain gauge had just a trace of precipitation (rain) from the passage of the cold front and a pre-frontal rainband earlier this morning.  The cold front passed our area around 5:00 am.

Next, to the topic of this post: music and driving.  I recently found a blog post by a psychologist in the UK who looked at the music people listen to in the car and how it relates to their driving habits.  Younger people are more likely to listen to loud heavy metal music and also more likely to exhibit aggressive driving.  This is accompanied by the point that louder, faster music can distract drivers from the road and lead to more aggressive driving.

Jazz listeners were most likely to report a speeding fine.  In the UK, many of these speeding fines are doled out by speeding cameras, not by state troopers or sheriffs as in the US.  Jazz listeners tended to travel longer distances than listeners of other genres.

Reggae listeners tend to listen to the music to keep them alert, and they reported the most near-misses of any genre.

To close this post, I'll quote from the original blog post and link to it so that you can read the whole thing. 
"What music is good for driving? Music listening in cars has both potential benefits and costs. Both of these effects are driven by two main factors; 1) the intrinsic qualities of the music and 2) personal experience and preferences. To explain these in more detail;

1) Music that contains lyrics is potentially more distracting than instrumental music. We know that verbal-based materials interfere more with other everyday tasks such as reading and playing computer games.
2) Music that is louder and more complex (contains more key changes, more erratic rhythms, more layered textures, and more instruments/voices) is likely to be more distracting.
3) Music that is unfamiliar is more likely to be distracting compared to tunes we know well.
4) Not liking the music in our environment can negatively influence our concentration."

Here's the original blog post: http://musicpsychology.co.uk/music-and-driving/