Friday, October 28, 2005


I admit defeat. Apparently I cannot slow the advance of the season by continuing to wear sandals and refusing to turn on the furnace. Bill's first frost, at South Five Wells, across the street (and maybe 5 feet lower) was a couple of weeks ago. He had already turned on his furnace and started wearing boots.

Maybe my first failure was after Labor Day when I stopped wearing white . Then I demonstrated my lack of faith by bringing in the porch plants yesterday.

Anyway, last night we had a frost here at North Five Wells. Today the Black Walnut trees are dumping their leaves all at once, as they always do when the temperature hits 31.9F. I once caught this in a movie. It's pretty dramatic.

I'm not a narcissist or a control freak. It's sheer denial that makes me ignore the obvious signs that winter is coming. It's been so rainy I haven't been able to enjoy fall as much as I usually do. There are some things about winter that I enjoy. It's just that it's soooo loooong. If only it could hold off a few more weeks... If only the computer screen could provide the sunlight we northerners so desperately need...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Raingauge Runneth Over

Welcome to new readers from Feministe, Philobiblon and Science and Sarcasm. So many thoughts, so little time. I'm having trouble adapting to the change of season. It looks like we'll have to depend on the Hickories for color this fall. Maples and Oaks haven't really chimed in yet. And it's raining, raining, raining. There are a few important outdoor chores to do. Lots of indoor chores have piled up over the summer. I can't believe the cobwebs, pet hair and dust bunnies everywhere. I just don't notice it in the summer when I'm outdoors most daylight hours. And if I don't get some ironing done soon I won't be able to go out in public at all.

But the big adjustment problem is heating. The house was designed before I had kids. Kid #1 was on the way as construction began and I made my first huge concession to kids - I added electricity to the design. Here in the country we need electricity to have running water and I couldn't picture toilet training with an outhouse. As it turned out that would have been one of the simplest parts of family life. The washing machine and refrigerator have been the most important electric appliances. But the house was heated delightfully with the wood cookstove and ingenious convection for circulation.

Kid #1 was on his feet (and on the tractor, on the ladders and up the trees) when we moved into the house and Kid #2 arrived. By the time she was walking I realized that the original 24'x32' design was really ideal for one person, or two people who really liked each other. But with kids we were going to need more space. So construction of "the west wing" began, doubling the square footage of the house. That wing has always been hard to heat with the fireplace, so we reluctantly added some supplementary electric thermal storage heat.

Finally a few years ago, living solo and working full time away from home to help put Maggy through college, I splurged on a small gas furnace. The magic thermostat on the wall was my best friend for a year - at least my favorite mechanical device. But now, with no kids for tax exemptions, I'm back to my original tax protest - keeping my income low enough to avoid paying taxes. That means keeping expenses to a minimum, too. So, I'm retreating into the original part of the house for now, hoping that will eliminate the need for the electric heat and minimize the need for gas heat. I'm home full time now so I'll be keeping the home fire burning.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Wild Apples

Last spring Bill and I walked up toward the northwest corner of our woods - a walk we've taken regularly for more than thirty years. But that morning there was a strong floral scent in the air. I kept looking around for the source 'til we spied a gorgeous, full-grown apple tree in full bloom. How could it be that we'd never seen it before? It's just a little off the trail - far enough from home that we're usually deep in thought or conversation. We wouldn't have noticed it this time except for the fragrance. Apparently in thirty years we've never happened to walk by on the right day - the peak bloom day. Today we picked ten pounds of delicious, crisp tart apples!

More on Rural Internet Access

I enjoyed reading the first few entries in the new Carnival of Feminists up at Philobiblon this morning. Go look at it. Really. There's something for everyone.

Then Maggy sent me a link to this great Salon article on Broadband Internet Access. Among other things, the article reports on a Bill introduced to the house by Congressman Sessions (R Texas) to prohibit local governments from developing improved internet access. I this another example of Republican support of Free Markets? I did a little research, wrote another letter to Boehlert and posted about it again on Dryden Democrats.

Once again, I'm way over my allotted time for blogging.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Frivolous Lawsuits

Sometimes even CSPAN drives me nuts. It's not their fault, they broadcast the House and the Senate live. The straw that breaks the camel's back this morning is James Sensenbrenner (R Wis) introducing the "Personal responsibility in food consumption act," limiting the right of obese people to sue food companies - I kid you not.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for personal responsibility in lots of areas. But, in the true Republican spirit of free markets, why can't we count on lawyers simply to decline to take frivolous cases? Don't bother trying to explain this to me. I really do get it already. But where is the logic that informs Republicans it's a good idea to limit liability for doctors, gun manufacturers, food companies but not to restrict the amount of toxic waste they pour into the air and water? Or the amount of critical habitat they can pave?

Who thinks Congress should spend their time on frivolous lawsuits when they could be considering solutions to health care issues, poverty, world peace, better education? Ah, maybe there's the key... education standards for national leaders.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Rural Internet Access

When I teased Coturnix, at Science and Politics, about time management and being interested in so many things at the same time, he replied that he writes his blog posts in his head, then takes about 20 minutes to post them. That made me think about what a handicap my modem is. I'm used to it and I take it for granted (like I take hand-washing dishes for granted). But it means my internet reading, not to mention blog writing, probably takes ten times as long as it would with broadband access.

It's not that I'm personally technologically challenged. I was programming with COBOL on a mainframe Univac in the early seventies. Does anyone here remember "do not fold, staple or mutilate" punch cards and 12" reel-to-reel data tapes? And it's not that I'm stupid or stubborn. It's that, in my rural neighborhood, the only high speed access available to me is satellite. And it's simply not worth the price.

I'm affected by the digital divide because I choose to live in the country. I wonder how many of my friends in the "ecology" section of my bookmark list are similarly affected. We may be among the last of the underrepresented minorities.

My Congressman, Sherwood Boehlert (whose Congressional page loads in seven seconds), is on the House Science Committee. I've sent him the following message.

I would like to bring your attention to the problem of internet access in rural New York. In the Town of Dryden, where I am running for Town Board, Time Warner provides broadband access to any area which has twenty or more house per mile. My mile-long road has 17 houses (if you count the subdivision with its own dead-end side road). So, I continue to rely on my modem.

It takes 5 to 15 seconds to load a page of your House website. Clicking on "Contact Your Congressman" on your sidebar takes me to the House Contact page ( where I have to look up my representative's name, 'though I already know it's you. After I fill in my name and address and click "continue" I come to the House "Write Your Representative" page (where, incidentally, "useful" has been misspelled since the page was designed years ago.) So, I'm about two minutes into it before I begin to write my message.

In a search of FirstGov for "rural internet access" seven of the first ten articles reference North Carolina, already a leader in rural technology. If I'm having this much trouble in Tompkins County, what must it be like in the Adirondaks? The digital divide is affecting a large number of your constituents, not because we're poor, but because of the population density of our neighborhoods. Perhaps New York could follow North Carolina's lead in making rural internet access a priority.

Following a two minute and fifteen second wait for the New York State homepage to open, a search for "rural internet access" returned no matches at all.

I'm way beyond the amount of time I had alloted for blogging this morning. I'll cross post this at Dryden Democrats and get on with my Town Board campaign.

Monday, October 17, 2005


I'm really going to have to commit to a book a week! I picked up the following 22 books at the Friends of the Library Sale for about $40.

  • Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Political Issues, McKenna and Feingold
  • The Choice: How Clinton Won, Bob Woodward
  • Talking it Through: Puzzles of American Democracy, Robert Bennett
  • Public Education, Democracy and the Common Good, ed. Donovan Walling
  • The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Means of Ascent, Robert Caro
  • Sketches From A Life, George F Kennan,
  • Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton, David Gergen
  • All Politics Is Local, tip O'Neill
  • The Vantage Point, Lyndon B Johnson
  • Heavens on Earth: Utopian communities in America 1680-1880, Mark Holloway
  • The House on Beartown Road, A Memoir of Learning and Forgetting, Elizabeth Cohen


  • The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
  • The Liar, Stephen Fry
  • China Court, Rumer Godden
  • The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall
  • Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
  • The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi, Jacqueline Park
  • The Country Girls Trilogy and epilogue, Edna O'Brien
  • The Reader, Bernhard Schlink
  • The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Melissa Bank
  • Isle of Woman and Shame of Man, Piers Anthony

Add to these the uncounted things already lined up, waiting, on the shelf and the ten upcoming bookclub selections.

If you're near Ithaca, don't miss the last weekend of the Booksale. You'll be amazed how many good books are left and priced at .25 or .10. And Monday, a grocery bag full for $1.00! Finally, Tuesday books are free for teachers, homeschoolers and not-for-profit organization. The Booksale is truly one of Tompkins County's greatest institutions. More than 300,000 books in what seems like a lending library with no due date.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


The blog's been short of pictures lately 'cause my downstairs office, with the serious photo software, is cold. I'm using the upstairs computer so I can delay starting the fire for a few hours. I don't know if I can count this as energy conservation or sheer laziness. But it amounts to the same thing.

Coming home from the store yesterday, the clouds were just gorgeous. Thanks to Maggy for coming with me to take pictures from the top of Mt Pleasant.

This is the Cornell Observatory. I don't know what the guys with the telescopes were looking for in daylight. But I must remember to go there at night. My house is surrounded by trees, so I don't get much of a look at stars and such.

And this is the "rural character" of the Town of Dryden that I blog about at Dryden Democrats.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Coturnix has posted on the Ethics session of the ConvergeSouth blogger conference:

The session was actually quite tense and contentious, struggling over the ageless question of who has, or deserves, more trust: professional journalists or bloggers...until someone really smart suggested to stop thinking "Who do I trust" and ask instead "Who do I believe". At that moment, everyone in the room relaxed.

Words are great! "Trust" implies the trusted object is, in fact, trustworthy. A journalist or a blogger might feel personally threatened that the reader doesn't trust him. He isn't trustworthy.

"Belief" requires no rational support at all. It's when you close the book on "I think..." "I'm done thinking about this. I believe it. There's no need to discuss it further." If a reader doesn't believe what's written, it isn't necessarily the fault of the writer. It may be that the writer hasn't made a good enough case. But it may be that the reader has a conflicting belief and isn't willing to re-examine it - not the writer's fault at all.

I've thought a lot about the difference between "know" and "believe." I'm an extreme skeptic, so there aren't many things I claim to know with certainty. There are things I know from direct experience. Do I know that the theory of gravity is true? I honestly couldn't tell you exactly what the theory of gravity is. Let's see - something about attraction of bodies toward each other relative to their respective masses? I know that every single time I've dropped something, it has fallen down. So, though "past performance is no guarantee of future results," and, in fact, there may be some other explanation for things falling, I can claim to know the theory of gravity is true because people I trust have told me so and because I'm unaware of any plausible alternative explanation. (n.b. "people I trust")

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Dryden Town Budget

Last Friday's Dryden Town Board budget workshop was interesting. Honestly. Members of the Board were cordial to Simon and me - the only representatives of the public present. The clerk was kind enough to get a copy of the preliminary copy of the budget for us - all 86 pages of it. I've had a chance, over the weekend, to condense those 86 pages to 10 more meaningful ones. I've been in touch with Supervisor Trumbull with some questions, but here are a few salient points.
  1. Total expenses budgeted (about $6.5 M) remain nearly the same as expenses budgeted in 2005.
  2. Revenue includes:
  • Property taxes (about $2.5 M): budgeted to increase as a function of increased assessments and tax rate remaining constant.
  • Other income (about $2.5 M), including: sales tax (budgeted at the same level as 2005), state aid (increasing 15%), interest income (increasing)

The gap between total expenses and the total of property tax and other income is covered from the substantial surplus remaining from prior years. The surplus has accumulated apparently as a result of a generous contingency line item and apparently years of spending less than is taken in. And here a quiet debate begins. Should we continue budgeting for a surplus?

Dryden Town taxes, a small fraction of total property taxes, have declined steadily in the past decade. According to figures provided by the Tompkins County Board, the Dryden town tax rate has declined from 2.65% in 1995 to a projected 1.5% in 2006. The tax levy (the total amount raised through property taxes) has declined from 1,311,451 in 1995 to $914,240 in 2005 despite rising assessments. The surplus occurs as a result of either increased other income or increased control of expenses.

Should we decrease the tax rate and stop accumulating a surplus? Should we apply the surplus to increased town services? Or are we happy to continue accumulating a surplus? A public hearing is scheduled for October 27, 2005 at 7:00 PM in the Town Hall. Try to find out all you can about the budget before then so that time at the hearing will be well spent.

Next week I'll try to look at what may be the larger issue: assessments - up 25% since 1995. Or School taxes: about 90% of the Town of Dryden is in the Dryden School District where the tax rate is up from about 16.8% in 1995 to 22.1% in 2005 on top of the increased assessments.

Monday, October 10, 2005

I and the Bird

I and the Bird #8 will be up at Science and Sarcasm Thursday the 13th. I think it will include a link to my post about Bill's show. It's a great site. Check it out.

For a laugh about my prep for the show go back to my notes about matting.

Art show

I'm finally finishing framing Bill's paintings for the show that opens at the Laboratory of Ornithology Thursday. Bill is William C Dilger, Cornell Professor Emeritus and my dearest friend. The oldest of the paintings here, is the barred owl he did in 1942 when he was nineteen.

I've finished framing seventeen paintings. I've made horrible compromises on nearly all of them. But they look good. I can't scan larger than 11x14. So I made mock-ups of the deer (bottom right), the screech owl (top right) and the bittern as place holders in the layout which will actually be two rows about 16 feet long each. When we talked about the layout today we decided to add two of the mouse paintings and another field sketch.

I especially like the field sketches Bill did when he was in the Army. The cardinal was done in Washington D.C in 1944 and the Myna bird in India in 1945. Field sketches always include information about the specimen and where it was collected. The Myna bird is labeled "Collected by S/SGT Louis Van Guelpin. Area #1." They weren't allowed to say where they were. Bill says when he corresponded with Dr Allen he made a point of mentioning animals with narrowly overlapping ranges, thus letting Dr Allen know where he was.

Friday, October 07, 2005

What was I thinking?

This year, like every one of the past 15 years, I vowed I wouldn't acquire any plants for which I didn't have specific plans. To qualify the plan is supposed to be more specific than "It's pretty and I don't have one yet."

This year, like every other, I failed. But this year I failed spectacularly. It started small with a dozen perennials from a local half-price sale. Then it was a few shrubs that I felt sorry for at Agway 'cause they were so neglected I was pretty sure they'd die. This started a major downslide into late summer sales and Plants for Life bargains culminating with nearly 100 free plants salvaged from Plants for Life overstock after the sale.

Consequently, I've spent the past four days furiously clearing new areas and planting. This new area includes Alchemilla, dianthus, Geum and Lychnis. It will be backed by junipers and barberry that I hope will be relatively resistant to deer damage.

In desperation, with rain forecast, I sank about 30 plants in vegetable bed that had already been cleared for next year. I promise I'll plant them next spring before the space is needed for vegetables.

Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention the 200 bulbs Bill bought for me. Including more of these lovely Cyclamen hederifolium, which is blooming now in the border under the west living room window.

I'm exhausted and thankfully, it's raining today. I have to get groceries and I should be working on the framing for Bill's show that's opening Thursday - oh, and the Dryden Town budget workshop at 4:00.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Peaceful Coexistence

When Tang drinks from the goldfish tub, the fish come up to greet him. Sometimes the big one seems to nibble on Tang's tongue.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Bill's been cleaning his room. We won't talk about how long it's been since he last cleaned it, but he found his World War II helmet. This inspired an afternoon of stories about his years in Burma and India during the war. He became a reconnaissance photographer because of the years he worked at Kodak trying to save enough money to go to Cornell. He wrangled an assignment in Asia 'cause, as a biologist, he thought it would be more interesting than Europe. And it was.

Yesterday Clinton Cornell and his father, Clinton Cornell Sr, delivered hay. I took a break from loading it into the loft to go get a jug of water. When I came back this is what I found. Clinton Sr is about Bill's age and they reminisced about storing loose hay on their family farms in the 20's and 30's.

They got back to work. I helped - honestly - when I wasn't taking pictures. We chatted after the hay was stored. Clinton Sr mentioned that he has a bulldozer. I jumped on the info with "Do you build ponds?" And, yes! He loves to build ponds. We walked over to the area where I've long dreamed of having a pond. He agrees it would be a great site. He said he wishes he'd know a few weeks ago - this dry season would have been ideal for digging. But I'm excited! We'll definitely do it next summer.

Dryden Democrats

To see a bit about local politics in Dryden, New York, visit our new blog.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Big things

Greg asked me to take in his Boston Fern because he doesn't have room for it. I didn't really grasp what that meant when I agreed to take it. It's three feet high and four feet wide!

Belinda bought a cauliflower for dinner. It was nearly a foot wide and weighed more than five pounds. Setting aside what we wanted for dinner, I froze five packages for delicious future dinners.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Fringed Gentian

Cornell maintains a natural area about a mile from my house primarily to encourage the Fringed Gentians that grow there. It's amazing! Thousands of intense blue flowers in a meadow of an acre or so.