Saturday, March 24, 2007

Champion Poplar, Pruned

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In Leland today it was foggy in the treetops, but I had borrowed Liz's camera to take a picture of the Champion Poplar after its pruning. I worked for many years in fruit orchards and I've pruned many trees. When it was pruning season I developed a sort of "pruning vision" where I found myself mentally pruning every tree that I laid eyes on, no matter the size. I would mentally cut out the dead wood first, them thin out "witches brooms" and crossed branches. Finally my mind's eye would thin the good wood, saving time by planning "fewer, bigger cuts", letting light in to shaded areas, or as we put it in the vernacular, "Leaving holes big enough to throw a cat through". We made good clean cuts, close to the branch, with no stubs to let disease in: "Don't leave anything you could hang your hat on."

When I closed my eyes at night I saw branches, kind of like Frost's poem "After Apple Picking":

But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.

I've picked apples, and had that dream, too.

The pruning aesthetic has stayed with me. Ten years ago when the power company wanted to prune the row of young poplars in my yard, I told them to just cut them to the ground. I knew I couldn't stand to look at a row of arbitrarily truncated trees in my yard.

I had to go to Leland on Thursday to get some savings bonds ready for the awards ceremony at 4-H Expo. When I pulled up at the corner by the Bluebird, I was transfixed by the sight of the tree trimming company, with two incredibly tall cranes and chainsaws, doing the pruning of my dreams. They were making the cuts I can only make in my imagination. It was like watching a perfect triple play, only slower.

I couldn't stay to watch. I had to go to work. But I took this picture, which looks to me like a picture of art. I guess most folks won't see much of a difference between this picture and the one before, but that's the sort of pruning I admire.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ethanol Once More

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Above: Liz and Carley, as drunks, in Leland School's 2004 production of "Lucky Stiff"

The Traverse City Record-Eagle ran a nice AP article on ethanol fuel this week.

Meanwhile I've been thinking about ethanol as drink. At work I was required to take TIPS training, as in Training for Intervention, as in intervening with people who want to drink more than they should. The training included a lot of quantified, scientific information that we are supposed to use to estimate how intoxicated a subject will become. For instance, a 150 pound male of average build will have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .05 after two drinks on an empty stomach. Unless it is a carbonated drink, then the alcohol will be absorbed more quickly. Or if a person carries more body fat, then the alcohol will be absorbed more quickly because fat and alcohol don't mix. If they've eaten a full meal recently, alcohol works more slowly. If they took prescription medicines, then drank, well that's just a wild card. Anything could happen.

I'm a gaming employee. Everything is a game for me. I tend to be pretty competitive, although my mind works in ways that allow me to redefine the game until I've found goals that are attainable; until I find a way to win the game. What bothered me about the TIPS training was that I was being asked to use a bunch of subjective observations-- starting right out with the old "Guess my Weight" question from the carney's booth-- to deduce someone's Blood Alcohol Content. The cop parked outside of the casino lot gets to actually test for BAC, but I have to guess. Yet they made a big deal of my personal liability in this and emphasized that an actual BAC test is the only thing that matters in court. There is no way to win the game, unless I make sure that nobody ever gets more than 2 or 3 drinks.

I'm not complaining about having to monitor alcohol consumption. I just wish there was a more scientific way to do it.

BUT THEN...I read this article about a prison inmate who swigged off a bottle of hand sanitzer and got drunk. It seems that your basic Purell-type hand sanitzer is about 60% ethyl alcohol, or 120 proof.

The 49-year-old inmate, who was not identified, was treated for alcohol poisoning. His blood alcohol level topped .33 percent, Doyon and Welsh wrote in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine today.

“We’re primarily concerned about at-risk patients,” Doyon said. “Patients who intentionally do this to get drunk, especially those hospitalized, institutionalized or in rehabilitation or nursing care facilities.”

There is also a concern about middle and high school students drinking hand sanitizer to “be cool,” Welsh said. “It’s important for parents and school personnel to be aware that it is happening.”

He suggested parents treat hand sanitizer like any other potentially harmful household product, including storing out of reach of small children and instructing children not to drink from it.

In the casino, we have a problem with people who have been cut off continuing to try to get a drink, get their friends to buy them drinks, or even sipping off their friends' drinks. Now we have to monitor their hand sanitizer as well?

Thinking about this at work, I helped myself to a big dollop of Purell in the breakroom, spread it on my hands, and then licked the back of my hand to see what it tasted like. Not bad. Not so great, either. Kind of like if you had made gin with lavender instead of juniper berries. Would I choose it for a night out? No. Would an underage drinker mix it with Mountain Dew? There's probably already a name for this homemade kiddie cocktail.

But what about the extremely underage? I was thinking about babies licking the stuff off of hands. But when we talked about it in the breakroom, Rob asked if it could be absorbed by the skin.It turns out that skin absorbtion, or even inhaling the fumes are ways to get alchohol into the bloodstream.

If a 150 lb guy needs 2 ounces (4 Tablespoons) of 120 proof to get borderline drunk, then the 15 lb baby needs a little over a teaspoon. Maybe less, because babies have a high percentage of body fat. Maybe more, because babies are always eating. The mom who slathers Purell all over the pacifier that fell on the ground or the bar of the shopping cart or her own or her child's hands at every opportunity may be planting the seeds of alcohol dependency as she kills all those germs. She may be getting the kid drunk. Those compulsive hand-cleaning people that reach for the hand sanitizer every 5 minutes may be getting enough to get buzzed up, or at least to relax a little.

The breakroom conversation was getting funny. Rob asked me "So how do you know if a baby is drunk?" I got out my TIPS training manual and reviewed the list of "behavioral cues for approaching intoxication".

"Well, you have to see whether the baby has lost his inhibitions. Or has impaired judgement." It seems being drunk pretty much means acting like a baby, so a baby could be drunk quite a bit and no one would know. Of course if your baby gets to the impaired reaction phase and starts "lighting more than one cigarette" you'll know something's up.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Life Without Chickens

scientific drawing of Quack Grass
Quack Grass drawing from Ontario Ministry of Agriculture

This is our first winter without chickens in about six years. I am buying eggs from one of my coworkers, or trading with Jenny at Meadowlark Farm, eggs from their chickens for Richard's fresh-caught perch.

But eggs is only one of the benefits of keeping a few chickens around the house. Our dog gets plate scrapings, but I still feel bad about the food that gets thrown away, food that used to go to the chickens. Dogs have no interest in banana peels or potato peelings or squash seeds. Chickens will pick every last edible scrap and then scratch what's left into their litter so that it's 75% composted before it ever hits the yard.

I worried about this when they started culling yard poultry in countries where avian flu had hit. Rabbits were suggested as a replacement source of meat, and there is a logic to that idea. Rabbits are small enough to be cared for by children and elders, and they will eat some table scraps. But a rabbit's diet needs to be monitored: too much fresh vegetables and they will get scours, too much grain and they will get colic. Chickens are omnivores. They eat anything that people eat, and they eat a lot of bugs and weeds that people won't eat.

Every spring I do my body-building, garden reclamation and chicken feeding all at once by digging up two or three wheel barrow loads of quack grass each day and giving it to the chickens. They eat the green grass, scratch up the matted roots, and eat it again if rains come and it dares to try sprout again. I don't know of any other way to kill quack grass without herbicide, and even that doesn't work as well as an eager flock of hens.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Champion Tree Update

Kate posted this on yesterday's Leland Report:
Quick update on the Champion Cottonwood. We delivered a check to the Road Commission yesterday to pay for the pruning and cabling work to be done. So thanks to the many supporters, the first major hurdle is over! Bartlett's will be up here sometime in the next few weeks to do the work (before the tree begins to bud). We are still raising money though - it is not over! We have to pay the Road Commission for their time closing River Street and cleaning up all the branches. Plus, we need to get a plaque for our tree and pay for the yearly inspections and maintenance. So,despite what the Enterprise may have stated - we are not at our fundraising goal. But, we made our first hurdle, in time - and thank you so much to all those who have donated their time and money!