Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Congratulations, Laura!

Congratulations, Laura, on your choice of college next fall!

Laura will be attending Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Jen Cole graduated from here in 1996. Nancy and Laura visited CC last week, and Laura decided it was the place for her. After all, how many colleges have a view like this one of Pikes Peak?

Congratulations, Emily!

Congratulations, Emily, for being accepted to study abroad next fall at the University of Canterbury, in Christchurch, New Zealand! Of course, Mom and I will have to visit! :)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Congratulations, Brian!

Congratulations, Brian, for being inducted into two honor societies at Colby College!

Phi Beta Kappa (wiki) is the honor society for the arts and sciences. It is the oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honor society in the U.S.

Sigma Pi Sigma (wiki) is the honor society for physics.

Brian will graduate next month with a bachelor of arts degree in computer science, and minors in mathematics and physics.

Well done, Brian!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Clayton Burnham

Clayton Burnham (Arthur Clayton Burnham, Jr.) died on April 12, 2008. Nancy, Laura and I went to the calling hours yesterday. Bill, Donna, Jason, Pager and I went to the funeral today. (Nancy and Laura are out of town today for a college visit. Beth and Jerry are away on vacation.)

Clayton was the second husband of my aunt, Harriet (Gould) (Karr) Burnham. Harriet and my mother, Lois (Gould) Putnam (d. 1999), were sisters.

Clayton was born in Connecticut in 1919. He married Frances May Flanders of Johnson in 1943, and lived most of his life in Jericho. My recollection is that Frances and Harriet's first husband, Quentin ("Red") Karr, Sr., died on the same day. Harriet and Clayton did not know each other at the time. None of us on this side of the family knew Clayton at the time. But Harriet and Clayton had mutual friends who knew that they were both lonely, and who introduced them to each other. Clayton and Harriet married in 1994, and they had many happy years together.

Clayton was a wonderful man. He was kind and quiet, with a great sense of humor. I remember that he always had a twinkle in his eye. He never complained, even when he had health problems late in life. He was loved by everyone who knew him, and he will be missed.

Harriet and all four of her children (Kareen, Linda, Mary Jean and Quent) were at the funeral, as well as Clayton's only child (Eric). I caught up with relatives and friends that I haven't seen in a long time, and made new friends. It is sad that it takes a funeral to do so.

Kareen's husband, Rev. Jim Perry, performed the funeral service today.

For reference, the obituary is in the Burlington Free Press on 4/16/08. (Searching the online obituaries is easier if you know the name and date of publication.)

Laura and the Fisher Cat

Last night Laura was awakened by a blood-curdling animal sound outside her window. Investigation revealed a dark brown cat-like animal within 10 feet of the house. I am sure it was a fisher cat. Fisher cats (or just fishers to most people outside New England) make a most distinctive sound: "Fishers are also known for one of their calls, which is often said to sound like a child screaming, and can be mistaken for someone in dire need of help."

Fisher cats are not uncommon at all now in Vermont, but I do not remember ever hearing about them when I was growing up on the farm. There are a number of animal species that are common in Vermont now, but that were rare or nonexistent when I was growing up. And I cannot think of a single animal species that was common in Vermont when I was growing up that is not still common. Some people say the environment is going to hell in a handbasket, but they must be using different evidence.

Following are some examples that come to mind. Please feel free to add your thoughts, examples or counter-examples in the comments. "Then" refers to growing up on the farm in the 1960s and 1970s, five miles from where we live now.

Bald eagles – Then: Not present at all. Now: Not uncommon along rivers and lakes. I have seen several.

Bears – Then: Uncommon. People saw bears only in the deep woods. Now: Not uncommon at all. I still have not seen one in Vermont, but many people do. Emily and Nancy saw one crossing our front yard a few years ago.

Beavers – Then: Rare. Now: Not uncommon at all. I have seen them in the Lamoille River and at Green River Reservoir. Sometimes a nuisance.

Bluebirds – Then: Very rare. I think Mother thought she saw one once or twice, and was ecstatic. Now: Moderately common. We have had some nest in our backyard on occasion. I’ve heard people also say that cardinals are more common now, although I’m not enough of a birdwatcher to opine on the subject.

Catamounts – Then: Not present at all. Long thought extinct in this part of the country. Of course, they used to be common, otherwise they would not be the mascot for UVM sports teams. Now: There are numerous unconfirmed sightings reported in the press. I have not seen one myself.

Coyotes – Then: Not present at all. Now: Very common. Can frequently hear them at night in the spring and summer. Have occasionally seen them, even in our backyard, in spite of their shyness. Somewhat of a problem with eating domestic pets such as cats.

Fisher cats – Then: Never heard of them. Now: Hear about them frequently, especially about them eating domestic pets such as cats. Roger Allen has trapped several.

Loons – Then: Not present at all. Now: Very common on Green River Reservoir. I have seen them there and at Lake Carmi.

Moose – Then: Not present at all. Now: Very common. I have seen several. There is a hunting season. People are not infrequently killed in traffic collisions.

Peregrine falcons – Then: Not present at all. Now: Several nesting pairs in Smugglers Notch each year (nearby hiking trails are closed in the spring). They also like to live on skyscrapers in cities. So much for needing wild habitat.

Turkeys – Then: Not present at all. Now: Very common. We have seen them in our backyard. There is a hunting season.

Why are more animal species present now? It is mostly because the forest has returned. Vermont was originally forested, but the early settlers cut the trees down for potash. Vermont remained mostly open through the sheep era and the early dairy era, but the forest has begun to return in the last century. Vermont is about 5.9 million acres. In 1910 Vermont had 4 million acres of cropland and pastureland. In other words, Vermont was 68% open land. In 2002, the latest Census of Agriculture, Vermont had only 650,000 acres of cropland and pastureland--only 11% open land. A small portion of that open land was developed, but most of it reverted to forest. (For more info, click here and also see the first comment on this post.)

About that fisher cat last did not seem too concerned by humans in the house. It stayed around a short while, even after Laura turned on the outside lights, and eventually wandered off.

Feynman on Yankee ACA Blog

Sorry for the lack of posts recently; I've been busy at work. Among other things at work, I have been more active in posting to my work blog (the Yankee ACA Blog). I even found a reason to put up three posts about Richard Feynman!

Surely You're Joking! (*)
More Feynman
What is science?

*Note the posting date—a little joke of my own.

There is one other recent post on the work blog that may be of personal interest:

This Milk Problem

The 1937 booklet described in this post is something that Pager gave me years ago. I have found it most interesting. The author of the booklet was Harry Varney, a well-known Vermont agricultural economist. Pager heard Mr. Varney speak a time or two.

Sometimes it helps to have a sense of history. When one thinks about the present in relation to the past, we often surprised in two ways: First, problems that we think are new (e.g., "this milk problem") are sometimes the same old problem that has existed for a long time. Second, things that we think have never changed may, in fact, have been greatly different in the past (e.g., the amount of open space in Vermont). The next post will discuss an example of the latter.