For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s my article in the Daily News about how the coffee-bean snail survives a New England winter.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s my article in the Daily News about how the coffee-bean snail survives a New England winter.
37 degrees F. That’s how warm the north Atlantic is in February. And this is where I stand with my Yankee friends with a boat made of invasive weeds.
For you Yankees who think I’m talking baseball, I’m not. I’m from the South and I still say “ma’am” and “sir” and call anyone from the north a “Yankee”. (oh, did you notice my use of capitalization? That was unconscious but I’m not fixin’ it).
My friend John, a Yankee and middle-school science teacher, has made a boat out of weeds and we’re out here to test its sea-worthiness. The weed? Phragmites australis, or known better as Phrag (pronounced ‘frag’). Phrag is an aggressively invasive reedy weed that towers up to 20 foot tall, its tufted head swaying in the wind. Phrag invades marshes and wet grasslands throughout the country and is of particular concern in salt marshes as it displaces native grasses. It’s so aggressive that attempts to poison it, cut it, freeze it, dig it up, graze it, and burn it have done nothing but left us exhausted. In the local Great Marsh, the concern of Phrag has prompted the creation of the film Danger in the Reeds for public awareness of the reed presence.
The idea to build a boat out of an invasive weed started first as a challenge by John to his students to make something useful out of this nuisance plant. Maybe if we can monetize this aggressive reed we can do a better job of controlling it, he reasons.
The students made spears and pens and decorations. John had another idea when he walked into his neighbor’s yard where the reed grows 20 foot tall. Some of the reeds had a natural bend in them, presumably due to a persistent wind. He thought, “I wonder if I can make a boat out of that?”
After two-weeks worth of work stretched out over a number of months, John harvested the tall reeds and lashed them together with hemp rope. He used the natural bend in the reeds to form the curved bow. His Mighty Phragmites (this is a name I have given it) raft looks like a single, curved pontoon.
I hadn’t seen the finished boat and shot him an email to see if he’d set it on its maiden voyage yet. He hadn’t but would in the afternoon if I could make it out. And now I stand with three of his 7th grade students, his son and his son’s friend and one of John’s friends. The cold Atlantic licks the beach hungry for warm blood.
John claps his gloved hands together and says, “Let’s do this!” As the bow bounces over the first small wave, we whoop and holler – we are all teenage boys today. Those of us in wetsuits jump on and paddle and surf it. I am only in waders in February water and stay in the shallows. I do make a brief surf in and almost roll the thing.
After two hours and a near sunset, we haul it back. It is much heavier and is like what I imagine carrying a dead small walrus is like. As we grunt and walk over the uneven snowy terrain with our dead walrus I say, “Y’all may be Yankees, but that was redneck stuff right there.” A boat made of weeds and then thrown into the ocean to see if it floats? Yeah, that’s pretty redneck. All we need now is a trolling motor and a six pack.
John’s Mighty Phragmites may not lead to the eradication of Phrag, but it may require that kind of redneck ingenuity to control it. After all, in Louisiana they’re trying to turn the big rat that is nutria into a delicacy. Maybe we can feed the nutria Phrag…
Ask this at your dinner table tonight. How many spaces do you put after a period? After a question mark?
I put two. Guess how many I’m supposed to put? One. One after this period. One after these exclamation points!!!!! Know what I learned in high school in my typing class? Two. Thanks public education.
Why are there still two-spacers in a one-spacers world?
According to this article in Slate by Farhad Manjoo, it’s because the old two-spacing ways are still being taught out of habit. Two spaces were used for typewriters because the characters each took up equal amount of space. So a skinny ‘i’ had the same cozy space that a fat ‘W’ fit in. It makes the text look ‘loose’ and for the eye to follow to the next sentence it was best to give two spaces after the period to give enough definition to the sentence. The white space signalling, “Hey, the sentence is over buddy! Get ready for the next one!” Though I thought that was what the period was for in the first place. Computers use proportional typesetting so the skinny ‘i’ only takes up a small space and the fat ‘W’ takes up more space. Now we only need a small bit of white space to signify the end of the sentence. Again, which is what I thought the period was for in the first place.
And while we’re at it, why capitalize the word at the beginning of a sentence? To signify the beginning of a new sentence? Didn’t that question mark just signify the end of the last sentence and therefore the next word will begin a new sentence? Grammarians, please educate me.
And back to my education. 15. When I became a two-spacer. Now I’m trying to convert and it’s driving me batty (thanks a lot Farhad). And how much of my life has been wasted with all those extra spaces?
Let’s see, typing since I was 15…22 years now with an average of 5 pages per day, average sentence length of 20 words per sentence, 500 words per page each space represents a letter and there are on average 5 letters per word and I type an average of 45 words a minute (mock not my slow fingers!)…carry the 3…
Holy cow! I have wasted 1,003,750 spaces for a total of 200,750 words meaning I’ve spent 75 hours, or over 3 days typing extra spaces. Oh, what could I have done with those 3 days? Oh how misspent my youth. How misspent.
This weekend, Dr. John Fleeger is being inducted as a member of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS), known to us scientists as Triple-A S, because we’re too busy for real words. Tiple A S is like the Hall of Fame for scientists and has ties to Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison in the late 1880′s. Triple A S is a big deal.
Why am I telling you about this Dr. John Fleeger, who most of you don’t know? Well, I could list his many accolades including over 150 publications in the scientific literature including topics from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to carbon sequestration in the deep ocean to community ecology of very small crustacean in the dirty, dirty mud. I could highlight his wonderful teaching career at Louisiana State University spanning over 30 years. But probably one of his most arduous and significant accomplishments was guiding yours truly to a Ph.D.
What I appreciated most about my experience with John was his mentoring style: his door was always literally open. And no matter the crazy nattering that spewed from my lips, he looked at the floor while nodding and waiting for me to finish. Then we would discuss. He never said my ideas were stupid, though he gently said they needed more ‘development.’
And he was patient. I can’t tell you how many times I heard him say without annoyance “Again David…” meaning that he already told what he was about to say and he was gently reminding me.
I appreciated how quickly he made comments on my scientific manuscripts. Well, how quickly he massacred them. My words were slain without mercy for their wrongness and their bodies littered the battlefield of my manuscript. It frustrated me because I prided myself as an excellent writer. But academic writing has its own style and language and John was teaching. Today I’m a better writer because of the time he took.
One Saturday morning in Baton Rouge I was at the scope sorting samples. John came in with a draft of my research proposal that he massacred. He asked me, “David, what are you trying to say here?” Then before I had a chance to answer, he looked at the draft and said with rare exasperation, “Do you even know what you’re trying to say?” I started to say something, but said, “Well no.” And then he took the time to help me start over.
I still seek John’s advice today on my manuscripts.
John and I spent so much time together that I learned his patterns. If I was in the lab and heard a slight shuffle of feet, the stop at the water fountain, and a slight “ah” of refreshment I knew I needed to stop watching funny cat videos.
And he learned that I was not the easiest of students. Brilliant though I may be, I am riddled with a brooding recalcitrance, hard-headedness, and fool-hardiness. John and I butted heads from time to time. I won’t tell you who was right most of the time. I will highlight most of the time.
The following is from the Acknowledgements of my dissertation: “In 2003, the brave or foolhardy Dr. John Fleeger, with his nodding head and seemingly infinite patience that I tested more than once took in my independent and sometimes irascible spirit and navigated it down a tortuous, yet productive path. I thank him for reading (and re-reading and re-reading) every word I’ve written as a graduate student, for swatting and cursing mosquitoes with me in the marsh, and for always having his door and mind open.”
Five years later, those words, unmassacred by John’s pen, still ring true.
Congratulations John. Your induction into AAAS is well-deserved on many levels. I hope you finally do some nice laurel sitting.
North Shore of Boston, Massachusetts
No science today.
Some butthole stole my computer last week.
I feel the panic in your own chest as you hug your device to you.
Out of my car it was taken. From the trunk.
A Dell laptop. And the bag it was in.
But I don’t know how it was stolen because there was no sign of a break-in. Did I simply leave it on the sidewalk? What magic was used to unburden me of my laptop? What did I do that made stealing my laptop so easy? So I’ve spent some time victim-shaming and blaming.
“I shouldn’t have left it in the car.”
“I should have double-checked the doors.”
“Did I leave it out in the open?”
Then I thought, “Wait, a minute, some butthole stole my stuff. He or she is the one to blame. I’m not at fault!”
All the same, it happened.
My cortisol (a stress hormone) levels have been high since it was it was stolen. High as I change all my passwords including for my way-too-many email accounts (including a VERY old Yahoo account), credit cards, checking/savings accounts, Netflix, Twitter, Pandora…aaahhhh!!! Cortisol races and slams its fist into my heart as I file a fraud alert with the credit agencies. Cortisol grabs my intestines like an octopus and wrenches them as I file for a credit freeze to prevent accounts from being opened in my name. I am treating this as identity theft as though the thieves were able to access my social security number, my mother’s maiden name, my middle school transcripts, and a blood sample from my favorite childhood pet (Whisky, a dog who has been dead for some time). Cortisol makes me wish I had more deodorant as I consider a new laptop. And cortisol makes me want to pitch Windows 8 out the window because it’s a blood-soaked nightmare of non-intuitiveness (bring back Windows 7 you jerkfaces!).
When I lay in bed and consider worst-case scenarios to lull me to sleep, like my house being on fire and me trapped in my bedroom, I consider what I would grab as I scrambled across my rooftop in my boxer briefs. The two things are my laptop and my cellphone. I have no pets, spouse, or children to hold me back. Everything else is replaceable except my physical photographs, which are on the other side of the house. These electronics are, possibly sadly?, the priorities of my life outside of my car. They are my identity. They are my work, my social life, my succors, and my habits. I am a naturalist and believe in the power of nature, but I need my technology.
Now I’ve lost immense time retrieving backed-up data and re-configuring my computer and doing the innumerable things you have to do that you don’t realize are so innumerable and that you have to do them until you have to do them. Like writing confusing sentences.
But the computer is really only a loss of convenience and time and money.
Two irreplaceable items were lost. My old, hardback copy of Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us. I was reading it again and annotating it. Sure, I can get another copy but not of my notes or this aged piece. Its yellowed dust jacket, that I had removed, sits on the shelf; now forever empty of its knowledge.
The other irreplaceable are two pages of a letter I was writing to Duley (besties since kindergarten over 30 years ago!). Sorry Duley! I still write letters. Number 2 mechanical pencil. Bic 0.7mm lead only. Yellow legal pads.
So my computer was stolen by some jerkfaced butthole. Fortunately, jerkfaced buttholes are only a small percentage of the population. 99.98% are decent folks.
After computer shopping all day Monday morning, which made me want to jump into a barrel of burly and rabid wolverines and roll down a hill of depressed porcupines, I went to Five Guys in Peabody to salve my soul. Double cheeseburger. Mayo, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, raw onions, and pickles. Know what? It’s an extra pickles kind of day. Extra pickles. A Five-Guys employee walked up and asked me if I needed anything. Maybe he saw it on my face. At first I said, “Thank you, but I’m good.” Then, “Actually, you know what, I think it’s an extra pickles kind of day.” A few minutes later extra pickles arrived. I asked him how much I owed and he said, “Nah, don’t worry about it.” Maybe that’s Five Guys policy anyway, but that small kindness was a piece of wreckage to cling to in a sea of cortisol. No computer needed.
FYI: what do you do if you think your identity is stolen? This government document is extremely useful.
me: Yes, Snoctopus?
Snoctopus: What does the Great Marsh look like when covered in dictionary-thick ice?
me: I’m not sure. Let’s go see.
Wintertime marsh (pics taken from December 2013 – February 2014)
For reference, here’s a summertime marsh (No Snoctopus’s found this time of the year).