Whiteout Conditions

December 10, 2009

On a day when they closed all area schools; and the winds gusted to over 50 mph; when the Weather Channel warned of a bitter cold weather pattern expected to last all day; with the possibility of 6 to 10 inches of snow in the Southtowns and more in the Southern Tier, my normal 30 minute commute to work took me…40 minutes.

How long did it take you?

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

June 15, 2009


Behold the tree-statue of DeWitt Clinton marking the opening of the Erie Canal.  What’s wrong is the car in the background.  The parking lot is just past the single row of trees, about 20 feet from the sidewalk and adjoining Erie Street.

No matter what direction from which you photograph this and all the other tree-statues (the “Carvings“)  temporarily lining Erie Street as it extends to the end of the Erie Basin Marina, you cannot get away from the asphalt.  You can find plenty of parking and a very nice road that hugs the shoreline, but virtually no grass.  Barely a place to spread out a picnic blanket, set up a tent, hold a party.

No place to avoid engine exhaust.

My last post was about the lack of access to our waterfront.  This post is an example of how development of that access has sacrificed the very reason we go to the water:  To get away from the sights and sounds of urbanization.  In this regard we planned poorly but executed the plan well, leaving us with a jetty that from above looks dull and gray, and from the ground looks wanting for anything green.  I recall while living in Silicon Valley how parking lots were divided by fingers of grass and foliage to break up and hide the proliferation of cars.  Is that design, which sacrifices one in ten parking spots, not feasible out here?

The planned redevelopment of the Waterfront Village – with a newly approved hotel plan – really needs to incorporate natural elements into the design.  So do the existing properties in the Village, the road leading to the marina and the oversized parking lots on it.  My suggestion:  Take out the road beyond the last set of boat docks, and force everyone to walk the final 400 yards to the end of the marina on a grassy and sandy surface.  Barefoot even.

La Mancha Negra

November 15, 2008


15 years ago on the way back from an assignment in Caracas, Venezuela, I asked my taxi driver to take me to the airport “the long way”, so that I could get a tour of the city and surroundings before heading home.  As we went up one mountain road adjacent to acres of tumble-down slum, he slowed and then swerved to avoid a black stretch of road.  La Mancha Negra, he called it.  The Black Blob.

Years later that blob has grown eight miles long and killed 1800 people in car accidents.  It’s straight out of some horror movie. Parts of it looked sticky, like tar, while other parts were obviously oily/shiny and very recent.

Although they aren’t positive, Venezuelan scientists say the blob appears to be a seep from poorly-made asphalt or something below the road surface (like sewage, perhaps) that oozes out in the intense heat of the day.  Road repair crews clean up the mess yet it quickly returns.  More than once, vehicles on the busy airport highway have careened out of control, creating multi-vehicle pileups and carnage everywhere.

It has since spread to various parts of Caracas highways.  And of course, at least one band now shares its name.

The Rescue of Mono Lake

August 19, 2008

Mono Lake

In 1982 I traveled to Mono Lake, near Yosemite National Park in California, to witness the tragedy of a national treasure being sucked dry by the demand for water elsewhere.  For 40 years the rivers that fed the lake – Lee Vining, Rush, Walker and others – had been diverted to the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and evaporation was rapidly dropping the lake levels so low that what was previously a vastly rich ecosystem was now about to collapse to dust.

Mono Lake is a basin surrounded by mountains.  It has no outlet.  Fresh water streams fill the basin and as the water evaporates it leaves behind a brackish lake that is home to an amazing variety of brine shrimp and other aquatic animals, insects and tufa towers!  Birds loved the shrimp and alkali flies.  For millenia the lake was a waypoint to thousands of migratory fowl.  In its middle was an island which provided an immensely dense breeding ground, protected by water from predators.

Then the lake levels dropped; a land bridge appeared  – and that allowed coyotes and other carnivores to help themselves to a high-protein egg feast.  [Aside:  There is an interesting story somewhere about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers trying to blow up the land bridge to save the breeding ground; it was an extraordinary failure.] By 1982 the lake level had dropped almost 40 feet from its historic levels.  I shot over a hundred photographs of what I thought was the death rattle of (what some say is) the oldest lake in North America.

But the obituary was a bit premature.  Around the same time an organized push was made to save the lake.  Through its efforts and the efforts of others the Mono Lake Committee successfully petitioned the California State Water Resources Control Board (CSWRCB) to reduce the flow diversions to a point where lake levels are now slowly climbing.  The land bridge is again under water.

Today Mono Lake is 10 feet higher than when I visited, but still 34 feet below its historic level, and has about 8 more to go to reach the targets set by the CSWRCB.  Even so, it is a step in the right direction and an inspiration to those who long to find that balance between societal demands and natural resources.  I was (un)lucky enough to capture photographs of what will hopefully be, in another generation, submerged land.

Dump the Pump

June 19, 2008

old gas pumpToday is “Dump the Pump” day, advertised throughout the nation as the day we should all try to take mass transit to work. I heard about it on the radio while I was filling my tank at the gas station, how ironic. The fillup cost me $65 and will last less than a week. I do not own a big car. It gets around 27 city, 32 highway.

But I live a good distance from my job, and that job demands non-regular hours. It will never be 9-5 so I drive alone, daily, like 85% of all other commuters in Western New York.

Aside from downsizing to an even smaller vehicle my wife and I have taken great pains to reduce our carbon footprint – something Dick Cheney might call a personal virtue but what we consider to be absolutely essentially for sustained future growth. Since 1997 we successfully cut our natural gas consumption by 60% and this past winter saved about $1,000 in the process. Our largest gas bill was $110. I have not taken the time to track our electricity consumption but I am quite sure that it too is significantly less than what it was just a few years ago.

It has not crimped our lifestyle.

Conservation is, however, all about habits, about changing the little things: Turning off the lights when you leave a room, sleeping with an extra blanket, caulking the windows, wearing sweaters, and being especially conscious of how you are using and wasting energy.

Four-dollar-a-gallon gas may have one saving grace: It may force all of us to make energy conservation a personal virtue.

Resevoir Balls

June 13, 2008

Black BallsThe Ivanhoe Reservoir in Silver Lake, near Los Angeles, is being covered with plastic black balls in an attempt to prevent the bromate count from exceeding health quality standards.  There will eventually be a few million balls tossed onto the reservoir.

Too much bromate – a carcinogen – which gets created from a reaction to bromine and sunlight, is not good for you.  The reservoir feeds LA, hence the need to do something about this.  Someone or some group decided that the black balls will essentially shadow the lake and therefore reduce the creation of bromate.

When sunlight starts breaking down the plastic and releasing other chemicals into the water, how much will the state of California pay to remove the balls?  When algae start adhering to and scumming the black balls, turning them green, who will clean them?  When the lack of sunlight on the lake bottom starts affecting the ecological environment 20 feet under the water, will the environmentalists suddenly clamor to have them removed?

I smell the law of unintended consequences coming into play, real soon.  This article makes it sound like there is little to worry about.  I’m not so confident about that at all.

Mom Will Never Again Go to Florida

May 16, 2008

PythonIt’s bad enough that Florida has suffered from fire ants, giant snails, two-inch cockroaches, cane toads and africanized honey bees.

Now it has to deal with pythons.  You know, really big snakes.

These are Burmese Pythons – which can grow to over 20 feet long and weigh 2oo pounds – released into the wild by owners no longer interested in keeping them.  It is estimated that their population in the Everglades is now around 30,000.  They are efficient swimmers and tagged snakes have been shown to swim over 30 miles in 3 hours.

My mom hates snakes.  As kids we had to stomp around to make sure that any garter snakes were scared away, before she would go work in the garden.

She’ll never set foot in Florida again.