Monday, June 3, 2019

ERASING THE NIGHT SKY


Please note: Because of a deluge of spam, I have stopped accepting comments on my blogs. Those readers who know (or can find) me have my email address or can contact me via Facebook, and I will answer them in the same way. Thanks for understanding.


Elon Musk has done the “impossible” again. Now he has lofted the first of thousands of satellites that will use solar power to travel in a connected path around Earth, with the ultimate goal of enabling people anywhere on the planet to access the internet. No longer will those in remote places be cut off from the amazing amount of information found on the World Wide Web. Musk argues that disadvantaged people will be given greater access to the planet’s resources and information sharing. However you feel about the sharing or trolling this will make possible, you have to admit that this will change lives forever, and that Musk has accomplished something incredible.

Some of us are less than enthusiastic about having 24/7 access to the Net, though. In fact, we will even travel long distances to reach places where we are cut off from it. Those are getting harder to find, but parts of the planet still have no Net access at all. There, hikers, campers and kayakers can escape temporarily from the Net’s cacophony. Many such places are in the national parks.


 
With Ranger Kevin Sweeney at Lassen
 
A few years ago my partner and I did some volunteer work in two parks with Night Sky programs: Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, and Acadia National Park in Maine. We watched enthusiastic amateur and professional astronomers set up their telescopes and help novice users to scan the heavens. Children and adults gasped as they saw the Milky Way for the first time, or saw the rings of Saturn. Apps for cell phones can be interesting and helpful, but they don’t hold a candle to seeing the real thing.

Many professional astronomers have already objected to the satellites on the grounds that they may interfere with studies of distant stars and planets. Musk insists that the satellites will only be visible during limited times, and that astronomy will not be affected.  Not being privy to the details of the project, and not being an astronomer, I can’t comment on that, though I have my doubts.

What I can object to is the change in the night sky this will produce. My field is science education, and I have seen how viewing the natural night sky can motivate children (including the astronomers of tomorrow) to learn about the heavens. They need to have the sense of wonder that can be found in a lonely, Net-less dark place where they can see stars and planets the way the ancient Greeks saw them.. They do not need to see a series of satellites.

 Copyright 2019 by Carol Leth Stone

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

THE DISAPPEARING PLASTIC BAG


[Please note: Because of a deluge of spam, I have stopped accepting comments on my blogs. Those readers who know (or can find) me have my email address or can contact me via Facebook, and I will answer them in the same way. Thanks for understanding.]

 

For many years I have made a point of declining plastic bags at the supermarket, ostentatiously piling items into a reusable bag or asking for a paper bag instead. This has enabled me to feel superior to many other customers and to think I am saving dolphins and other marine mammals. Today it is actually illegal in some states to supply free plastic bags to customers.

Imagine my horrified surprise when a recent NPR report said that in areas such as California that have banned free plastic bags, purchases of plastic trash and garbage bags have increased. It makes sense when you stop to think about it—most of us don’t want to drop garbage or dirty trash into the bins that are emptied weekly. We carefully package those things in plastic bags first, and if we can’t get free bags at a supermarket, we buy boxes of them instead. What a dilemma for us environmentalists!

Rather than giving in and polluting the environment with large, purchased bags, I’ve come up with a few workarounds, as follows:

1. Before shopping, I make a list. What items do I really need?

2. In a store, I carefully examine packaging. Can a spice be bought in a glass or paper container rather than a plastic one? Can soft drinks, in aluminum cans rather than plastic bottles? Can I buy large economy sizes, minimizing the packaging per unit item?

3. On the way out, I use a reusable nylon or canvas bag, keeping in mind that it must be used many times to pay its way as a replacement for a plastic bag. Some items, such as large oatmeal containers, can be carried to the car by hand or in a supermarket cart. No plastic bag is needed.

4. At home, I remove any wrappings (preferably made of paper) and set them aside to be used as small trash bags. Yes, these are a bit more awkward to use than large plastic bags are. I simply think about those videos of dying aquatic animals and do a little more work. It is rather surprising to see how many small  bags are available this way. Unavoidable wrappings of large packages of toilet paper or paper towels, sanitary pads, prepackaged fruits and vegetables, and many other items can provide bags for trash and garbage.

Though this seems like a very small contribution to the environment, if enough of us follow these steps rather than using large plastic bags, we can make a difference.
Copyright 2019 by Carol Leth Stone

 

Friday, February 8, 2019

WRITING A COZY MYSTERY


No-sweat writing.
 
Have you always wanted to write a cozy mystery, to be another Agatha Christie? Of course you can! Simply take your laptop into the nearest Starbucks, turn on a word processing program, and follow this outline. In each section, circle your choice of words. In an hour or so, you will have written a modern cozy that will bring you fame and fortune.

A.     Your heroine is named Maggie/Kelly/Annie. She has left a glamorous career in New York/San Francisco/Los Angeles to return to her hometown. (Describe her wardrobe.)

B.     Maggie/Kelly/Annie adopts a dog/cat/raven.

C.     Maggie/Kelly/Annie opens a bakery/book shop/coffee shop. (Recipes are optional but desirable.)

D.     Maggie/Kelly/Annie meets a tall, handsome lawyer/teacher/writer. He lives in a high-tech modern apartment/a restored Victorian house/a houseboat. (Add a mild sex scene.)

E.      Maggie/Kelly/Annie meets a woman rival/business rival/customer who seems strange.

F.      Maggie/Kelly/Annie finds a body in an alley/in a closet/on the beach.

G.     Maggie/Kelly/Annie argues with the stupid local police chief.

H.     Maggie/Kelly/Annie cooperates with her aunt/her business partner/the police chief to solve the mystery. She realizes the person in Section E is guilty.

I.       Maggie/Kelly/Annie follows the murder suspect and is hit over the head/threatened with a knife/threatened with a gun.

J.       Just in time, Maggie/Kelly/Annie is rescued by one of the above.

K.      End of story.

L.       Preview of next story, which will follow the above pattern.

 
Print the result. Glance at the printout to make sure it has no coffee stains on it. Do not hire an editor! Editors will destroy your unique style, and will even expect you to pay them. Instead, you can easily edit it yourself. All you need to do is to let the spellchecker and grammar checker automatically  make any changes necessary. Or, you can ask your friends to make helpful suggestions. Finally, you can have it self-published rather than deal with rejection letters and other annoyances.

Copyright 2019 by Carol Leth Stone

 

Monday, January 14, 2019

THE JOY OF BEING A WOMAN IN HER EIGHTIES


A recent article by psychologist Mary Pipher (“The Joy of Being a Woman in Her Seventies,” The New York Times 1-12-19) extolled the happier aspects of being a septuagenarian. I agreed with her in general. Certainly the seventies are a time when women have weathered many storms successfully and reached some goals. For me, my seventies were rewarding years of travel, writing, and (for a time) living off the electrical grid in a forested area of northern California. It was a life I never could have imagined when I was younger.

As that decade wore on, though, my health declined and I became unable to continue some activities. Now that I am 81, I sometimes feel sad about some necessary changes in my lifestyle. (Does anyone use that word any more?) I can walk for only short distances, and use a cane. I need my electric blanket and microwave oven. I can’t drive after dark. I don’t try to write about biology, because too much has changed in that field in recent years.

It’s tempting to feel some self-pity about these differences in my life, but there’s no point in doing so. Also, there are many positive aspects of being an octogenarian:

·       I stopped dieting several years ago, and eat for health rather than weight control.

·       My wardrobe consists mainly of tees, sweaters, and pants from Lands’ End® and other reasonably priced stores, worn with sensible shoes.

·       There’s no pressure to keep up with the times unless I want to.

·       Remembering stupid or thoughtless deeds of my own, I’m quite tolerant of other people’s.

·       Realizing that I may not live too many more years, and that some old friends and enemies are dying or very ill, I find it easy to drop old grudges.

·       Sleeping nine hours is a necessity for me, and I don’t feel guilty about sleeping in.

·       It’s a joy to connect with old friends in person or on the Internet.

·       I’m finally reading or rereading books that have sat on the shelf for years. As my memory declines, I can even reread mysteries without remembering “whodunit.”

·       Not wanting to waste much of my remaining time on housework or yardwork, I have hired help with it, just as I did when working and caregiving.

·       Luckily, I can still do some traveling in the RV. Unlike most forms of travel, it provides the comforts an octogenarian needs.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A LETTER TO SAFEWAY

Readers, please note: the new url for this blog is https://rovincrone.blogspot.com.



When I bought groceries today, I suddenly realized that there is more plastic than food in the store. Though I am not optimistic about influencing BigGrocers, there's always hope. So, I have sent the following letter to Safeway. It will be interesting to see if they respond.

 

Ever since moving to California in 1980 I have been an enthusiastic Safeway customer. You have consistently provided nourishing, tasty foods at affordable prices, as well as toiletries, detergents, and other household items. During the past few years you have also added organic foods that are good for customers and for the planet. Thank you!

In walking through my local store today, however, I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming amount of plastic everywhere. In the produce section, individual portions of salads and other vegetables are displayed in plastic containers. Unwrapped produce is accompanied by plastic bags also; they could be replaced by paper bags. (I bring my own mesh bags that I bought at a natural foods store. Why don’t you sell these bags to encourage people to use them?)

Moving on to other parts of the store, I saw still more unnecessary plastic. In most cases, it was easy to think of good alternatives. Plastic bottles of vinegar, oil, and so on should be sold in glass bottles, which are easily recycled. Small portions of foods are attractive, but they multiply the amount of plastic used.

Cartons of many foods are made of plastic rather than cardboard. Foam containers used in the deli could be replaced with lightweight cardboard cartons like those traditionally used for Chinese carryout. Meats are sold in plastic packages instead of being wrapped in paper and tied with string. Instead of selling water in plastic bottles, you could sell water from a large dispenser that people would use to refill their own bottles. Wax paper can substitute for plastic in some cases.

Please don’t write me off as a crazy environmentalist. Most people today want to protect marine mammals and protect the environment in other ways, but we are busy. Shopping around for the best choices is time-consuming, and too often we just buy whatever is easily available. If you can use less plastic in your offerings, customers will buy them effortlessly and will appreciate your contribution to a better environment. Please consider my suggestions. Thank you.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Can the good guys win?


Tomorrow is Election Day, and I’m worried. Trump himself is not on any ballot, but his supporters are seeking to win elections as governors, senators, school superintendents, and right down to the town clerk level. They realize the importance of organizing at the grass-roots level. If they want to force all of us to accept the alt-right, racist, anti-choice way of life, they have chosen the most effective way to do it.

Donald Trump is surely the worst president in our history. He may not be the most wicked (I’m not entirely sure), but his tweets and other far-reaching lies have reached far more voters than the messages of any other president have. And his narcissistic, materialistic attitude has been accepted as admirable even by people who should know better. Evangelicals should be emulating Jesus, not Trump! Silicon Valley workers should use logic to assess his statements about science. Middle-income taxpayers should realize that temporary tax cuts will only lead to worse conditions for everyone.

We liberals have begun to fight back, but we tend to tell the truth rather than deceive voters, which puts us at a disadvantage. Meanwhile, the MAGA group continues to besmirch Hillary Clinton long after she lost the 2016 election, to pretend that wretched immigrants fleeing terrible conditions are an imminent danger to the U.S., and to allow the EPA’s environmental standards to be lowered by denying scientific studies of climate change. Though I prefer to set the truth bar higher than they do, I have to admit that their despicable methods are effective. I hope fervently that there will be a Blue Wave tomorrow. However, it is all too likely that hatred and stupidity will win.

 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

ON SECOND THOUGHT . . .

On Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park


So much for not blogging! Since saying goodbye to readers in my last post, I have thought of too many things to rave or complain about, and blogging is the easiest way to do it. So, the RovinCrone is back.

During the past few weeks my partner and I have spent most of our time in Washington state. Though it’s not all that far from California, we have been here only a few times. We just made up for it, and will certainly return again if possible.

Because he can handle RV travel much better physically than I can, he went on ahead, traveling up through northern California and along the Oregon coast. When he reached Seattle after a couple of weeks, I flew there to join him. An old friend from high school lives in Yakima, and she flew to Seattle at the same time and took us to lunch. Now, that’s friendship! It was wonderful to see Connie again after several years.

The next day my partner and I went into the city, which is very challenging in an RV, even in our relatively compact Winnebago View. The hills alone make driving difficult, and the heavy traffic adds to the problems. However, by holding back some broken branches of a low-hanging tree we were able to park in one of the few available street parking spots in the Space Needle area. There are no lots that can accommodate RVs! Though there are dozens of appealing museums in the city, we had to choose one in order to make our escape and find a place to stay for the night. Our choice was the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit,  which combines Dale Chihuly’s wonderful huge glass sculptures with living plants. At $23 each for old fogeys, it’s pricier than most museums, but well worth it. This was our splurge for the trip. (We always allow ourselves one per expedition.)

Following a night in a casino parking lot (during which I managed to be drenched in a rainstorm after getting lost in the maze-like casino and not having my keys with me), we drove to Anacortes, the home of some fellow View owners. Carl and Karen very generously allowed us to stay in their driveway for three nights. And what a driveway! Anacortes is on Deception Bay in Puget Sound,  so  the view from the driveway is stunning. It’s a birder’s paradise, too. Only a few minutes after arriving we saw a bald eagle and other birds. The whole Puget Sound area is one of the most appealing parts of the United States. Victoria, B.C., is right across the water, so we could have visited Canada on the same trip. However, one  of us (who will not be named to protect his guilt ) had neglected to bring his passport. Canada will have to wait for a future visit.

We had expected to drive from Anacortes to the Olympic National Park by retracing our route through Seattle, but learned that we could take a ferry from Coupeville to Fort Townsend, shortening the trip and sparing us another horrendous drive through Seattle traffic . We are both ferry fanatics anyway, so this was a no-brainer. The ferry for us and the View cost only $44 in all, a bargain. Luckily, the recent rains let up on that day, so we had a very enjoyable thirty-five minute ride across a bay.

Olympic National Park, like all the national parks, should be on every bucket list. Much of it stretches along lakes or the ocean, but the highest parts are up in the clouds. (One mountain is suitably named Mt. Olympus.)  We spent several days in the park, traveling counterclockwise around the perimeter. Hurricane Ridge is at 5240’ but seems higher because of the steep topography. And, it is as windy as the name implies. Glaciers can still be found here. Sadly, they may be gone in our lifetimes. The Heart o’ the Hills campground is a simple but comfortable place to stay, just a short drive below Hurricane Ridge.

Continuing around the park, we stopped at the Sol Duc River to watch the salmon run. It is fascinating and inspiring to see the fish jump over and over to reach a higher point in the river. Some of them are knocked back by hitting rocks, only to regain strength and jump successfully upstream.

On the Pacific Ocean side of the park, we almost despaired of finding a campground, as “the season” was ending and everything was closing down. Then we stumbled on the South Beach campground, where there were flush toilets (but no sinks, which seemed odd) and we had a site right on the beach. We spent two nights there, leaving only because the trip couldn’t last forever.

At the southwest “corner” of the park is the temperate rain forest I had long wanted to visit. Strolling along the Maple Glade rain forest trail, we saw huge ferns, six-foot curtains of moss dripping from tall trees, bracket fungi, and other rain forest plants. I can no longer walk far, so I was truly grateful for this half-mile easy trail.

All in all, this trip was an extremely good one. As I grow older and deal with declining health, I appreciate travel more and more, and hope this will not be our final RV journey.

Copyright 2018 by Carol Leth Stone

Saturday, August 25, 2018

SIGNING OFF

For the past few years I've satisfied the urge to write by blogging as RovinCrone. It has been enjoyable in many ways, but the time has come to stop. I'm interested in trying a different genre and have a limited amount of time and energy for writing.
To all who have commented online here and by email, many thanks. I've greatly appreciated your messages.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

GET A PICTURE OF THAT!


Photographers at Yosemite Falls
Too often when my companion is driving and I am peacefully looking out the passenger window he will suddenly shout, “Carol! Get a picture of that!” Of what? I look around wildly while searching for the camera or cell phone. By the time I figure out what he is looking at and aim a camera at it, it’s too late for even a grab shot. I’m chagrined, he’s annoyed. Sometimes he simply snatches the camera from me and takes a photo himself, while driving at 55 mph or so. This is not a good solution.

Taking photos on the run just isn’t that important to me. I do enjoy carefully composing a shot occasionally. Most of the time, though, I prefer enjoying the experience, or taking time to sketch a plant or animal.

Last summer we organized much of August around seeing the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21. It was a wonderful experience, and I managed to get a fairly good photo of it. However, just as it reached totality, others around me gasped. At the time I was trying to compose my photo. I suspect that I missed the full “diamond ring” effect, and wish I had simply watched in awe as the eclipse proceeded.

Can my attitude be taken too far? I have a good friend who is a world traveler. She comes back with tales of taking safaris and climbing  mountains, but without any pictures except some scenic post cards. She wants to concentrate on looking and experiencing rather than on taking photos. I wonder if she ever tries to recall some past trip and wishes she had used a camera rather than on relying on her memory. Like most people of our age, she must have memory lapses! Also, I would really like to see some photos she has taken herself rather than purchased.

Most tourists seem to rely heavily on photos. Busloads of camera-toting Asian tourists are a cliché, and every scenic overlook or art museum is clogged with people taking selfies and scarcely seeing anything but themselves.

There must be a happy medium. From now on I will try to make sure a camera is within easy reach, so I can at least make an effort to take quick photos. However, I will also insist on enjoying the views, not waste a lot of time on photographing them.
Copyright 2018 by Carol Leth Stone

 

 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

LAST STOP BEFORE TAHOE



Tourists driving from Sacramento or the San Francisco Bay area toward Lake Tahoe often take Route 50. They pass through Placerville (a.k.a. Old Hangtown), then along an area called Apple Hill, filled with many orchards and vineyards. Apple Hill is extremely popular in the fall, when city folk bring their children to stroll through the orchards, sample a wide variety of apples, and buy pies and donuts. So popular that the highway may be crowded in September or October.

Before getting low on gas or groceries, Tahoe-bound people are apt to stop in Pollock Pines. It has everything they are likely to need before starting the beautiful but long drive to Lake Tahoe.

At the west end of town, they can take Exit 57 from the highway, the exit that leads to Pony Express Trail. Yes, this road actually is part of the historic nineteenth-century trail used to deliver the mail by young riders on horseback. Near Exit 57 is one of the original stations, now enlarged and converted to a restaurant called Sportsman’s Hall. Many other stations between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento survive, but mostly as ruins. Here, you can have a meal while surrounded by photos and artifacts of the trail. (It’s not for foodies, though. The menu is basic meat and potatoes, plus some good pies and pastries.)

Either by going back to U.S. 50 or by staying on the trail and continuing east for a few miles, you can reach the east end of Pollock Pines (Sly Park Rd., Exit 60 from the highway). Along the way on Pony Express Trail are two good motels, a Best Western and the Westhaven Inn. In what passes for a downtown, visitors can shop at a Safeway, a CVS, several small restaurants, beauty shops, auto supply stores, and gas stations. Note: The gas is a bit higher priced here than in Placerville, back 15 miles to the west, but it’s a long drive to the next station! A charming branch of the county library (open Tuesday through Thursday only) and a post office are useful stops for some visitors. Public restrooms are found in the stores and restaurants.

About six miles south of town on Sly Park Rd. is a large reservoir called Jenkinson Lake. Nine campgrounds here have spaces for tents and RVs. Fees for single-vehicle sites range from $32 to $80 a day.  Popular with both tourists and locals, the reservoir offers boating, kayaking, and hiking. You can look at the lake and check the weather on a webcam [http://www.slyparkweathercam.com/] hosted by local realtors.

Once past town, and fortified with gas and food, you can begin the magnificent drive uphill to Lake Tahoe along the American River. Or, you may decide not to leave but to buy a home and settle down, as I did several years ago. Like me, many elderly people choose to retire here among the huge pine trees.

 
Copyright  © 2018 by Carol Leth Stone