The Value of Controlled Burns…..

If this is a topic you’re interested in, a longer explanation is in the article I wrote in February as Hubby had a great time taking photos.(

Daddy was a forester for many years, although he didn’t start with the Louisiana Forestry Commission until I was maybe six. That particular job was running a pine tree nursery which was pretty cool to see as a kid. I don’t recall how many acres, but there were thousands – perhaps tens of  thousands of seedlings planted. They were harvested at different stages of maturity for reforestation. After that was the move to Natchitoches where we stayed from when I in the latter part of the fourth grade into college. I may have previously posted about the house we lived in. It was small, but functional and provided by the Forestry Commission as it was on the property. The head guy chose to live in a larger private house instead. Having acres of pine seedlings was one thing, having a 120-foot fire tower next to you was something different.

Anyway, the purpose of towers is of course to keep watch, especially during “fire season”. That was generally summer with dry conditions and winds. That part of Louisiana is heavily wooded, particularly with pine, and between carelessness (never mind the year of an arsonist) and lightening strikes there were always fires. The point is, during the rest of the year, there would be controlled burns planned and executed to clear out undergrowth and dead trees. The reason is straightforward. Both of those forest elements function as “tinder” when set ablaze. The greater the amount, the larger the fire which then spreads to mature trees. The “controlled” burn is exactly what it sounds like. Firefighters and equipment are set up to ignite and manage a burn in one section before moving to another. (Sectioning allows time for the forest creatures to move out of the way). There are strict rules to follow as to how large an area is to be burned at any one time and the other major factor is wind. Burns are not initiated when the wind is above a certain level. Once a burn is completed, it takes a short period for new growth to begin.

No October Trip to Louisiana…

For the first time in years, I have not made my annual trip to be in Louisiana for Daddy’s birthday. Actually, there have been a few times I’ve adjusted and gone a bit earlier and a few times later to do Christmas instead. In any case, there has always been at least one trip. For those who follow the blog, I do daily posts (connectivity permitting) while I’m on the road of friends and relatives seen, memories stirred, enjoying catfish and other local favorites. For a while I had hoped perhaps things would work out this year. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before Daddy is in an assisted living facility that is small and basic, yet nice with a good staff. A couple of months ago they started allowing “front porch” visits and my sister and brother-in-law went over. When I go to visit I spend the entire day with him, so restricting myself to something like that didn’t seem to be practical.

Last week we received word from one of my step-sisters that two of the residents had tested positive for COVID as had a couple of the staff. The residents were moved to another facility, the staff quarantined, and everyone else tested negative. Needless to say, visits have once again been curtailed. I did talk to Daddy briefly the day before his birthday (96 this year) and he sounded as well as possible, still fairly oblivious to what is really going on. That’s probably good under the circumstances. I don’t know if I’ll try to arrange a spring trip if the situation allows it and like everyone else, will adapt to whatever the circumstances are in the new year.  We are on track to travel to the D.C. area later this month for our son’s birthday and hopefully nothing will interfere with that.

Another “Go” of Openings……

While there continues to be concerns in some quarters about a second round of virus, Florida has become fully open with restrictions. In living in the “hot zone county”, we will apparently also open as of this week; again with restrictions. Hubby was in at the local college campus as they have just opened the blended class option – part time in class, part on-line. A student he spoke with said he thinks a lot of the concern is because of so much contradictory information. There will always be some of that due to human nature. Sadly, in this case, there has been so much politicization injected, it muddies the waters even more than the usual professional differences of opinions.

Anyway, we shall have to see how this goes. There’s what will no doubt be a lengthy school board meeting tonight to determine which schools will phase in students being physically present. There were only one-third of parents who responded to the survey who wanted remote learning as the single option. For every child who can learn well that way and have a home conducive to the situatioin, it is a burden for many. Yes, tablets and other equipment were provided and the internet providers did help expand into parts of the community with connectivity issues. That, however, doesn’t resolve the situation where both parents have to work or perhaps are not good enough with computers to help if there is a problem, or where they live can’t accommodate having three children of different ages on line at the same time trying to take classes at three different levels.

From an entertainment perspective, bars and musicians have been hit hard and some haven’t qualified for much, if any, financial assistance. At this point, it’s difficult to know how well those sectors will recover.

Teaching The “Isms” and Other……

Another memory jogged by recent events. I’ve posted before about attending a small Louisiana university in the town where we lived. I think I also explained while I was a Prelaw major, that was dual listed as Political Science. One of the required courses for everyone, however, was a 101 course about the “Isms”, as in Capitalism, Communism, and Socialism. It was heavier on history and politics than economics since it was required for all students. An interesting aside was due to the small size of the departments, we had only three professors; one of whom was female, another was from Taiwan – back when it was Formosa. As you can imagine, the professor from Taiwan had a very personal view of how communism functions.

Anyway, the female professor was quite strict about everything. She was also a Marine Corps veteran which was highly unusual at that time. So many non-political science students tried to avoid her class if possible, the dean allegedly finally told her she could be as tough as she wanted with every class she taught except “Isms” because it was the only one required for all students. I was in fact the only female Prelaw/Political Science major at the time, so there was a connectivity. Once she heard I was taking ROTC and joining the Army, that did result in some more personal conversations that, in turn, gave some insight into her “fearsome reputation”. As so often happens, when you learn about someone’s past experiences, it impacts your perspective. She was indeed still quite demanding, but we got along well. A funny anecdote which will only be meaningful to those who are of certain age was the morning after the infamous Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, “Battle of the Sexes”, tennis match. The professor came in, settled her notes and looked around the room. “I think we’ll start today’s class talking about tennis,” was essentially what she said with a big smile. The guys did take it with appropriate good humor.

Birthdays and Hurricanes…..

We generally don’t make a big deal out of birthdays anymore although they can be an excuse for something like Hubby wants a new piece of dive or camera equipment and it gets claimed as a birthday present. The big Australia trip coincided with our 60th birthdays and 25th anniversary all rolled in together. (Okay, we played a bit with the timing, but they did all occur in a three-month span.) My standard birthday celebration is to dive in the morning, then go next door to Shipwrecks (wonderfully funky place) for lunch and later have a nice dinner at home. As sometimes happens, diving wasn’t feasible yesterday, so we’ll go early next week. That led to having a nice dinner out and in this case we went to Snook’s in Key Largo. They have one of the best sunset views, the food is good and it’s priced no higher than similar places.( If I’d felt like us driving another 30 minutes south we’d have gone to Chef Micheal) Anyway, it was a delicious hogfish meal with a lobster tail added in (we shared that). We also shared a chocolate peanut butter pie.

A fair amount of the day had been spent checking Facebook and a text from one cousin about the status of family and friends in Louisiana as Hurricane Laura slammed in at a Cat 4. It did drop quickly to a 3, but still lots of damage. It was a Cat 2 as it moved north. So far, other than losing power and a lot of lost sleep, everyone seems to be in pretty good shape. Actual damage assessment can start today. We’ll wait for the reports and to see who need what help in recovery. My sister in Houston said it was far enough east not to affect them.

Time to Transplant Another Orchid….

In our on-going effort to manage orchids, the one we’ve had the most success with is in the front yard. From soon after Hubby tied it to the tree, it began to thrive and we’ve had to do literally nothing to it since. Of the ones we have in the back, he tied one to another palm and it bloomed successfully for quite a while. The leaves still seem healthy and we think we’ll have another round of blooms before long. Part of the problem is we keep losing the tags to tell us what kind we have and therefore we don’t know what their blooming cycle is.
Anyway, of the five in pots, one has started to literally shoot roots off from a stem. When I first noticed this, I erroneously thought these were buds. I made a comment about that to Hubby and he said he didn’t think so. In looking closer, I realized he was correct.

We checked with our orchid friends on Facebook and they all agreed it meant it was time to move the whole thing to a tree. I don’t understand the exact growing process, but since it seems to work well, we’re happy to accept the advice. With the tropical storm situation, Hubby will wait a couple of days. (We’re fine; manageable wind and rain as the system weakened.)

There is something special about living in a place where having orchids in your yard is “routine” – at least for those who can follow directions. Interestingly, a friend who has a fabulous collection bemoans not being able to grow roses. There are actually hot weather varieties and although one of the local women is an undisputed expert, my friend claims he’s had no luck with any he has attempted. That is certainly not anything we’re going to try.

Orchid in Our Front Yard

Absentee Voting and New Twist……

As regular readers know, I avoid politics as a subject. This, however, is a case where civics can cross into politics. In all the noise about mail-in ballots, there seems to be confusion about objections. I’ll start by saying “mail-in” has existed for a very long time, but was traditionally called absentee ballots. That’s because in years past, many people made voting day a priority. Employers were (still are) required to give a certain number of hours off to allow time to get to the polls, vote, and return. There was no early voting then. People who would be absent would apply for their ballot, fill it out and yes – mail it in. Generally, that applied to military and other personnel who knew they would be away on election day. Even older people often had someone take them to the polls to be able to vote. That’s what some of the drives during the Civil Rights Era were – filling buses with people to ensure they could make it to the polls. Population growth, longer commutes which might make it difficult to get to the polls in time, and those who didn’t have access to transportation, etc., began to use absentee/mail-in at a greater rate. Early voting came into play to try and accommodate some of these situations.

There have always been issues with ensuring absentee ballots are properly accounted for and counted. Some errors are human carelessness, some will full mistakes, some delivery errors, and fraud. The concerns with increasing mail-in to large scale is proportionately increasing errors and fraud. Example of a will full mistake is throwing away ballots rather than delivering them. Example of fraud is filling out another person’s ballot, influencing them to fill it out in a way they might not otherwise do, or knowingly having an ineligible person fill out a ballot.

Absentee/mail-in is and always will be a legitimate form of voting. Greatly expanding it comes with risk.

Watching the Storm…..

As with other things that don’t slow down because of the pandemic, we’re looking at a Hurricane Watch beginning Sunday. There had been expectations Hurricane Isaias would weaken in crossing the mountains of Dominican Republic, but it didn’t go in that far. We’ll keep an eye on things of course with the hope of an eastward track to go out into the Atlantic. As I have said on many occasions, there is plenty of empty space for hurricanes to swirl around all they wish and interfere only with shipping and air traffic. Florida Power and Light (FPL) does year-round trimming and scheduled pole and line replacement to “strengthen” against storms. They have been systematically replacing wooden poles with taller concrete ones which are more resilient and the added height helps raise the lines to prevent falling limbs and trees from tearing them down.

Even though we do have the whole-house generator (despite all the hassle we endured), our development does not normally lose power because the utilities are underground. That of course isn’t a safeguard if there is flooding. At any rate, tomorrow is likely to provide clarity of the situation. Direction and speed can change with little warning which is what makes it difficult to know how much to prepare. Too much and people feel it was a “wasted” effort. Too little and there are obvious problems. We both happened to fill our vehicles this week which takes care of that task. It is the reality of living here, and as one friend said Thursday, at least with hurricanes, you do have some warning. They were previously in tornado-prone country. So, in the literal rather than figurative sense, we really will see what tomorrow brings.

Conflicting Experts……

I meant to finish this yesterday and was interrupted. As I’ve mentioned before, my father was a forester for about sixty years although he did finally quit tromping around the woods so much in his early 80s. Anyway, he was once called upon to be an expert witness in a civil suit. The issue was a tree that was cut down, fell the wrong way and damaged the house in question. I don’t recall the particulars because they aren’t important. He recounted there were actually three experts who testified about the situation. What surprised him was each of them provided a different analysis and that left the jury with the task of trying to decide which, if any of them, they believed. This is not uncommon.

There are multiple problems with experts. The first is credentials. As I may also have previously posted, I am by no means a scientist, but my sister and brother-in-law both are. In the years of being around them and listening to different things, I learned how narrow some science focuses can be. When my sister was considering seeking a new position, she was well credentialed in her field, to include having received national and some international recognition. In her particular field though, there were only a few positions open in the entire that were an actual match. All scientists have common understanding of certain things, then branch out to where they have little, if any understanding, in other areas. We’re all more familiar of course with this in medical practice. The GP is only the first stop if something specialized is the problem.

Speaking of problems; human nature, particularly if someone is an “expert”, is to be reluctant to admit one doesn’t have the answer, or worse, if one has made a mistake and must openly acknowledge that. And so, we come back to what to do when two equally credentialed experts provide assessments/recommendations that are the opposite of each other. If no hard data can support one position or the other, we choose whom to believe based on multiple factors; one of which is likely to be one’s personal view, which in turn may be driven by emotion. It does make decisions difficult.


Unexpected Loss….

Strong emotional content alert. I’ve written about loss and dealing with grief on other occasions and probably even the intense aspect of loss with no warning. This, then, may be a post to skip. Irony will “out” at times because with so much attention on COVID-19, the fact that “Death waits for no man” in the normal range still applies. One week ago yesterday, I picked up a friend at 5:00 a.m. to take her to one of the strings of “prep” appointments one has prior to a scheduled out-patient surgical procedure. She was in great spirits and her son was to pick her up later. I sent a text the next afternoon to check on her. She was fine; had slept on and off most of the day, but was ready for the CT scan scheduled for Friday. If she was finished in time and not too tired, she would join our small group for Happy Hour. When she didn’t show for that, we assumed she was either running late or tired. I meant to text/email on Saturday, but the day got away from me. Her not reaching out first was a little unusual; not enough to raise concern. At 10:30 Saturday night the call came from the other friend who’d been at Happy Hour. When she received the news and called me, no one knew quite what had happened, but our friend had passed away. The shock set all of us back and it took a while to get the correct version. For reasons as yet unknown, she suffered a seizure followed by a heart attack during some part of what was a routine procedure and they were unable to resuscitate her.

Our friend had been to dinner Thursday evening, her usual smiling, pleasant self. As everyone has attempted to come to grips with this, the comment of, “I didn’t know she was ill,” is understandable except she wasn’t, not precisely. The condition she had (can’t recall the exact term) is one that many deal with; that medical technology is such, you go in, have an out-patient procedure, rest up a bit and make sure you do your follow-up with the doc later. Then there are those tragic turns no one anticipates and no one is prepared for. Her service is today and due to the COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, what would be a full church will instead be a relatively small group at the funeral home although the service will be “live-streamed”.  Watching a loved one/close friend suffer through a lengthy illness is incredibly difficult. Coming to grips with sudden death, especially when it is, “too soon”, carries with it a different level of loss. (She would have been 73 in September)