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Photo: Volcano Discovery

I love stories about volcanoes that change the flow of history. The really big ones, you know, darken the skies for months — even years — and disrupt the sea like a tsunami.

As Katherine Kornei reports at the New York Times, there are other effects that researchers are just beginning to discover.

“Chaos and conflict roiled the Mediterranean in the first century B.C.,” she reports. “Against a backdrop of famine, disease and the assassinations of Julius Caesar and other political leaders, the Roman Republic collapsed, and the Roman Empire rose in its place. Tumultuous social unrest no doubt contributed to that transition — politics can unhinge a society. But so can something arguably more powerful.

Scientists [in June] announced evidence that a volcanic eruption in the remote Aleutian Islands, 6,000 miles away from the Italian peninsula, contributed to the demise of the Roman Republic.

“That eruption — and others before it and since — played a role in changing the course of history.

“In recent years, geoscientists, historians and archaeologists have joined forces to investigate the societal impacts of large volcanic eruptions. They rely on an amalgam of records — including ice cores, historical chronicles and climate modeling — to pinpoint how volcanism affected civilizations ranging from the Roman Republic to Ptolemaic Egypt to pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

“There’s nuance to this kind of work, said Joseph Manning, a historian at Yale University who has studied the falls of Egyptian dynasties. ‘It’s not “a volcano erupts and a society goes to hell.” ‘ But the challenge is worth it, he said. ‘We hope in the end that we get better history out of it, but also a better understanding of what’s happening to the Earth right now.’ …

“Joseph McConnell, a climate scientist at the [Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev.], and his collaborators are in the business of looking for debris [from long ago eruptions]. …

“Volcanic ash, more generally known as tephra, sometimes hides in ice. It’s a special find because it can be geochemically tied to a specific volcano. … The ice also carries a time stamp. Dr. McConnell and his colleagues look for variations in elements like sodium, which is found in sea spray that’s seasonally blown inland. By simply counting annual variations in these elements, it’s possible to trace the passage of time, Dr. McConnell said. ‘It’s like a tree-ring record.’

“Dr. McConnell and his collaborators recently analyzed six ice cores drilled in the Arctic. In layers of ice corresponding to the early months of 43 B.C., they spotted large upticks in sulfur and, crucially, bits of material that were probably tephra. The timing caught the scientists’ attention. Researchers have previously hypothesized that an environmental trigger may have helped set in motion the crop failures, famines and social unrest that plagued the Mediterranean region at that time. …

“Gill Plunkett, a paleoecologist at Queen’s University Belfast, set out sleuthing. After extracting 35 pieces of tephra from the ice, she pored over the rock chemistry of likely volcanic suspects. Nicaragua’s Apoyeque. Italy’s Mount Etna. Russia’s Shiveluch.

“But it was Okmok, a volcano in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, that turned out to be the best match, at least on paper. Sealing the deal would require testing two tephra samples — one from the ice and one from Okmok — on the same instrument.

“Dr. Plunkett arranged for a tephra handoff at a conference in Dublin. A colleague from the Alaska Volcano Observatory, Kristi Wallace, packed four bags of Okmok tephra in her carry-on luggage. The match was spot on, Dr. Plunkett said. …

“This eruption was one of the largest of the last few millenniums, Dr. McConnell and his collaborators concluded, and the sulfate aerosols it created remained in the stratosphere for several years. These tiny particles are particularly good at reflecting sunlight, which means they can temporarily alter Earth’s climate. …

“There’s good evidence that the Northern Hemisphere was colder than normal around 43 B.C. Trees across Europe grew more slowly that year, and a pine forest in North America experienced an unusually early autumn freeze. Using climate models to simulate the impact of an Okmok eruption, Dr. McConnell and his collaborators estimated that parts of the Mediterranean, roughly 6,000 miles away, would have cooled by as much as 13.3 degrees Fahrenheit. … Rain patterns changed as well — some regions would have been drenched by 400 percent more precipitation than normal, the modeling revealed.

“That climate shock came at precisely the wrong time, Dr. [Jessica Clark, a historian of the Roman Republic at Florida State University] said. ‘This was a period of Mediterranean-wide political, social and economic upheaval.’

“These cold, wet conditions would have almost certainly decimated crops, Dr. McConnell and his colleagues said. Historical records compiled by Roman writers and philosophers note food shortages and famines. … For a society already reeling from the assassination of Julius Caesar the year before, such trying conditions might have exacerbated social unrest, the researchers concluded. They might even have kick-started transfers of political power that led to the rise of the Roman Empire.

“ ‘It’s an incredible coincidence that it happened exactly in the waning years of the Roman Republic when things were falling apart,’ said Dr. McConnell, who published the team’s results in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

This was a long, fascinating article. For additional details, including details about the effects of distant volcanic eruptions on the Nile River in Egypt, click here.

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Photo: Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Carlos Omar Montes keeps all the equipment and supplies for his mobile barbershop in a 5′ X 5′ storage unit. With support from entrepreneurship programs, he’s building a new life after serving his time.

When I edited a magazine focused on low- and moderate-income issues in New England, I liked to acquire articles on helping former inmates lead a decent life after serving their sentence. Dumping someone on the side of the road with a toothbrush is hardly the way to help him start supporting himself and giving back to society (in the form of taxes, family stability, community service, etc.).

Although retired for four years, I am still drawn to such stories. Here’s one from Kelly Field at the Hechinger Report via the Boston Globe.

“Standing before a roomful of CEOs, angel investors and foundation representatives at Boston College Law School late last year, Carlos Omar Montes pitched his idea for a mobile barbershop.

“Omar’s Barbershop, he told the audience, would fill a niche in the grooming market, offering the ‘old-fashioned experience’ of hot lather and warm towels to men who are confined to group homes and nursing facilities.

“ ‘Omar’s will connect people to the happiest time in their lives, bringing them freedom, convenience and happiness,’ said Montes, dressed in a vest and tie for his presentation.

“A year and a half earlier, Montes, now 31, had been an inmate at the South Bay House of Correction in Boston. He served almost eight years in all, there and elsewhere, for possession of drugs and a firearm. Now he was in a lecture hall on the pastoral suburban campus of Boston College Law School, for the final day of an entrepreneurship boot camp that paired former inmates with law student mentors.

“Covid-19 would arrive a few weeks later. Still, Montes spent the lockdown positioning himself to move forward with his business as soon as reopening allowed — amid a recession that otherwise would have made it considerably harder for him to get any other kind of job.

“The idea of bringing higher education inside prisons got considerable momentum in the years leading up to the pandemic, becoming the subject of books, documentaries and extensive media coverage.

“But if ex-inmates weren’t getting hired before coronavirus, they are unlikely to be in the front of the line now that millions of Americans are unemployed, no matter how much education they received.

“The stigma against candidates with criminal records is so strong that, even with the skills they may have learned behind bars, many find it easier to start a business than get hired by one, said Marc Howard, a professor of government and law who helped start Georgetown University’s Pivot entrepreneurship program last year. …

“Project Entrepreneur at BC, launched last year, is one of a small number of similar efforts that take place both inside prisons and on college campuses and attempt to provide inmates and ex-inmates with the skills, confidence and contacts they need to start their own businesses. They also aim to open traditional students’ eyes to the stigmas and systematic barriers to employment former prisoners like Omar face. …

“Many employers are wary of hiring ex-convicts. According to one widely cited study, a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent. The result: More than a quarter of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed, and nearly half are re-arrested within eight years of their release. …

“Thirty-five states, including Massachusetts, and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted ‘ban the box’ policies that bar questions about prior convictions from job applications. …

“Said Kevin Sibley, executive director of Boston’s Office of Returning Citizens, which helps formerly incarcerated people find education and employment, even in ‘ban the box’ states, many employers still run background checks late in the hiring process and drop any candidate who has committed a felony, ‘even when it has nothing to do with the work assignment.’ …

“Elizabeth Swanson, who has led a Babson College entrepreneurship program for prisoners for a decade, said the lessons of these prison entrepreneurship programs are not only for the inmates.

“When she asks students, at the start of each semester, what they think about prison, Swanson said, they’ll often say something like, ‘I’ve seen “Orange is the New Black.” ‘ Some are terrified to step inside a jail. But when they get to know the inmates, through letters or visits, ‘they do a complete 180.’ ”

More at the Globe, here.

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Photo: CBS News
Blind architect Chris Downey explains to CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl on
60 Minutes how his disability has made him a better architect.

Talk about making lemonade if life hands you lemons! This story about a man who suffered a devastating loss and eventually came out ahead of the game is inspiring.

Lesley Stahl reported on Chris Downey’s saga for 60 Minutes.

“Several mornings a week, as the sun rises over the Oakland estuary in California, an amateur rowing team works the water. It’s hard to tell which one of them is blind. And Chris Downey thinks that’s just fine.

“CHRIS DOWNEY: It’s really exciting to be in a sport where nobody looks in the direction they’re going. You face this way in the boat and you’re going that way. So, okay even-steven.

“It’s not exactly even-steven in this design meeting, where Downey is collaborating with sighted architects on a new hospital building. But he hasn’t let that stop him.

“LESLEY STAHL: Here you are in a profession that basically requires you to read— read designs and draw designs. You must’ve thought in your head, ‘That is insurmountable?’ …

“DOWNEY: Friends that were architects and anybody else would say, ‘Oh my God, it’s the worst thing imaginable, to be an architect and to lose your sight. I can’t imagine anything worse.’ But I quickly came to realize that — the creative process is an intellectual process. It’s how you think, so I just needed new tools.

“New tools? Downey found a printer that could emboss architectural drawings so that he could read and understand through touch. …

“At age 45, Chris Downey had pretty much constructed the life he’d always wanted. An architect with a good job at a small housing firm outside San Francisco, he was happily married, with a 10-year-old son. He was an assistant little league coach and avid cyclist. And then — doctors discovered a tumor in his brain. He had surgery, and the tumor was safely gone, but Downey was left completely blind. As we first reported in 2019, what he has done in the decade since losing his sight, as a person and as an architect, can only be described as a different kind of vision.

“And he came up with a way to ‘sketch’ his ideas onto the plans using a simple children’s toy — malleable wax sticks that he shapes to show his modifications to others. And he says something surprising started to happen. He could no longer see buildings and spaces, but he began hearing them. …

“DOWNEY: I was fascinated — walking through buildings that I knew sighted. But I was experiencing them in a different way. I was hearing the architecture, I was feeling the space. … It was sort of this — this excitement of, ‘I’m a kid again. I’m— I’m relearning so much of architecture.’

It wasn’t about what I’m missing in architecture, it’s what— was about what I had been missing in architecture.

“Chris Downey’s upbeat attitude doesn’t mean that he didn’t go through one of the most frightening experiences imaginable — and struggle. He and his wife Rosa were living in this same home with their son Renzo, then 10, when Downey first noticed a problem while playing catch with Renzo. The ball kept coming in and out of sight. The cause turned out to be a tumor near his optic nerve. Surgery to remove it lasted nine and a half hours. He says his surgeon had told him there was a slight risk of total sight loss, but that he’d never had it happen. … The next day half his field of vision disappeared. And then —

“DOWNEY: The next time I woke up it was — all gone. It was just black. …

“After days of frantic testing, a surgeon told him it was permanent. Irreversible. And sent in a social worker.

“DOWNEY: She says, ‘Oh, and I see from your chart you’re’— you’re an architect, so we can talk about career alternatives.’ …

“Alone that night in his room, Downey did some serious thinking. About his son, and about his own father, who had died from complications after surgery when Downey was seven years old.

“DOWNEY: I could quickly — appreciate the wonder, the — just the joy of, ‘I’m still here.’ …

“He knew that how he handled this would send a strong message to Renzo. … Motivated to set an example, he headed back to work only one month later.

“Just nine months after going blind, the recession hit and he lost his job. But he got word that a nearby firm was designing a rehabilitation center for veterans with sight loss. They were eager to meet a blind architect.  …

“DOWNEY: It took my disability and turned it upside down. All of a sudden, it defined unique, unusual value that virtually nobody else had to offer. …

“Starting with that job, Downey developed a specialty, making spaces accessible to the blind. He helped design a new eye center at Duke University Hospital, consulted on a job for Microsoft, and signed on to help the visually impaired find their way in San Francisco’s new, and much-delayed, four-block long Transbay Transit Center, which we visited during construction. …

“DOWNEY: I’m absolutely convinced I’m a better architect today than I was sighted.

“STAHL: If you could see tomorrow, would you still wanna be able to feel the design? …

“DOWNEY: I don’t know. I would be afraid that I’d — I’d sorta lose what I’ve really been working on.” More.

Hat tip: Kristina.

 

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Photo: Dazzle Club/Cocoa Laney 
Members of the Dazzle Club in February 2020 demonstrating techniques to subvert facial-recognition technology.

In my early online years, I naively thought I could protect my privacy by using a different photo at all my social media sites: the blog, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram … Now I know hiding my face is a lost cause.

Interestingly, there are young people in England who don’t believe the cause is lost. A March PRI (Public Radio International) story explains how you can go to a protest and not be tracked when you exercise the Right of Assembly (US term). I couldn’t resist sharing the story because recently individuals that Dickens’s Sam Weller would call “The Law” have started covering their own faces despite demands to see yours. Irony.

So if you are a Yellow-Vest Mom and your Covid face mask seems insufficient, consider makeup.

Orla Barry reports, “It’s a rainy evening in East London and a group of people with their faces daubed in bizarre make-up is making their way silently through the neighborhood’s busy streets. Nobody speaks although many commuters and tourists stare. This is The Dazzle Club.

“Set up by four artists, the group dons camouflage make-up and leads a silent public walk once a month in protest of live facial recognition police cameras in London. The make-up is called CV Dazzle and, when applied correctly, it tricks the cameras into being unable to detect a face. Artist Evie Price, who leads the walk on a February night, worries about what the police do with the information the cameras observe.

” ‘What are they doing with the data that they’re collecting?’ said Price. ‘They say it’s for safety purposes and preventative policing, but we have no evidence that what they’re actually using it for is working.’

“London is already one of the most surveilled cities in the world with around 420,000 CCTV cameras in operation. Washington, D.C., has around 30,000 in comparison. …

“Civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch believes the technology could alter how the police view members of the public. Director Silkie Carlo compares the cameras to a police line-up.

‘It actually starts to reverse the presumption of innocence. It means that members of the public in our everyday lives are effectively being subjected to a constant police lineup, constantly having our identities checked to make sure that we’re not criminals,’ Carlo said.

“The cameras [work] by scanning people’s faces and then comparing those images to a list of suspects police have already inputted into the system. London’s assistant police commissioner, Nick Ephgrave, said the technology does not store images of people’s faces, unless they are on the list. …

” ‘The only images that are retained are those where there has been an alert. And they are retained for a maximum of 31 days,’ Ephgrave said.

“London police claim the cameras are 70% accurate, but that does not concur with the findings of an independent study into the technology. Professor Pete Fussey, an expert in surveillance with Essex University was commissioned by the police to review the effectiveness of the system. His results differed greatly from those of the police.

‘On the six trials that I observed, there were 42 times in which the facial recognition system alerted operators that someone passed the cameras, who matched the database. In only eight of those cases, was it verifiably correct that the person was without any doubt the person that had been matched,’ Fussey said.

“That’s an accuracy rate of 19%.

“But despite the independent report, London police are not the only ones pushing for the technology to be expanded. Retailers across Britain have also started to use live facial recognition cameras in their stores. Facewatch, one company that provides facial recognition technology, says the failure of police to tackle low-level crimes, like shop-lifting, is driving more shop-owners to use the cameras. Facewatch CEO Nick Fisher says they’re proving very effective. …

“The Dazzle Club doesn’t yet know if the camouflage makeup will truly fool police cameras. Artist Georgina Rowlands, a fellow Club founder says they haven’t been able to access the software the London police use. …

“After an hour, the silent walk comes to an end and the group all head to a local pub to have a beer and chat. Claudia and James, who didn’t share their full identities, joined the walk that night for the first time. Claudia says she found the experience uplifting. …

“James said he was worried about the extent to which the cameras are already being used around the world. ‘Facial recognition is a huge thing already and especially when you look at what’s happening in China. [The walk] just seemed a really nice way of, you know, pushing back against that.’ ” More here.

Note that “a beer and a chat” probably went on lockdown shortly after this story was published.

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When my summertime neighbor opens her front door in the morning, I know it’s OK to go over there even if it’s only 6:30. We like to take our walk early, before there are too many mopeds and before it gets hot.

In this plague year, we put on our masks and walk six feet apart. If there are no cars or other people, one of us walks in the middle of the road. Otherwise, one is in front and one six feet behind.

A few other people prefer the early hours, too. It can be a good time to paint the rock and have the work last more than half an hour.

We always check to see if the lotus on Lakeside has any buds. This year looks bad. Sandra notes the little pond is almost dry.

The marker honoring New Shoreham’s early indigenous residents, the Manisseans, is near their old burial ground. We usually pause and turn around here.

On the way home, we check on how the potential ingredients for Sandra’s jellies are coming along. Will the wild blackberry crop be good this year? How many many jars of beach plum jam is this spot likely to provide?

Last year, in between hunting for Monarch caterpillars on milkweed, we picked a lot of Queen Anne’s Lace, and Sandra made a batch of “Jelly a la Thelma,” which has a slightly lemony flavor.

You can probably tell our walk is not aerobic exercise.

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Art: Liu Xiaodong
“Thank you 2020.4.9” (2020), watercolor on paper, at New York City’s Lisson Gallery.

People from around the world often perceive New Yorkers as brash, rude. But if you have spent any time in the city, you know there’s another side, a side that is helpful and kind, that will drop everything to give a stranger detailed directions to the Empire State Building or a place to buy the freshest lychee nuts.

During the height of the pandemic, artist Liu Xiaodong seems to have seen the generosity, humanity, and vulnerability of New Yorkers and to have captured it in his watercolors.

John Yau writes at Hyperallergic, “Charles Baudelaire said in his 1863 essay that the ‘painter of modern life’ is the ‘passionate observer’ who can be ‘away from home and yet […] feel at home anywhere.’

“Among contemporary artists, the Chinese observational painter Liu Xiaodong is the closest embodiment of Baudelaire’s ideal that I know. For years, he has been, in the words of Baudelaire, an ‘independent, intense, and impartial spirit’ who observes the ‘ebb and flow’ of the world around him. This has led him to set up a temporary studio near an orphanage in Greenland and one among Uyghur jade miners in China’s harsh northwest. …

“In 1978, when Liu was 15, his family sent him to live with his uncle, who had studied Western painting at the Jilin Academy of Fine Arts and had gone on to become the art editor of a magazine. His uncle taught him watercolor, and showed him the books he had about English watercolors, European oil painting, and the Peredvizhniki, a group of late 19th-century Russian realists who believed that Russia and its people possessed an inner beauty.

“The date of 1978 is significant: it is two years after the death of Mao Zedong, the end of the Cultural Revolution, and the Tangshan earthquake, which devastated the region where he and his family lived. Born in 1963, Liu belongs to a generation that has both witnessed and been directly affected by the convulsive social, political, and economic changes that China has undergone during Mao’s lifetime, and since his death. …

“His instinct to respond to what is directly in front of him with whatever medium he has on hand endows his views with an unrivaled propinquity. He is, to cite Baudelaire, at the very center of the world he is depicting, and unseen by it. …

“[A recent exhibition provided] a visual and written record of a specific area of Manhattan, determined by what he can walk to.

Liu made his watercolors during an extreme period in New York’s history, starting with the empty streets during the first months of the COVID-19 quarantine, and including the Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations in response to the video-recorded murder of George Floyd.

“Even in this acute moment in our history, he is able to slow down his looking to find and celebrate the beauty of human determination, as well as recognize feelings of wariness and displacement. …

“The watercolor ‘Kitchen Paper cannot be flushed down the Toilet, right, 2020’ [is] a wonderful tonal view of a roll of paper towels resting on a toilet tank, a quick yet careful placing of pale yellows, blues, off whites, and grays. …

“[But] the range of subjects and views underscores a person who is remarkably open to the world, from a blooming tree, to children’s toys left at a park, to an evening view of the top of the Empire State Building, seen between two buildings, to a homeless man’s legs sticking out of a doorway. … You never get the feeling that he is looking for something; there is no hierarchy to what he chooses. …

“As Manhattan transitioned from the largely empty streets of the quarantine to demonstrations and large groups of police, Liu kept looking, kept going out, and kept making watercolors and taking photographs, to work on later.  His attention to detail, to the color and light, is masterful and precise. … The merging of mark and color, and his sensitivity to light and dark, feel effortless, though we know they are not. This is Liu’s genius; there are no signs of hesitation in his work.

“In Liu’s watercolors and painted-over photographs, the viewer encounters scenes in which hand, eye, and intelligence work in astonishing tandem. … We are the lucky beneficiaries of a vision at once candid and sophisticated, open and sincere, witty and compassionate — an unlikely combination in this dark, nerve-fraying, and isolating period in history.”

To see an array of Liu Xiaodong’s New York paintings, go to Hyperallergic, here. And fall in love with that city all over again.

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Photo: via Good Morning America
Michelle Brenner, pictured here in an undated handout photo, has been dubbed the “Lasagna Lady” in Gig Harbor, Wash., for making her grandmother’s lasagna and donating it to first responders, laid-off neighbors, and others.

Isn’t lasagna one of the all-time most American comfort foods? It’s the kind of thing you deliver to someone who has just had a death in the family. It has pretty much all the food groups, too.

This is a story about a woman who really loves baking lasagna and decided to use her stimulus check to feed people after she was laid off.

As Cathy Free reported at the Washington Post in June, “After Michelle Brenner was furloughed from her job at a menswear store in Gig Harbor, Wash., because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, she turned to comfort-food therapy.

“Brenner, 45, made herself a huge pan of lasagna using her grandmother’s recipe. Then, in a moment of pride after shopping for groceries (including frozen lasagna) for some of her neighbors, she got on her community Facebook page and wrote that frozen, store-bought lasagna could not compare to the real Italian homemade deal. …

“ ‘If any of you want some fresh homemade, no calorie counting lasagna, please let me know and I will gladly prepare it,’ she wrote. Brenner set aside her $1,200 stimulus check to buy ingredients, and the requests soon began to trickle in. [Soon] so many people started showing up, including strangers, that Brenner lost track. …

“Nearly three months and 1,200 pans later … about eight hours a day, seven days a week, she helps feed people in her community — from hospital workers and first responders to single parents struggling without paychecks. …

“Initially, Brenner set up a pantry in her front yard where people could pick up an assembled lasagna and bake it at home.

“But when the requests began multiplying faster than she could restock her refrigerator with ground beef and cheese, the president of the Gig Harbor Sportsman’s Club offered the clubhouse kitchen for her project.

“ ‘We saw what a great thing she was doing, and we have this nice commercial kitchen that wasn’t being used because of Covid,’ said [the] club’s president. …

“After Brenner used her stimulus check to buy lasagna ingredients for her first 60 giveaways, she decided to start a Facebook fundraiser that quickly netted more than $10,000 — enough for more than 500 pans. Then people began donating what they could — from $1 to $100 — when they picked up their orders.

“ ‘When word got out on social media, people from all over the world started donating to my cause,’ said Brenner, who is single and moved to Gig Harbor from Port Orchard, Wash., six years ago.

“People have contributed more than $22,000 so far, and she said she hopes ‘to be making lasagna for many months to come. … It’s a pan of love,’ said Brenner, who has been living on unemployment assistance since she was furloughed. ‘A lot of the people I make lasagna for have lost their jobs,.’ …

“When she initially started filling her grocery cart with lasagna ingredients, other shoppers sometimes raised their eyebrows as she was clearing store shelves of lasagna noodles and canned tomatoes, she said.

“Then a neighbor dropped off a specially designed T-shirt at her house one day that read, ‘Lasagna Lady.’ The name stuck like wet noodles flung on a wall.

“ ‘Now when people see me loading up, they know that I’m not hoarding,’ she said. ‘And when there’s a shortage of something, like ground beef or pasta, all I have to do is put the word out and somebody will find it for me in another county.’

“She expects to return to work at some point this summer but said she’ll still make time for lasagna.”

More here.

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Photo: CNN
Eugene, Oregon, a town of 170,000, replaced some cops with medics and mental health workers. It’s worked for more than 30 years.

Often when society wants to find a better way of doing something, it’s possible to find a model with a track record showing what works and what doesn’t. Consider this non-police response to crises.

Scottie Andrew writes at CNN, “Around 30 years ago, a town in Oregon retrofitted an old van, staffed it with young medics and mental health counselors and sent them out to respond to the kinds of 911 calls that wouldn’t necessarily require police intervention.

“In the town of 172,000, they were the first responders for mental health crises, homelessness, substance abuse, threats of suicide — the problems for which there are no easy fixes. The problems that, in the hands of police, have often turned violent. Today, the program, called CAHOOTS, has three vans, more than double the number of staffers and the attention of a country in crisis.

CAHOOTS is already doing what police reform advocates say is necessary to fundamentally change the US criminal justice system — pass off some responsibilities to unarmed civilians.

“Cities much larger and more diverse than Eugene have asked CAHOOTS staff to help them build their own version of the program. CAHOOTS wouldn’t work everywhere, at least not in the form it exists in in Eugene. But it’s a template for what it’s like to live in a city with limited police.

“CAHOOTS comes from White Bird Clinic, a social services center that’s operated in Eugene since the late 1960s. It was the brainchild of some counterculture activists who’d felt the hole where a community health center should be. And in 1989, after 20 years of earning the community’s trust, CAHOOTS was created.

“It stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets and cheekily refers to the relationship between the community health center that started it and the Eugene Police Department. …

“Said David Zeiss, the program’s co-founder, ‘We knew that we were good at it, [and] we knew it was something of value to a lot of people … we needed to be known and used by other agencies that commonly encounter crisis situation.’

“It works this way: 911 dispatchers filter calls they receive — if they’re violent or criminal, they’re sent to police. If they’re within CAHOOTS’ purview, the van-bound staff will take the call. … It always paired one medic, usually a nurse or EMT, with a crisis responder trained in behavioral health. That holistic approach is core to its model. …

“White Bird’s counterculture roots ran deep — the clinic used to fundraise at Grateful Dead concerts in the West, where volunteer medics would treat Deadheads — so the pairing between police and the clinic wasn’t an immediately fruitful one. There was ‘mutual mistrust’ between them, said Zeiss. … ‘It was an obstacle we had to overcome.’

“And for the most part, both groups have: Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner called theirs a ‘symbiotic relationship’ that better serves some residents of Eugene:  ‘When they show up, they have better success than police officers do.’ …

“Police encounters with the homeless often end in citations or arrests. Of homeless people with mental health conditions, anywhere from 62.0% to 90% of them will be arrested, per one journal review of homelessness studies. They may end up in jail, not in treatment or housing, and thus begins the cycle of incarceration that doesn’t benefit either party. …

“Most of CAHOOTS’ clients are homeless, and just under a third of them have severe mental illnesses. It’s a weight off the shoulders of police, Skinner said.

” ‘I believe it’s time for law enforcement to quit being a catch-base for everything our community and society needs,’ Skinner said. ‘We need to get law enforcement professionals back to doing the core mission of protecting communities and enforcing the law, and then match resources with other services like behavioral health.’ …

“June Fothergill, a pastor at a Springfield church, [calls] CAHOOTS to pick up the homeless people or people with substance use issues that stop by for free meals.

“Fothergill said while CAHOOTS does its part well — providing immediate services to someone in crisis — there’s still a void when it comes to long-term solutions.

” ‘You can call someone for the crisis, but what are they supposed to do for it?’ …

“They’re better equipped than police to care for the people she serves, she said. But if there isn’t space in affordable housing, Eugene’s detoxing center or mental health facilities, those clients will turn into regulars.’They’re doing what they can do,’ she said. ‘There’s wonderful work going on, but it isn’t adequate at the moment.’ …

“Advocates for limiting the role of police have pointed to Eugene as an example of social service providers and law enforcement working in harmony. But a growing group of dissenters feel there’s little room for police in the movement to fundamentally change the American criminal justice system. Services like CAHOOTS, they say, may function better and more broadly without the assistance of police. Zeiss isn’t sure he agrees.

” ‘Partnership with police has always been essential to our model,’ he said. ‘A CAHOOTS-like program without a close relationship with police would be very different from anything we’ve done. I don’t have a coherent vision of a society that has no police force.’ ”

More at CNN, here.

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Photo: Jason Hosking
The kākāpō parrots in New Zealand were suffering from a frequently fatal respiratory disease and needed several months of treatment before being returned to the wild.

There’s a lot of dark news in today’s headlines. I won’t get into it. Looking for a little something positive, I learned about a fat parrot that is no longer on the brink of extinction, thanks to people who are focused on doing good. Such people actually exist, you know.

Kate Evans writes at the Guardian, “Growing up in the north of England, Dr James Chatterton was enthralled by the books of the pioneering zookeeper and conservationist Gerald Durrell and dreamed of saving endangered species. Now, on the other side of the world, Chatterton has done just that, helping to bring the world’s fattest parrot back from the brink.

“Chatterton and his team spent the best part of a year [testing] new treatments on the frontline of a killer disease afflicting New Zealand’s kākāpō. … The respiratory disease aspergillosis began to spread through the endangered kākāpō population [in April 2019], threatening to reverse the gains of the bird’s most successful breeding season in living memory.

“Kākāpo are not just rare, they are also deeply weird: flightless, nocturnal, with fragrant feathers and a comical waddling run. Males ‘boom’ to attract females, and they only breed every three to six years when the native rimu trees [produce] large numbers of seeds. …

“By the end of the southern hemisphere’s summer in February, thanks to intensive intervention by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) Kākāpō Recovery Programme, the population of 147 kākāpō had produced more than 80 chicks – a record number. …

“Then one of the chicks died suddenly. It was found to have aspergillosis, a brutal infection in which lumps of fungus form in the birds’ lungs and slowly choke them to death.

“ ‘It’s hard to diagnose, extremely hard to treat, and usually fatal, particularly in wild birds. You usually just find them dead,’ says Chatterton, [manager of veterinary services at Auckland Zoo’s New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine]. …

“With aspergillosis, by the time a wild bird begins to display symptoms – or anything unusual shows up in blood tests – it is usually too late to save them. The only way to diagnose the disease in time is using a CT scan or endoscopy to spot fungal growths in the lungs.

“The vets and DOC scientists began mapping which kākāpō had shared a nest with the sick birds and which had been on the same food run. [‘Ahoy! Note the importance of contact tracing,’ says Suzanne and John’s Mom!]

“The 12 deemed at highest risk were evacuated from their home, Codfish Island/Whenua Hou, and taken by helicopter to Auckland. Unfortunately, the city’s veterinary CT scanner was being replaced and was out of action for a crucial five weeks, so the vets took the kākāpō to one of the city’s human hospitals. Though they appeared completely healthy, all 12 were found to have lesions on their lungs.

“That was a stomach-dropping moment, says kākāpō scientist Andrew Digby, who was based on Whenua Hou at the time. …

“Aspergillosis can be treated with oral anti-fungal drugs if you catch it early enough. ‘It’s worked really well with other parrots, but each new species you try needs a different dose,’ says Chatterton. ‘We had birds dying, so we went with a high dose, but worried that in saving some we might kill some.’

“To get the drugs into the birds’ air sacs, the vets also needed to use a nebuliser. Kākāpō may be the world’s fattest parrot, but their airways are still too small for the droplets produced by an adult human nebuliser, so Chatterton tried a paediatric one. It worked – but New Zealand is a small country, and initially only two were available. …

“Volunteer vets arrived to help from around the world. Extra pens were built to house the birds. People brought in sheets and duvets from home to cover the floors, and these had to be washed every day. [People! What does this remind you of?] Others went to the city’s regional parks to gather armfuls of the native plants kākāpō like to eat. Chatterton worked every day for five weeks. …

“Many birds needed months of daily care, but the outbreak was contained. Chicks became juveniles, and while a few died from other causes, most survived and are now counted in the population number: 211, up from just 123 when Chatterton arrived in New Zealand seven years ago. …

” ‘The only chance these endangered species have is if we all work together,’ Chatterton says.”

Amen.

More.

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Photo: Morgan Hornsby
Elk on view at the Salato Wildlife Center. Kentucky is reintroducing elk where coal mines are no longer operating.

It’s interesting to me that when people compare the economic benefits of, say, working in the coal business with working in the elk-tourism business, they don’t routinely include the economic benefits of things like better health. High unemployment is a serious concern, but I do know that miners routinely got black lung disease and that there were pollution dangers to their families.

The story that made me think about this was by Oliver Whang at the New York Times.

“On a bright morning early this spring, David Ledford sat in his silver pickup at the end of a three-lane bridge spanning a deep gorge in southeast Kentucky.

“The bridge, which forks off U.S. 119, … spills out onto Mr. Ledford’s 12,000-acre property, which he and his business partner, Frank Allen, are developing into a nonprofit nature reserve called Boone’s Ridge. ..

“When Boone’s Ridge opens in 2022, it will offer a museum and opportunities for bird-watching and animal spotting. Two independent consultants have estimated that it could draw more than 1 million annual visitors and add over $150 million per year to the regional economy. This is in Bell County, in rural Appalachia, which has a poverty rate of 38 percent and an average household income of just under $25,000, making it one of the poorest counties in the United States.

The decline of the coal industry created a multibillion-dollar hole in the economy and left hundreds of thousands of acres of scarred land. But it has also created opportunities.

“Boone’s Ridge is being established on reclaimed mine land, and one of its biggest selling points is a big animal that has only recently returned to Kentucky: elk.

“When Daniel Boone wandered through the Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky in the late 1700s, the state was filled with wildlife. … But in less than a century, land development and hunting decimated or eliminated buffalo, turkey, whitetail deer, river otters, bald eagles, quail and other animals. Elk — their presence enshrined in place-names like Elk River and Elkhorn City — were among the first to go. …

“In 1944, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources was established and charged with reintroducing animals of all kinds and regulating their numbers for hunting and conservation. Whitetail deer, which numbered fewer than 1,000 after the Depression, now number more than 1 million and generate $550 million in state revenue from hunting licenses, tourism and the sale of rifles and other hunting-related paraphernalia. …

“With most of the region’s threatened game restored, attention turned to restoring other species, among them elk. In 1997, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, an association of hunters, offered to fund a multimillion-dollar six-year plan to airlift more than 1,500 elk to Kentucky from the western United States. …

“The plan was popular; more than 90 percent of state residents supported it. There was only one problem: Each elk eats over 40 pounds of vegetation a day, and the grassland habitats of western Kentucky, where the animals were populous in pre-settlement times, had all been developed. Farm owners did not want half-ton animals destroying their crops,. …

“But in the eastern half, where craggy mountains had previously prevented elk population growth, hunters and conservationists were presented with a remedy to this problem: abandoned coal mines. …

“Unregulated, the environmental effects of mountaintop removal-mining can be devastating and lasting. … But when reclaimed correctly, the landscape can offer opportunities for different kinds of land use, including cattle farming, housing developments and sites for tourism. …

“In 1997, a year before the bridge leading to Mr. Ledford’s land was constructed, 4,000 people gathered on the grassy slope of a reclaimed mine in Perry County as Governor Patton threw open the doors of a trailer and an elk stepped foot on Kentucky land for the first time in more than 150 years. …

“Absent any real predators, the animal’s population has exploded: The state is now home to 13,000 elk and counting, all clustered in the 16 counties of coal country. …

The economic impact is tangible. The state now issues a couple hundred tags for elk hunting each year, and a small market has developed — elk sightseeing tours, elk hunting guides — that adds about $5 million to local economies, according to the state fish and wildlife department.

“The elk industry will not come close to replacing what was lost when coal left, but ‘coal business will not be back,’ said Rodney Gardner, a naturalist at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Floyd County.” Read more here.

Now I want to know what Steven Stoll, author of Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia, thinks about all this. Through his book, I was made aware for the first time that when conservation efforts preclude subsistence farming, families often suffer.

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Photo: Letters Against Isolation
The Patel sisters from Boston founded Letters Against Isolation, an organization that has sent thousands of cards to seniors during the coronavirus pandemic.

I always liked writing letters as a kid. I think I was about 8 when I made a big push for my friends to send me letters or postcards when I was away over the summer. I liked receiving them and I liked writing back. I still have a great letter from Patsy about seeing a dead rabbit in the orchard. “It was squooshed!” she wrote. But Joan’s parents thought it would be too expensive for her to keep sending postcards. (At the time, postcards were 2 cents.)

Recently I got an unexpected treat — letters from both of John’s kids, ages 10 and 7. Then there’s my niece Barbara. She began writing letters when she was about 10 and holds the record as the most prolific letter-writing kid I have ever known. Today, having passed age 50, Barbara writes long, newsy emails.

Here’s a story about sisters who have managed to sustain a generous letter-writing campaign … with a little help from strangers.

Emily Giambalvo wrote at the Washington Post in June, “Shreya and Saffron Patel usually FaceTime their grandparents in England every weekend, but during the novel coronavirus pandemic, they have typically reached out each day. Their grandmother on their mom’s side hasn’t left her apartment in nearly four months. She lives alone and can no longer socialize at the gym. Some of her younger friends have stopped by, and she leans out her kitchen window to chat. One friend sends handwritten letters.

“When the Patel sisters, who live in Boston, spoke to their grandmother, they noticed her mood improve. She texted them about the cards and showed them to her teenage granddaughters during their video calls.

‘We wanted to share that joy she was feeling with other seniors,’ said Saffron, a 16-year-old who recently finished 10th grade.

“They started Letters Against Isolation in early April with a plan to send cards to seniors at care centers, where residents have lost in-person contact with their family and friends because of the coronavirus. Shreya, 18, who will begin her freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis this fall, reached out to a few local nursing homes, expecting maybe one to respond and ask for 10 cards. Instead, several agreed and hoped to receive a combined 200 cards.

“ ‘We can’t do that on our own,’ Shreya said. ‘We can’t do that on our kitchen table.’

“The sisters reached out to others asking for help.” More at the Post.

Lauren Daley continued the story in July at the Boston Globe: “The response was massive. Overwhelmed, they put out a call for volunteers on Reddit, Facebook, and All For Good. It grew like wildfire. …

“One nursing home staffer says ‘everywhere she looks, she can see the letters and cards stuck up on [residents’] walls,’ says Saffron.

“Post-pandemic, the Patels have no plans to stop. ‘This pandemic has made us aware that senior loneliness is a massive problem — it’s not going away, and it was here before the pandemic started,’ says Saffron.” More at the Globe.

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Photo: ICA
The Institute of Contemporary Art’s Watershed building is in East Boston, one of the communities hit hardest by Covid-19. In April, the ICA decided the most important thing it could do would be to provide food to neighbors in need. (Art projects for families get included in the bundles.)

Some artists seem more alert to human needs than the rest of us. That’s something my mother noted after my father had a debilitating stroke in his 40s. The painter friend and the poet friend seemed to more moved by what happened, more empathetic, than many others.

Certainly, in the current pandemic, we’ve seen people in the arts stepping up to offer all kinds of help. Here’s an example.

Grace Griffin reported for the Boston Globe in April, “With its galleries closed to the public, the Institute of Contemporary Art is using its Watershed outpost to feed families in need. … The nonprofit enlisted its catering company, The Catered Affair, to help with a donation drive.

“The ICA also recruited new donors to fund the project. The monthlong drive — launched in partnership with East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, East Boston Social Centers, Maverick Landing Community Services, Eastie Farm, Orient Heights Housing Development, and Crossroads Family Center — distributes family-size boxes filled with fresh produce and dairy products. …

“ ‘We know this is just a drop in the bucket of need,’ said ICA director Jill Medvedow. ‘We are pleased to help in this small way.’ ” More.

Then in late May, Andrea Shea followed up with a story at WBUR radio.

“Now the museum, its catering company and partnering community organizations in East Boston are extending their food distribution program through Sept. 3.

“ ‘What we learned in April … how hard hit East Boston residents are by COVID,’ ICA director Jill Medvedow said Friday.

The struggle to feed families is ongoing, and Medvedow said it highlights life-threatening disparities the largely immigrant East Boston community faces.

“ ‘Not having the nutrition that contributes to one’s health, to one’s ability to take care of your family, to that sense of dignity that everyone deserves,’ Medvedow said. …

” ‘I see this heroism around me,’ Medvedow said, ‘and I feel very lucky to help facilitate this. That’s my role.’

“About four years ago, when Medvedow and her staff embarked on transforming the 15,000 square-foot condemned building into satellite space for the ICA, they were dedicated to building relationships with the people who live there. ‘I never thought then that this would be the way in which we would demonstrate that the arts and the ICA would be a resource in this Boston community,’ she said, ‘But it is.’

“The food boxes also carry on the ICA’s mission to share art. Each one includes a creative project for families isolated at home. Medvedow said the museum is currently in talks with artists about commissioning new activities designed for both solace and stimulation. …

“Initially the effort’s funding was seeded with unsolicited anonymous donations. Now the ICA is funding the food distribution project and welcomes any additional support. …

“By the end of summer the ICA’s Watershed estimates it will provide more than 2,000 boxes of eggs, butter, fresh vegetables and fruit to East Boston families.” More.

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Photo: Carol and Brian Smith/Educational Passages
Brian Smith posed with a boat made from a kit at a Massachusetts school. He and his wife found it after it washed ashore on Dalyellup Beach in Australia.

How’s this for a school project? Following a boat you built as it braves the high seas for science.

Steve Annear (who in my opinion gets all the fun assignments at the Boston Globe) reported on the excitement of hearing that the first of several such research boats was found after more than a year.

“After spending 463 days on the unforgiving ocean, the ‘Sacred Heart Star of the Sea’ made its final landing on the shores of Western Australia late last month, plucked from the sand by an unsuspecting couple out for a sunset stroll.

“It was a long and closely watched voyage that began in the classrooms of the Sacred Heart School in Kingston last year, where students assembled the small ship as part of a class project before it was packed with a GPS monitoring system and a weighted keel, and [taken to a launch site] in the Indian Ocean with dozens of personal letters to whomever might discover it one day.

“Now, that day has come. And at its new home on the other side of the planet, the miniature research vessel is being heralded as something of a small-town hero, paraded around to schools and local offices as residents marvel at it.

” ‘This boat is a popular chat topic,’ said William Power, a geoscientist in Australia who had been tracking the boat’s final movements toward land, in an e-mail.

“On July 2, officials from Bunbury posted on Facebook about the vessel’s arrival at a beach in Dalyellup, a southern suburb.

“Though a search party led by Power had scoured the beach a few days earlier, hoping to find the mini-boat, it was Carol and Brian Smith who happened upon the ‘Star of the Sea’ first. …

“Carol Smith said in an e-mail, ‘What caught our attention was the sticker that said, “If found please e-mail” … We didn’t know at the time but groups were looking for the mini-boat.’

“The couple strapped it to their roof rack and took it home. After doing research, they learned the boat was part of an educational mission by students in Kingston, some 10,000 miles away.

The boat was put together by students at the Catholic school in January last year, led by Maine-based Educational Passages, a nonprofit that supplies students with kits to construct the ships, send them out to sea, and track them online. …

“When the 5½-foot boat eventually landed in Australia, its sail and mast were gone, and it was covered in barnacles, Smith said, a sure signs of an arduous journey that lasted more than a year. But the rest was spared, including the letters onboard.

” ‘It was so exciting to open up the waterproof compartment, and see all the intact letters,’ Smith said. …

“Winifred Dick, an English teacher at the school, [helped] get the boat kit from Educational Passages. Dick’s husband, Henry, is a chief scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and was the lead chief scientist on the cruise at Marion Rise, where the vessel was first lowered into the sea. …

“The boat first visited Australind Primary School, where Smith teaches, and is now on display at City of Bunbury offices. It will go on to visit other schools, and later Fremantle, a port city near Perth. …

“At some point the boat will undergo repairs. There’s also talk of sending it back out on the water for another adventure.”

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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Photo: Stephanie LeBlanc
Germany has offered to cover the costs of restoring Notre Dame’s upper windows.

Since the horrendous fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, lots of ideas for rebuilding have been put forth and numerous groups have volunteered assistance.

This post is about two of those offers: from German glass makers and from Carpenters Without Borders. I’m glad I’m not the one who has to choose among all the ideas. People get emotional about Notre Dame.

In an article at the Art Newspaper, Catherine Hickley wrote, “A year after the devastating fire at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, Germany has put forward concrete proposals for its role in the reconstruction including funds from the government and donors and expertise in stained glass and cathedral restoration.

“A fund-raising campaign launched in Germany a day after the fire has raised more than [$51,000 as of April 15] according to a statement issued by Armin Laschet, the prime minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Culture Minister Monika Grütters.

‘The reconstruction of Notre-Dame offers an opportunity to become a European symbol of hope,’ Laschet said. ‘For me this reconstruction is also a symbol of German-French friendship.’ …

“The exact scope and nature of Germany’s contribution will be determined in the coming months on the basis of studies on the ground, the statement said, adding that three glass workshops at German cathedrals have the extensive expertise and experience necessary to undertake the restoration of the clerestory windows. Germany would cover the costs of restoring the upper windows, Grütters said.” More.

Meanwhile, in a France24 article, we learn of woodworkers hoping to be allowed to use their traditional techniques in the rebuilding.

“Armed with axes and hand saws, the team of 25 craftsmen and women, who belong to a collective called Carpenters Without Borders, managed to build one of the 25 trusses that made up the wooden roof of Notre-Dame that they say is identical to the original.

” ‘It is a demonstration of traditional techniques on one of the trusses of the framework of the nave of Notre-Dame that serves to show how viable these techniques are from an economic point of view on the one hand and from a technical point of view on the other,’ researcher Frédéric Epaud told AFP.

“Known as ‘the forest’ and built out of vast oak beams, the 800-year-old intricate wooden lattice of Notre-Dame’s knave was completely destroyed in last year’s fire.

“Since then debate has raged over how it should be rebuilt. Some have argued that reconstructing the original roof is impossible as sufficiently old and large enough oak trees no longer exist in France.

“Modern alternatives, such as concrete and steel have been suggested. But Carpenters Without Borders say their work proves the roof can be rebuilt in its original form without huge expense.

” ‘We, in less than a week, with 25 professional carpenters, have entirely built one of the trusses of the nave of Notre-Dame as it was before the fire. One truss, one week,’ the group’s founder and ethnologist at France’s Ministry of Culture, François Calame, told AFP.” More.

An early concept for reconstruction, featuring a glass roof and gardens, is among the many already turned down, and the goal now is to put the cathedral back the way it was. See the Washington Post.

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I’m no artist, but once in a blue moon I try watercolor because I find it relaxing. The watercolor above, a view from a window in my college dorm, reminds me of how I learned that Kennedy was shot one sad November day. A girl was running frantically across the campus crying, and I went out of my room to see if anyone knew what was going on.

In the coronavirus era, I feel I’m looking out windows a lot — you know, keeping my distance. Fortunately, outdoor meetings with friends or family and FaceTime can make one feel connected for a bit.

The first photo below shows a tiny vase Kristina gave me the other day. It attaches to the window with a suction cup. After that, I think you will recognize white hydrangea and smokebush. The blueberries belong to a neighbor and the grapes to a local business.

I was glad finally to check out the old shack by the Sudbury River, but the trail that got me there had so much mowed poison ivy, I decided to put my shoes in the machine when I got home.

Next we have a tomb inscription — about a window, in a way. It’s from Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. I went up for a closer look when I saw the word “Pilgrim” because I thought it might have something to do with our New England Pilgrims. No. It reads in part, “The Pilgrim they laid in a large upper chamber, whose window opened towards the sun-rising. The name of the chamber was Peace.

Two plaques follow and testify to the fact that we are loaded with history in these parts. Next, “Owl’s doorknob” has been joined by an additional decorative touch. Wonder what the mystery elf will do next. Then we have photos of day lilies at dawn and purple clematis.

I’ll wind up with some armchair travel. Caroline sent the breathtaking rugged mountain vista from her home in Utah, and Stuga40 sent four pictures from Sweden. First of those is a woodland in Stockholm where she likes to walk and wildflowers she picked. Her last two photos are from the Dalecarlia region a bit further north, where you can get a red-painted wooden Dala horse if you want a souvenir.

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