Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Great Lakes Accent

She was ready for his voice by that time, too: the flat, metallic nasal sound of the Great Lakes with its clear hard r’s and its absence of theatricality. Dull normal. The speech of her people.”

My people, too. That line comes from Hairball, a short story by Canadian author Margret Atwood. I never thought of such a thing as a Great Lakes accent, yet Atwood described what people from Buffalo to Chicago to Green Bay, Wisconsin sound like. I’ve lived a few places other than the Midwest so my accent is not quite that bad, but when I was growing up in Buffalo I had friends who went to the baynk, said thaynk you and ate cayandy. I had a dog but some of my friends had kyats.

I googled “regional accents in the US” and learned indeed there is such as thing as a Great Lakes accent. Phonologists define the accent as Inland North dialect of American English. It is essentially "standard Midwestern" speech. According to Wikipedia, if you speak that way, you are in the company of some notable personalities including Jim Belushi, Dennis Franz, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Suze Orman, Bob Seger and my brother-in-law Jerry.

When I was younger, my Canadian cousins would tease me about my “American” accent. They, like Atwood, are from southeastern Ontario, also in the Great Lakes. But I guess Canadians have their own sub-variety of the accent. It’s usually pretty easy to tell a Canadian by the way they talk, eh?

You can learn a lot more about the accent, including its Northern cities vowel shift if you are interested. For me, I will just say I know a Great Lakes accent when I hear it, thanyk you very much. It’s not exactly music to my ear but it does feel like home.

Happy Thaynksgiving to all. I am thaynkful for friends, family, food, and many other things, including diversity. Life would be boring if we all sounded the same.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Where's Waldo's Boat?

Yesterday was sunny and warm for November and I took this picture in the morning. You can see that all the boats are out of the marina. Today, temperatures were still a little above normal but skies were once again grey and cloudy. I haven’t looked at the statistics but I am going to guess that November in our area has the lowest amount of sunshine of any month except perhaps March. And even though sunset is technically close to 4:30 PM, it is dark before four. No wonder people have started to put up their holiday lights already. We need some brightness.

So where are the boats?

Here’s where they are, wrapped in their finest shrink wrap, waiting for spring. Seems like they’re all dressed up with no where to go.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Everyone is Talking About Asian Carp

As the Asian carp get close to the barrier erected to keep them out of Lake Michigan, the story of their migration has also moved from amusing You Tube videos to serious NPR reports. In the last few weeks, these ugly invaders have been making headlines in newspapers, magazine and on TV. I even found myself having a conversation about them at a social gathering this weekend. Were it only true that increasing the public’s knowledge about these ugly fish could stop them from getting into our precious Great Lakes water and eating all the other fish.

I saw a poll on the blog Great Lakes Echo asking what you think about DNA from Asian Carp being found beyond the electrical barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which is supposed to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes. The fish aren’t there yet, but apparently, their DNA is. I cast my vote for “ Unsurpised. It was inevitable they would get in”. Other responses were angry, saying that the invasion could have been stopped by earlier action. There are a variety of responses to choose from, but so far at least no one has checked the box that say, “What’s an Asian carp?” But then again the readers of this blog are not a random sample of the population.

By the way, on the same blog you will find another quiz that you may find more amusing. The title of that one is: Which Great Lakes Invasive Species Is Your Former Significant Other?

It’s been so long since I have had a Significant Other other than my current significant other (aka my husband of 40 plus years) I won’t bother to take that quiz, but some of the choices might be quagga or zebra mussels, sea lampreys, and alewives. Do you think there is such a thing as an ale husband, too?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fly Me To The Moon

The Sea of Tranquility may be a sea after all. It’s been all over the news this week that contrary to previous reports, there is water on the moon. Indications from LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite), the satellite that was deliberately smashed into the moon a few weeks ago, are that there is a significant amount of water underlying those lunar craters.

In response to the findings, astronaut Buzz Aldrin said, “This is a welcome confirmation of what we have long and confidently suspected, but it does not suggest a commercial Gold Rush, or make that a Water Rush, to the moon." Maybe not, but I can’t help but wonder how long it will take the people of the water-poor Southwest to contact NASA. That may be good news for us in the Great Lakes region as developers can now look toward the moon for water to keep lawns green and swimming pools filled instead of using our Great Lakes water.

That is said a bit tongue in cheek (although it is a tongue that thirsts for water and a cheek in need of continual moisture). More importantly, the presence of water on the moon opens up the possibility of further exploration of the moon and the rest of the solar system. As stated on the NASA website:

Just like on Earth, water will be a crucial resource on the moon. Transporting water and other goods from Earth to the moon’s surface is expensive. Finding natural resources, such as water ice, on the moon could help expedite lunar exploration. The LCROSS mission will search for water, using information learned from the Clementine and Lunar Prospector missions.

In time we will discover about the moon’s water- how much there is, what kinds of impurities it contains, what it tastes like, and more, but it is fascinating to learn this about that big ball that floats above our earth. Will they also discover that the moon is really made of cheese? That would mean one less thing to transport across 93,000 miles, and one can easily live on water and cheese. I wonder what effect that would have on the Wisconsin dairy industry?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Water and Evolution

I look out at the expanse of water in front of me and try to imagine it gone. Seems impossible, doesn’t it, and yet vast bodies of water have disappeared from the earth, or at least have been substantially diminished in size. It can happen.

What makes me think of this today is the PBS Nova Series, Becoming Human. The three part series, two of which have already been aired, reports on recent findings about the evolution of primates to Homo sapiens. They ask the question why did our ancestors start to walk upright and what caused their brains to grow.

Anthropologists concentrate their searches in eastern Africa, in the Great Rift Valley. What I learned is that millions of years ago there used to be a huge freshwater lake in this now arid part of the African continent. The water levels of that body of water fluctuated, due to periods of excess rain and drought. This is proven in the geological layers by the presence of diatoms, unicellular organisms that only exist in water. Scientists think that one of the ways that mammals adapted to this climate instability was by increasing the size of their brain.

The water levels of the lake outside my window fluctuate, too, but not that dramatically. Here’s an excerpt from the November 6 report on Great Lakes Water Levels as posted at Great Lakes Observing System website:

Water Level Conditions: All of the Great Lakes remain higher than their levels of a year ago. Lakes Superior, Michigan-Huron, St. Clair, Erie and Ontario are 3, 12, 8, 6, and 1 inches, respectively, higher than their levels last year at this time. The water levels of Lakes Superior, Michigan-Huron and St. Clair are expected to decline by 2 inches over the next month. Lake Erie and Ontario are expected to decline 1 and 2 inches, respectively, over the next 30 days. Over the next several months, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan-Huron and Lake St. Clair are forecasted to be above their water levels of a year ago. Lakes Erie and Ontario are forecasted to remain near or below last year's levels over the same time period

Still, it makes me wonder what changes will take place in our species as our own climate instability progresses. And yes, I do believe our climate is changing, although I also believe climate has always changed. But the rate of change has increased and been influenced by us Homo sapiens and our larger brains, as well as our cars, our factories, our plastic bottles and myriad other modern inventions.

Evolution is an ongoing process, but how will humans change in response to an unstable climate? How will we adapt? Will we have bigger brains instead of bigger cars? Will be go back to walking on two feet instead of driving on four wheels? Will our feet be bigger? Our arms longer? Our skin thicker? What do you think?

The picture at the right has nothing to do with evolution, but I wanted to share it. It was taken last weekend at the Japanese Garden in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens , which I think is a highly evolved and beautiful place.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sal, The Erie Canal and Me

I’ve got a mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal,
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

We’ve hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal and hay
And we know every inch of the way
From Albany to Buffalo*.

Do you know that song – or is it only known by people who grew up in New York State?

I am still reading Jerry Dennis’s book, The Living Great Lakes. For several chapters Dennis wrote about places on the Great Lakes that I do not know much about, but now I am back to reading about familiar territory as he sails the eastern basin of Lake Erie, through the Welland Canal, into Lake Ontario. He is writing about what I used to call home. I have never seen it from the perspective that Dennis and his crewmates were seeing it - sort of from the inside out, that is from the water to the shore. I have seen all these places from the shore to the water. I don’t know “every inch of the way” but I do know a heck of a lot the places he is seeing from the ship. Buffalo, The Niagara Peninsula, Toronto, Rochester, even the Welland Canal all are an integral part of the first 23 years of my life.

But when I got to the part about the Erie Canal, I admit I was stumped and had to look up some information about it on Wikipedia. I learned in grade school that the canal connected Albany at the Hudson River end to Buffalo at Lake Erie, making it possible for ships to go from the Atlantic Ocean through the Great Lakes. Yet Dennis and his crew enter into the canal, which is rarely used anymore by commercial vessels, at Oswego, New York. What I found out was that almost a hundred years ago the Erie Canal became part of what is now called the New York State Canal System, which includes other canals such as the Oswego Canal, which connect to the Erie Canal at Syracuse. The whole thing is now part of the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor – which is part of my favorite government agency, the National Park Service.

The Erie Canal today is probably a lot like the I & M Canal which connected Chicago to the Mississippi River. Both are primarily recreational areas now. I have walked and biked the I & M several times and yes, have the stamp in my Parks Passport. Along the path are historic houses, trading posts and other remnants of a bygone era. When I walk it, I think that a mule named Sal would soon be poking her head out from behind the thick trees that now line the canal. But Sal was a New Yorker, so probably not.

And I am a New Yorker too – no, not the kind that inhabits the pages of the famous magazine by the same name, but rather the kind that had to remind people that there is more to New York State than Manhattan and Brooklyn. And that there are lots of trees in the state. It’s not all sidewalks.

Later this afternoon my husband, also a New Yorker of the same variety as I am, and I are flying to New York – both the city and the state - to spend a few days and to attend a wedding. I will not see the Erie Canal, but I will probably see Canal Street. Does any one remember the old song about walking down Canal Street? Actually, it’s probably best if you don’t, at least not the version I learned in grade school.

By the way, the official name of Erie Canal song is *Low Bridge and it was written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen. Thank you, Wikipedia. I guess I have to send you another donation.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No Silver Lining?

I just finished knitting socks for my husband that are made of an Icelandic wool and alpaca blend. These socks are special because I think I may have met the sheep that produced the wool. I bought the yarn at a Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival earlier this fall. The socks are going to be really, really warm this winter, which is good because my husband's feet get really, really cold. However, his feet don’t sweat, so I don’t expect the socks to get smelly, but if they did, I learned this morning in the NYT Science Section that adding silver to fibers like those used in socks can keep them odor free.

I suppose I knew that silver was an antimicrobial – after all, I do have a degree in Microbiology, but I never thought about socks and silver together. It appears that by adding a few nanoparticles of silver to textiles, the bacteria that cause unpleasant odors are eliminated. Nanoparticles, in case you don’t know, are very, very small. Picture a hair’s breadth and divide it into a trillion pieces, and you have a nanoparticle.

However, you might want to think twice about those odor-free socks because silver is not only toxic to bacteria – it’s pretty much toxic to every living thing. And remember that things like socks and clothing have to get clean. What happens to the silver when those items go through the wash? Does it go down our drains, out into our streams and our lakes, into our fish? How will effect our environment?

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, a program developed by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Pew Charitable Trusts has issued a 72-page report called Silver Nanotechnologies and the Environment: Old Problems or New Challenge? The report says there are now over 235 products ranging from toothpaste to towels, cosmetics to clothes, appliances and paint that contain silver. It may be that some silver containing products are environmentally safe but it may also be that we just don’t know enough yet to say. Fortunately, there are people a lot smarter than I am who are thinking about this.

So here we are worried about invasive species like zebra and quaaga mussels, sea lampreys and alewives when sweet smelling socks may present just as much of a problem to our water. It seems that even smart new ideas come with a cloud. And does that cloud have as silver lining – a silver lining that’s safe for our environment? That’s the question.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Shipwrecks and Skies

I couldn’t sleep last night so I picked up my book and began to read. I found it a little spooky that here I was, just after midnight on November 1, beginning a chapter that was subtitled “The Gales of November”. It is part of Chapter 7 of Jerry Dennis’s book, The Living Great Lakes. Dennis is a wonderful writer and in this book, he primarily tells about a trip he took through the Great Lakes on a sailboat, but weaves many other stories about the Lakes into the volume as well. He does indeed bring the lakes alive with his excellent storytelling and vivid descriptions.

This morning when I took our dog out for his morning walk, although the clock said 9 AM, my body felt like it was later. I guess even though I hadn’t gotten to sleep until well after 2 AM, the change to standard time was in my favor and I woke up refreshed. But it was still quiet outside and except for a few other walkers, Burlee and I had the marina pretty much to ourselves.

I snapped a few pictures of the emptying marina. Most of the boats are out of the water and by next week, even more will be gone. The geese are probably happy as they now have the water to themselves. As I was walking, I noticed that the sun, which had been shining earlier in the morning, was already waning and clouds were coming in from the southwest. So much for a sunny beginning to November. But it reminded me of something I had read last night in Dennis’s book that had to do with November, changing weather, and ships. I will quote the beginning of Chapter 7:

November is the deadliest month. Ask any sailor. It’s when the lakes still embrace some of the summer’s heat, but the air above has turned to winter. A meteorologist for the National Weather Service once calculated that on average the greatest difference between the temperature of the lakes and the temperature of the air above them occurs on November 10. That differential causes the remaining warmth in the lakes to be sucked into the air, releasing energy and creating wind.

Dennis goes on the tell of huge number of ships that have sunk in the Great Lakes on or around November 10 – the most famous but by far not the only one being the Edmund Fitzgerald. So it is a good thing that all those boats are coming out of the water. I wouldn’t want there to be a local version of The Tempest (remember that Shakespearean shipwreck tale?).

Fortunately the winds of November did not come a night early and Halloween here in Kenosha was clear and dry. The night before I took this picture of the sky from my balcony. It seemed that the sky was turning orange in preparation of the Halloween.