Monday, January 31, 2005

A Public Notice and an Explanation

Because I don't get paid to blog, blogging has to be fun, which means I have to write about things that interest me. And although I want readers to write to me, as they occasionally do, the last thing Sphere is going to become is a community bulletin board -- the satisfaction level for me would simply be too low.

However a fellow in Shelton, Connecticut, whose name I think is Randy York, sent me an e-mail today and asked me to post a notice about a public meeting coming up in that town. After I disabused him of the notion that Sphere has a large readership, I told him that I'd post his notice for compensation, in the form of an e-mail from him to like-minded Shelton people telling them about Sphere and giving them the link. He told me he'd be happy to do so, and that his e-mail list included about 50 people. I asked him to cc me on the e-mail.

I expect that he's an honorable guy and that he'll keep his part of the bargain and that 50 people in and around Brass Valley will become potential Sphere readers. If anyone else would like to propose a similar deal, let's have it.

One point about his notice. In it, he refers to "Mayor Mark Lauretti's ... subdivision." If the mayor is proposing a 6-lot subdivision in his own city, that strikes me as an outrageous conflict. If Randy York wrote it that way because he's associating the mayor with the subdivision, that's a political characterization that I don't share, mainly because I know nothing of it. The last thing I want to do is disparage Mayor Lauretti, who until today I'd never heard of.

So here's his notice:

To all Concerned Citizens
The Housatonic River Watershed is Shelton's Greatest Natural Resource.
Please show your support for the River by attending the Public Hearing on
Shelton's Mayor Mark Lauretti's 6-lot Luxury subdivision on 550 River Road,
Thursday, February 3, 2005
Shelton City Hall Auditorium
7:00 PM
For more information, please email Randy at
with 550 River Road in the subject line.

Update and Correction:
This is the kind of error that never used to happen in the newspaper business, because in the newspaper business you'd interview people either on the phone or in person and you could tell right away, generally, if the person you were interviewing was a man or a woman. Randy York, it turns out, is in reality Randy Ann York, which I couldn't determine from her e-mail. But she is honorable -- she got in touch with her 50 people and some of them have already read Sphere, thereby doubling or tripling my readers in a flash. Thanks, and sorry for the mistake.

Broadwater: Here's One I Missed

The Long Island Press (who knew there was a new Long Island Press? Newhouse shut down the original a generation ago) published this long article about the Broadwater proposal back on January 20. For those keeping track, it's worth a look.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Endangered Endangered Species Act 2

Will the Bush Administration try to change the way endangered species are protected by ceding the responsibility to states? Joshua Rosenau at Thoughts from Kansas quotes a newspaper story that indicates the answer is yes. The Endangered Species Act may or may not need reform, but it's hard to imagine how giving states more control is a good idea.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

See a Goldfish Swim in LNG and Survive!

Ladies and gentleman and children of all ages, click here to watch incredible, never-before seen feats of daring. See a man drink a glass of water -- and live to tell about it-- after pouring liquefied natural gas into it! See a goldfish swimming in a glass of water into which LNG has been poured! See a cigarette being extinguished in a cup of LNG -- without blowing the place to smithereens!

This, ladies and gentleman, is how Broadwater is seeking to reassure us about the safety of it proposed LNG terminal in Long Island Sound.

At least I think that's how Broadwater is seeking to reassure us. I couldn't open the link on my PowerBook G4, but the Port Times Record, of Port Jefferson, says that John Hrticko of Broadwater says so:

To see how little damage a liquid natural gas (LNG) spill would do to the Long Island Sound, Broadwater Energy project manager John Hritcko says, just log onto

The article is worth reading. Hritcko (quite properly, in my opinion) gets a chance to make his arguments in favor of the floating plant. Those arguments can be boiled down to this: the only people who have any right not to want this plant to be built in the Sound are those who live along the shore and would be able to see it, but the terminal would be so safe and have so many other benefits -- clean energy, payments in lieu of taxes to north shore of LI towns, economic stimulus -- that the concerns of those relatively few should be overlooked.

Meanwhile, the article says that Suffolk County politicians have quickly moved into the "don't just stand there, do something" mode, and are passing resolutions and hiring consultants in hopes of making Broadwater dissipate the way Hritcko says the natural gas itself would dissipate if there were a leak or spill.

And if nothing else, the story makes clear that Broadwater is not taking the public relations battle lightly.

(I was unaware of the article and of the Port Jeff paper until one of the three or four people who read this blog saw it and sent me the link, which should be an inspiration to the rest of you to keep your eyes open and do the same, please.)

Friday, January 28, 2005

Paul Newman for Senate?

Paul Newman's name is being floated as a possible challenger to Joe Lieberman, according to Atrios. Atrios is one of the kings of the blogworld, but he doesn't say where his information comes from. For people in Connecticut, it would make for an interesting race, to say the least.

I gave a talk once at the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium, and one of the people on the Aquarium's board of directors had me sign a copy of my book for Newman. Oddly, he never got in touch with me to say whether he liked it.

Old Yankee Antique Collector has Big Plans for Museum One Day

John G. Talcott Jr., whose ancestor settled in Hartford not long after Thomas Hooker founded the town in 1636 -- which itself was only 24 years or so after Adriaen Block became the first white man to sail up the Connecticut River -- recently bought an old church cup (circa 1675) that was owned by Hooker's daughter. Talcott paid $168,000 for the vessel.

Talcott has a collection of antiques and memorabilia, and he told the Hartford Courant that he plans to open a museum one day.

Until he gets around to carrying out those plans, he'll loan the cup to the Wadsworth Athenaeum for six months of the year. He hopes the Athenaeum will display it and another cup it bought as part of the same auction.

The purchase seems like a nice gesture. Talcott said he did not want to see the cup bought and removed from its home state. It's also nice to see someone looking for ways to keep busy in his retirement -- Talcott is 96. Let's hope his museum planning is well underway.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Stewardship Act Reintroduced

Senator Joe Lieberman and Rep. Rob Simmons have reintroduced the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act, as the New London Day reported in a short account yesterday and Save the Sound noted in an e-mail today that links to a Lieberman press release.

The stewardship program is fairly simple and non-controversial: "The Stewardship Initiative’s goal is to identify places with significant biological, scientific, or recreational value throughout the Sound and develop a strategy to protect and enhance these special places."

It's not even clear to me why it needs a federal law, but apparently it does. Last year the Stewardship Act was killed by a Republican Congressman from California, and I speculated here that it was in retaliation for Rep. Chris Shays's refusal to march in lockstep with the agenda of Tom Delay. Here's what I wrote:

You may remember a big to-do a couple of weeks ago when the House GOP caucus decided against forcing leaders to step down if they should be indicted. The fear among House Republicans was that Majority Leader Tom Delay would be indicted.

The few Republicans who broke ranks and opposed the leadership on this came to be known as the “Shays Handful” – so named by blogger and journalist Josh Marshall because they were led by Rep. Christopher Shays, the Connecticut Republican.

Look now at who killed the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act: Rep. Richard Pombo, a Republican from northern California

The Hartford Courant described Pombo this way (the emphasis is mine): Pombo is a northern California rancher, with a history of questioning what he sees as too much government intrusion into private property rights. He is also a protege of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, heading a committee that has a strong influence on forest, energy, parks and other environmental policy.”

So an environmental bill sponsored by Christopher Shays, the leader of the “Shays Handful,” was killed by a protégé of Tom Delay.


Here's hoping that Pombo and Delay are less petty this year.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Glass House

I've never been to the Glass House, although the other half of the Sphere staff (my wife) has, and she reports that it is stunning -- the house, the out buildings, the site itself. When we drive past it in New Canaan, I'm always tempted to get out and peek over the stone wall. I discovered a couple of months ago, during the New Canaan Historical Society's Modern House Day, that while you can't see the Glass House from a car, you can see it if you're sitting in a bus or van. The Glass House was on the 2001 tour but wasn't on this year's; two other Johnson houses were, though -- the Boissonas house and the Alice Ball House (which is on the market and is likely to be torn down and replaced with a McMansion).

Johnson was part of the Harvard Five – modernist architects who all moved from Harvard to New Canaan to live and work. The others were Marcel Breuer, Elliot Noyes, Landis Gores, and John Johansen.

My recollection is that the organizers of New Canaan’s Modern House Day wanted to include the Glass House in 2004 too but were told that Johnson was too ill. At the MHD symposium that preceded the house tour, John Johansen spoke:

“I’m 88 years old, and Philip is 98 years old,” he said.

“I wish he was here.”

Which prompted Toshiko Mori, chair of the Department of Architecture at the Harvard Design School, to quip that there was another reason to like modern houses: “Modernist architecture promotes longevity.”

Of the Harvard Five, only Johansen survives.

I saw Johnson a couple of times in New Canaan. Once he was coming out of the local pizza place, on Main Street, small with those iconic eyeglasses, tottering slightly, accompanied by a nurse or companion of some sort. Another time, he was sitting at a window seat in another restaurant, now out of business. It always struck me as odd to see a well-known personage doing something as mundane as going out for pizza.

With Johnson's death, the Glass House will be opened to visitors, through the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I believe.

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece for a local monthly about modern houses in Pound Ridge, New York, and New Canaan, Connecticut, which are next to each other. It's here.

Phillip Johnson

NEW YORK (AP) - Philip Johnson, the innovative architect who promoted the "glass box" skyscraper and then smashed the mold with daringly nostalgic post-modernist designs, has died. He was 98.

Johnson died Tuesday night at his home in New Canaan, Conn., according to Joel S. Ehrenkranz, his lawyer. John Elderfield, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, also confirmed the death Wednesday.

Take the Broadwater Poll

You can participate in an extremely non-scientific Broadwater LNG poll at the Wading River Civic Association's website. As of this morning, 85 percent of those who bothered to take it strongly oppose the LNG terminal in the Sound, 10 percent oppose it, and five percent could care less; no one supports it.

I mention it mainly because I've added the Wading River site to my list of links, below (I'm on their short list of sites to see about the Broadwater issue).

Speaking of Broadwater, I've added their site as well. I'm hoping they'll add me to their links page (maybe my loyal reader at Royal Dutch Shell in the Hague can mention it to the folks in Riverhead).

And finally, I've added several other new blogs and links to this site -- Save the Sound, SoundWaters, Soundkeeper and the Long Island Sound Study among them. More are on the way.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Endangered Species

This post, on a blog called Thoughts from Kansas (via Chris Mooney), talks about ways in which the federal Endangered Species Act might be changed. After reading it, I checked the lists of federally endangered and threatened species in Connecticut and New York (endangered and threatened species get equal protection) and tried to figure out which occurred in the Long Island Sound watershed.

For Connecticut, it was easy: all of them are in the Sound’s watershed – 13 federally endangered and threatened animals or plants: roseate tern, leatherback sea turtle, Atlantic ridley sea turtle, shortnose sturgeon, dwarf wedge mussel, and sandplain gerardia (all endangered), and bald eagle, piping plover, loggerhead sea turtle, Atlantic green sea turtle, bog turtle, Puritan tiger beetle, and small whorled pogonia (all threatened).

For New York it was slightly harder. I had to try to figure out if the species occurred in the relatively small part of the state that drains into the Sound (the fact that Hudson River waters mix with Sound waters and that the Mohawk River basin and the Adirondacks are in the Hudson watershed did not mean that I included species from that far afield). I came up with 11, all but one of which occurs in Connecticut (seabeach amaranth, which used to occur in Connecticut but has been wiped out and which in New York probably occurs only on the south shore of Long Island, but I was feeling generous): roseate tern, leatherback, Atlantic ridley, shortnose sturgeon, and sandplain gerardia (endangered), and bald eagle, piping plover, loggerhead, Atlantic green turtle, bog turtle, and seabeach amaranth (all threatened).

(Connecticut and New York have lists of state endangered and threatened species that are much longer.)

New York and Connecticut both have strong endangered species laws, modeled on the federal law, and I doubt seriously if either state would weaken its law if the federal law was weakened. Neither state has the kind of property rights advocates/ESA haters that Western states have to push those kinds of changes. Nevertheless, it bears watching, and if Thoughts from Kansas follows the issue, as he says he will, I’ll keep an eye on it and link to it when there’s something good.

Justice is Sweet

Over on the Hudson, a Yonkers polluter is paying a big fine for a spill. The fine will go through Riverkeeper to local organizations working to improve the Saw Mill River. And the polluter will donate a ton of sugar to a local food bank. Sweet.

Treatment Plant Upgrades in Westchester

Westchester County has agreed to begin work on nitrogen removal at its four Long Island Sound sewage plants, mandated as part of the Sound cleanup. County officials agreed reluctantly. They apparently thought a nitrogen-trading program, like Connecticut’s, would be more cost-effective, and wanted to buy nitrogen credits from New York City.

State officials, though, said it wouldn't work because the state was already suing the city for having missed treatment plant upgrade deadlines. I think, though, that there is no legal mechanism in New York for trading nitrogen credits, as there is in Connecticut.

Some details here.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Undiscovered Places

In a region like ours, where fast food outlets, big box stores, and shopping centers have long since wiped away the boundaries between communities and taken much of their distinctiveness with them, there are people (probably legions) who are continually looking for not just a sense of place but for a sense of the undiscovered.

“Undiscovered” of course is in the eye of the discoverer. Block Island seemed undiscovered to us when we first went there, in 1987, and even though it is mobbed on a summer weekend, and an extremely modest house costs $1 million, it’s kept a sense of the undiscovered, or at least of the unspoiled (perhaps because it has resisted franchises and strip development). I spent a few days in Providence last October, and to me it seemed undiscovered, even though 170,000 people live there. And in a few weeks, we’re going skiing in a place that is as yet undiscovered by Americans, and although I might blog about it, I probably won’t mention its name (it would lessen the experience if I ran into hundreds of Sphere readers there next year).

I learned today about a book that came out in the spring of 2004 that not only talks about an undiscovered place, but announces it as thus: The Last Undiscovered Place, by David K. Leff.

Leff, a deputy commissioner at the Connecticut DEP, settled in Collinsville, Connecticut, on the Farmington River, about 16 miles from Hartford. According to this description, Leff wanted an affordable fixer-upper with some historical character, pleasant neighbors, good schools, walkable streets, and attractive natural surroundings.”

He found a village where the physical layout influences relationships between people:The small lots and public spaces, the corner stores and local bank help to ensure that citizens see each other frequently and have plentiful opportunities to learn each other's concerns and ideas and to discuss community issues. For Leff, building patterns don't make a community, but they can reinforce it.”

I haven’t read Leff’s book yet, but it sounds as if he has hit on what makes a community, in the human and physical sense. I can’t help but be reminded of Anthony Bailey’s book about Stonington, Connecticut, In the Village, published in 1971 and still worth reading.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Other People's Deer Problems

This Greenwich Time article about the town's prospective deer hunt begins by saying that Iowa City, Iowa, paid the price when it stopped its deer hunt one year. A state wildlife biologist said the population increased by 25 percent.

"As the deer herd in an area is thinned, diminished competition and a greater food supply can create an ideal habitat for the remaining population, Thompson said.

"As healthy female deer roam an area where they are not competing for resources, they often get pregnant faster and in many cases give birth to twins and triplets."

That makes sense to me. It may overstate the problem though. If Greenwich Audubon, for example, reduces its deer herd over the years from 60 to seven -- which is its goal (scroll down for details) -- and then skips a year and sees a 25 percent increase, the number of deer will have to risen to nine. That's hardly a disaster (although obviously if it continues the herd will reach its former size in not too many years).

Anti-Broadwater in the Times

The Times reporter gives great credence to the idea that Long Island Sound is not the place for an industrial facility like Broadwater's LNG terminal.

He also portrays Long Islanders as formidable opponents. One thing you have to say about Broadwater: when they chose a spot for their terminal between the north shore of Long Island and the coast of Connecticut, they weren't trying to dump it on a poor community that wouldn't be able to afford to defend itself.


There are some odd assertions in this Associated Press story about a family of bobcats in Bethlehem, Connecticut (e.g., the bobcat population in Connecticut is rising because they are reproducing more, which seems to me to be the basic way bobcats or anything else would increase in population), but it's interesting nonetheless.

"The number of sightings has grown from 28 in 1993 to 187 in 2004," the story says, although it's not clear where this information came from. Reports to the state DEP? If there were 187 reported sightings, there must have been three times that number or more not reported.

All of which is a good thing. Bobcats generally need large areas of relatively undisturbed habitat, and if Connecticut can provide that, so much the better.

End of Storm

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.


Sunday Morning

It's been a loud storm, the sound of the wind rising and falling, as if we could hear "the roar of Ocean on his wintry shore," as Whittier wrote in Snow-Bound. How much snow has fallen is impossible to tell.

night table

It snowed all night but it's as if the wind blew most of it somewhere else. You can see from the two photos, one taken at 10:30 p.m., the other at 7:30 a.m., that there's some difference but not a lot.

morning table

The Times delivery man was actually able to make it up our hill and threw the paper with such accuracy that all I had to do is open the front door and reach outside to pick it up. The bird feeder is full and three crows are gorging themselves now, having chased away the juncos and sparrows.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

A Foray into the Storm

The roads are empty except for plows, of which there seem to be an extraordinary number for a town of 4,700 people. Big winds are in the forecast but the snow hasn't started really blowing yet. I had to drive three or four miles to rescue my daughter from a birthday party, and the snow is falling so fast and the air is so cold that even with the defroster blowing as hard as it could, the windshield froze up. But other than that, is there a better car in the snow than a Subaru? About six inches have fallen.

Quotation Marks: Blizzard

Blizzard warning in effect through Sunday morning.
Tonight. Snow. Heavy at times. With a slight chance of a thunderstorm. Considerable blowing and drifting snow. Additional snow accumulation of 8 to 12 inches. Very windy. Lows around 13. Northeast winds 25 to 35 mph. Wind chill values as low as 9 below.
Sunday. Snow. Heavy at times in the morning. ... Total snow accumulation of 18 to 24 inches.

Quotation Marks: Snow as smoooth to see as cake frosting

It was snow too that fell all Christmas week that year up in the Gauertal, that year they lived in the woodcutter's house with the big square porcelain stove that filled half the room, and they slept on mattresses filled with beech leaves, the time the deserter came with his feet bloody in the snow. He said the police were right behind him and they gave him woolen socks and held the gendarmes talking until the tracks had drifted over.

In Schrunz, on Christmas day, the snow was so bright it hurt your eyes when you looked out from the Weinstube and saw every one coming home from church. That was where they walked up the sleigh-smoothed urine-yellowed road along the river with the steep pine hills, skis heavy on the shoulder, and where they ran down the glacier above the Madlenerhaus, the snow as smooth to see as cake frosting and as light as powder and he remembered the noiseless rush the speed made as you dropped down like a bird.

They were snow-bound a week in the Madlenerhaus that time in the blizzard playing cards in the smoke by the lantern light and the stakes were higher all the time as Herr Lent lost more. Finally he lost it all. Everything, the Skischule money and all the season's profit and then his capital. ...

How many winters had he lived in the Vorarlberg and the Arlberg? It was four and then he remembered the man who had the fox to sell when they had walked into Bludenz, that time to buy presents, and the cherry-pit taste of good kirsch, the fast-slipping rush of running powder-snow on crust, singing ''Hi! Ho! said Rolly!' ' as you ran down the last stretch to the steep drop, taking it straight, then running the orchard in three turns and out across the ditch and onto the icy road behind the inn. Knocking your bindings loose, kicking the skis free and leaning them up against the wooden wall of the inn, the lamplight coming from the window, where inside, in the smoky, new-wine smelling warmth, they were playing the accordion.

Snow Hill

The people who lived here before us named this property Snow Hill. It isn't a particularly big hill, not even the biggest in the neighborhood, but the driveway is long and steep and winding, and in a big snowstorm we're generally stuck here until the plow arrives.
That's fine as long as the power stays on (which is iffy). A big storm on a weekend is a pleasure. There is enough wood in the woodpile, enough food in the refrigerator and pantry, enough wine in the cellar, and enough books and movies on the shelves (the DVD and video section of the library was mobbed this morning as people prepared to entertain themselves without going out).
Only two or so inches have fallen. It is not particularly pleasant outside, although it is beautiful. At 4 p.m. I walked out past the garden and into the woods. I could hear a car horn blow once in the distance, and a Carolina wren twittered. It is not at all a silent snowfall. The flakes are tiny and hard, and they hiss as they hit the trees.

Quotation Marks: Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors

I weathered some merry snow-storms, and spent some cheerful winter evenings by my fireside, while the snow whirled wildly without, and even the hooting of the owl was hushed. For many weeks I met no one in my walks but those who came occasionally to cut wood and sled it to the village.

Quotation Marks: The Coming of the Storm

A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.
The wind blew east: we heard the roar
Of Ocean on his wintry shore,
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
Beat with low rhythm our inland air.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Other LNG Terminal Proposals

If you want to see the future of the fight against Broadwater's LNG terminal proposal, look to the northeast. The Providence Journal has two articles today about proposals for terminals in Providence and Fall River, here and here.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Broadwater Protest

The Wading River Civic Association has posted a one-paragraph description of Tuesday's protest of Broadwater's LNG proposal. "... 28 groups are participating in the ABC (Anti Broadwater Coalition). Many more are expected to join in the coming weeks."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Is Greenwich Audubon Inventing the Future of Deer Control?

I’ve been biased in favor of aggressively hunting deer in the suburbs for several years now. When I say “aggressively,” I mean something other than the aggression embodied by men wearing camouflage, smearing coal-black on their faces, and dousing themselves in bottled fox urine so they can trick unwary eight-point bucks into coming close enough to take an arrow in the heart.

I mean systematic hunts of does at a rate great enough to appreciably reduce the size of the herd.

My reasoning was sound but anecdotal. Since 1989, I’ve participated in Audubon’s summer bird count, in a territory that encompasses the upper parts of two of the Sound’s small tributaries. Over the years, the number of rufous-sided towhees, ovenbirds, grouse and other species that nest relatively close to the ground has dropped noticeably and unmistakably. Although the sample size was limited, the reason seemed obvious: deer had eaten away most of the understory that these birds need for nesting sites and cover.

Likewise, when I first moved to this area, more than 20 years ago, the woods in spring were a riot of wildflowers. Now, finding a trout lily or a wood anemone is a notable experience, and the fields of lady’s-tresses and patches of hepatica are gone.

I’d written about deer overpopulation when I was a reporter, but the last time was in 1999, and although I knew of one or two ongoing studies, I could never find anyone with any real authority who could attribute declines in nesting birds and wildflowers to deer.

But that was five years ago, and when I wasn’t paying attention, Audubon Greenwich did some work and wrote a report which, as I read it, had me nodding as only one who has had his biases confirmed can nod.

The report (it's here in PDF and here in a more usable form) says that before Europeans began colonizing what is now the United States, the best deer habitat supported eight to 11 deer per square mile. The fall from that peak was steep. In southern New England, market hunting and habitat loss (to farming) all but eliminated deer. By 1896 in Connecticut, there were an estimated 12 deer. But as abandoned farmland became forest, and suburbs became deer habitat, the number rose to 19,000 in 1974 and to 76,000 in 2000, or 15 per square mile, statewide.

In so-called back-country Greenwich, where Audubon Greenwich’s two sanctuaries are located, the habitat is much more luxurious and the deer are much more abundant. State officials took aerial photographs in 2002 and counted 43 to 60 deer per square mile. Experts believe that if you count deer in aerial photos, you miss as many as half the deer, so Audubon Greenwich estimates that the actual number per square mile is more like 90 to 120. For their half-mile-square sanctuary, that works out to 45 to 60 deer.

What’s the big deal? If there is such a thing as the balance of nature, it’s not in evidence at Audubon’s sanctuaries or, for that matter, in any of the nearby suburban areas that give the illusion of environmental health. If your purpose is to present nature in as varied a form as possible given the realities of soil, climate, etc., too many deer make it impossible.

Or if you simply want to enjoy nature in as varied a form as possible, deer make it impossible.

When I mentioned above that I found myself nodding in agreement as my biases were confirmed, these were the sections of the report I was referring to:

“Dramatic declines in species diversity of wildflowers have been observed. Canada mayflower, trout lily, lady slippers, and other species of orchids and lilies are much less common. Trilliums have been eliminated altogether. Common spring wildflowers that numbered tens, even hundreds of species in the 1950s can now be counted on two hands. The only species of wildflowers commonly seen today include Jack-in-the-pulpit, blue cohosh, wild leek, mayapple, garlic mustard, and dwarf ginseng.”

“Dramatic decline in the number of ground nesting/feeding birds during the 27-year period is apparent. Total number of species remained relatively unaffected, but the total number of territories showed a 28% decline due to simplification of the forest structure. In addition, mid-canopy nesters such as the wood thrush, scarlet tanager, and eastern wood pewee are starting to show a decline in numbers associated with the disappearance of the middle canopy layer.”

Left alone, a deer population will double in size in two to three years. And while a herd will inevitably spread out, deer are territorial -- does are faithful to the area in which they were born and will stay on their summer range for life.

Audubon reviewed its options and decided the only one feasible was to work with a group of local hunters to radically thin the herd. They began in late 2003 and are continuing this winter.

Tom Baptist, Audubon Greenwich’s executive director, e-mailed me a summary of the first year: 16 hunters spent 347.4 hours in the field and killed 30 deer – 28 females and two antler-less males.

In other words, based on Audubon’s own estimate of its sanctuaries’ deer population, the hunters killed at least half the deer on its property, and maybe more than half.

The goal is to get down to just five to seven deer, at which point, Audubon thinks, the deer and their habitat will be in balance.

What that means isn’t quite clear. The report suggests that tree seedlings will rebound dramatically within several years. As for wildflowers, “when browsing pressure lasts for a decade or longer, they are simply eliminated due to lack of seed source …. Relieving grazing pressure by the reduction of deer may not restore the wildflower community, in which case active restoration efforts will be necessary to re-establish the representative native wildflower species.”

The Audubon Center plans to keep track of revegetation, and to keep the deer herd at a sustainable level by periodic hunting.

Newsday's Map Showing the LNG Site and Distances from LI Towns

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Anti-Broadwater Coalition at Shoreham

It's hard to tell how the anti-Broadwater rally in Shoreham went today based on this cursory account by Newsday. (The problem with holdiing pseudo-events like news conferences at which no real news is made is that newspapers tend see them for what they are, and treat them accordingly, with a yawn, which is what no doubt happened today. It's worth noting that Broadwater held a counter-pseudo-event today that got even shorter shrift from Newsday.)

More interesting to me is that now there is a coalition -- the Anti-Broadwater Coalition -- that Newsday says encompasses dozens of groups. (Environmental groups often have small and overlapping memberships, so there's no telling how many people are actually represented.)

"The oil industry does not own Long Island Sound, said Adrienne Esposito, exec director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "We own Long Island Sound."

Candidate Kennedy?

According to the Times, Bobby Kennedy Jr., "a lawyer, an environmental advocate and a son of the late senator, is considering running for state attorney general."

I'm trying to resist the temptation to suggest that if you really want to know what Kennedy thinks about environmental issues, particularly Long Island Sound, you need to read the foreword that he wrote to this.

Bridgeport Looks to Urban Land Institute for Revival

Bridgeport, Connecticut, an old port city that fell on hard times ages ago and has yet to get up, is looking to the Urban Land Institute for help.

According to the Connecticut Post, William Hudnut, chairman of the ULI advisory panel that is working with the city, "offered a hint at some of what the panel may recommend when he rattled off four major projects he said are worth pursuing.

Those projects include:

l build a new train station and bus terminal.

l develop Remington Woods into an office park.

l provide more housing downtown.

l redevelop Steel Point into a mix of housing, retail and offices buildings.

Hudnut acknowledged the city faces major challenges: high taxes, an unresponsive bureaucracy, a largely unskilled workforce and an image of being crime-ridden and corrupt."

Those are not exactly characteristics that connote optimism.

Bridgeport is an old factory town -- Remington Arms was based there -- and P.T. Barnum was its mayor. Its nickname, Park City, gives a hint that its past was greener and more optimistic than its present. I have no idea if the Urban Land Institute can do the job -- I have the feeling that it doesn't have the greatest reputation among New Urbanists -- but let's hope that it succeeds.

If nothing else, give Bridgeport credit for candor on its website: "By the 1930s the community had almost 500 manufacturing firms. In the late 20th century Bridgeport remained a manufacturing center, producing electrical and transportation equipment, plastics, and machine tools however the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs left many unemployed. Bridgeport also had problems with unemployment, pollution, drugs, and crime in its inner-city neighborhoods. "

Deer in the Suburbs

The idea that deer are a problem to be managed rather than tolerated is entering the mainstream, if it hasn’t already arrived. The Connecticut DEP is conducting a reduction program at Bluff Point Coastal Reserve, in Groton, and a more secretive reduction program took place in Lloyd Harbor, on Long Island (Newsday had the story and I linked to it last month, but stories disappear from Newsday’s for-free website after two weeks, so I lost it). Greenwich Audubon has a deer management plan that includes bow hunting. And the Town of Greenwich wants to thin the deer herd at three town parks next month.

When I first posted about the Town of Greenwich’s plan, the website of the company that will do the work was offline. Today’s Greenwich Time has a fascinating story about the firm, White Buffalo Inc., and when I checked their website today, it was back up.

White Buffalo is new to me, but it’s been around since 1999, apparently, and has worked in New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Rhode Island and New York.

“Abundance of vehicle collisions, Lyme disease, landscape or garden damage, and ecological damage (i.e., severe browse line, no regeneration) are the four most common conflicts that motivate a community to inquire about our services,” the website says.

The site talks about five control methods, and gives their cost per deer: trap and relocate ($400 to $2,931), fertility control (about $1,000), sharpshooting ($91 to $300), controlled hunting ($162 to $622), and trap and euthanasia ($400 minimum).

I was interested to see that, in a stroke of Orwellian brilliance, sharpshooting is also called “remote euthanasia.”

Rally in Shoreham

There is a big, cold anti-Broadwater rally this morning in Shoreham. Here's Newsday's preview.

Monday, January 17, 2005

LNG Critic: Realist or Alarmist?

Speaking of Broadwater and LNG terminals, this fellow, an attorney in California, seems to think that when the apocalypse comes, it will come via an LNG explosion. I think he also has established a new record for the most mentions of one's own name on one's website (78 times).

Memories of Summer

On cold, dark winter days, I like to think back to the warm, golden and truly weird days of summer. True story.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Broadwater's Arguments Rebutted

Yesterday I criticized a couple of opponents of Broadwater's LNG proposal for exaggerating the terminals threat. Today I'm going to look at the counter-arguments that John Hritcko, Broadwater's senior vice president and regional project director, makes when an opponent suggests that the middle of Long Island Sound is not the place for an industrial facility.

A number of speakers made that argument at Thursday's meeting in Norwalk, which Save the Sound organized.

Hritcko has said on more than one occasion -- and he said it again on Thursday in a phone interview with the Stamford Advocate -- that the no-industrialization argument is irrelevant because industrialization already has come to the Sound, in New Haven and elsewhere. Either he or the Advocate also made the point that New Haven is the second busiest port in New England (Boston obviously is first).

Hritcko also said that there is no basis for assuming that Broadwater's project would be the harbinger for future development of the Sound. In other words, the LNG terminal won't set a precedent.

I'm glad it won't set a precedent. But I'm more concerned because Broadwater's LNG proposal is a stupendously bad idea even if no other industrial facility is ever proposed for the Sound or its shore. Precedent or no precedent, the middle of the Sound is a bad place for an industrial facility.

As for Hritko's other argument -- that industrialization has already come to the Sound, specifically to New Haven -- it is certainly true that New Haven is an industrial harbor. But so what? The middle of the Sound isn't New Haven. No one would propose an industrial facility for a forest 11 miles from New Haven and justify it by saying, "It's OK because New Haven is industrialized."

The industrial era is over on Long Island Sound. When did it end? Who knows -- 50 or 60 years ago? Existing industries are a vestige. And although the industrial era in some ways led to a golden age for some of the cities on or near the Sound -- Bridgeport and Waterbury among them -- for the Sound itself and for its tributaries, it was anything but. The industrial era was a time when the Sound's main purpose was to be the place where industrial and urban wastes were dumped, generally through a pipe that led directly into the water. The Sound, its harbors, and its rivers are still paying the price, in the form of sediments contaminated with heavy metals and hypoxia that remains a critical problem.

In my book, I quoted Al Appleton, who back in the Dinkins Administration was the commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection: "We who are the public," he said, "no longer want to use Long Island Sound to subsidize certain kinds of economic activities."

It was true in 1990 and it's true now.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Inflated Rhetoric Alert

When an environmental issue is put before the public for debate, a sign should be posted: "Caution. Hyperbole Zone Ahead."

Save the Sound held a meeting in Norwalk yesterday to talk about the Broadwater LNG proposal. A number of speakers made what I think is the right point -- that the terminal would represent an unacceptable industrialization of Long Island Sound. These included Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp and Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell.

But the head of Norwalk's Harbor Commission hinted that the terminal might put Long Island and Connecticut at risk of the kind of disaster that hit the Indian Ocean.

"We are putting a tsunami in the middle of Long Island Sound," John Pinto said.

A State Representative from Weston, John Stripp, said the middle of the widest part of Long Island Sound -- probably 10 miles from the nearest house -- is too crowded for a LNG terminal.

"Here we are going to take a very populated area and we are going to put this potentially destructive facility there. It almost seems criminal if we let this happen," he said.

Maybe this kind of rhetoric helps. But to me it says more about the speaker than the issue. And I can't help rolling me eyes when I hear it.

The Stamford Advocate covered the meeting. The Norwalk Hour might have too but it seems as if they don't put news on their website. If anyone finds it, send me the link, please.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Bird of Prey

We live in the upper reaches of one of the Sound’s smaller watersheds, in an area notable for having an unusual array of animals for a suburb of New York City. While we’ve had our share of development, we also have enough big parks and preserves, water protection land, and large privately-owned holdings to allow animals that require unfragmented habitat to thrive. Our neighborhood has river otters, bobcats, red-shouldered hawks, wood turtles and box turtles, marbled salamanders, worm-eating warblers, and barred owls.

We hear barred owls on and off throughout the year, and occasionally they hoot so persistently that we barely notice. A few months ago, in September, two or three barred owls moved onto our hillside and barked and growled and hooted at each other literally every night for a month.

Owl impression in the snow

This morning, when I drew back the curtains, I noticed the splayed outline that a bird of prey had made in the snow as it dropped from a white oak to nail an animal. A barred owl? I don’t know. It left no blood or feathers or bones. Owl or hawk, it made a beautiful, feathery pattern that should serve as a warning to whatever creatures are passing near the bird feeder.


In addition to Broadwater's proposal for a LNG terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound, there are proposals (by companies other than Broadwater) for a terminal in Providence and another in Fall River. Here's what's happening with one of them.

More Gossip: Mel Gibson's Byram River Property Is Not a Farm

The actor apparently kept sheep and donkeys and maybe chickens on his land, but that doesn't constitute a farm, Greenwich's assessor says. So Mel Gibson's taxes are going up. Town officials had been there previously because they were concerned that runoff from his barn area was getting into the Byram River. Gibson's place is on Old Mill Road, is 75.7 acres, has a 28-room house and two guest houses. His property tax bill: $137,000 a year.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Greenwich Does its Best to Keep Non-Residents Away from the Sound

Here's Greenwich's idea of how to provide access to the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound:

If you are a family of four, with two kids 13 or younger, and live in Greenwich, it will cost you $110 for the season.

But if that same family of four does not live in Greenwich, it will cost $60 -- for one day. And to add a dollop of inconvenience to the cost, to exercise its right to swim in the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound, that family of four must go to either Town Hall or the East Greenwich Civic Center to buy its passes. Of course, Greenwich had to be sued just to agree to give out-of-towners access to the waters they own for such an outrageous fee.

I argued in my book that one of the reasons Connecticut and New York residents watched idly as the Sound became horribly polluted over the years was that they didn't care about the Sound because it has always been so hard to get to. Not much seems to have changed.

For Gossip Purposes Only: Most Expensive Land Sale in Connecticut, Biggest Tax Bill

Ever wonder what the most expensive house in Connecticut is? Until recently it apparently was a $23 million place on the Byram waterfront in Greenwich. But records are made to be broken. And there's no need to imagine what the taxes are either -- it's all here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Hold the Salt

Moving a bit further afield than usual … The approach to Lake Placid from the east takes you along Route 73 and through a high, beautiful pass that runs along the Cascade Lakes and below the peaks of Pitchoff, Porter and Cascade mountains. As you drive (if I remember correctly), the peak of Mount Marcy comes in and out of view beyond the closer mountains. It was while driving through the Cascades late at night in 1980 that I saw a bobcat for the first and only time. In winter, the Cascades are wild and beautiful and forbidding. The wind scours the snow off the frozen lakes and spreads it in drifts across the road, and once on my way into Lake Placid I was forced to backtrack through Keene, Upper Jay, and Wilmington when I came upon a tractor-trailer that had skidded in the snow and landed on its side across the road.

Paper birches grow on the very steep slopes beyond the lakes. In 1978, ’79 and ’80, when I lived there, paper birches grew on the margin of land between the road and the lakes as well. But at some point in the 1980s, we noticed that the birches between the lake and the road were dying. It turns out that the state DOT, which uses an average of 48 tons of salt per mile of road statewide in winter, has been dumping 105 tons per mile along the two miles of Route 73 in the Cascades. Chloride levels in the lakes are 100 times higher than expected in Adirondack Lakes.

A team of scientists from Clarkson College are studying it, and the Associated Press has a good account of what’s going on.


Connecticut's new DEP commish thinks Long Island Sound is a priority, according to the New London Day.

The Factory State

A century ago, there were 4,000 factories operating in Connecticut (that's more than twice the number of full time farms operating on the state now, for comparison). Essentially all the factories dumped their waste into a tributary of the Sound or directly into the Sound itself. Remnants of these wastes are hidden everywhere, including, as Vincent Breslin's students at SCSU found out, at the bottom of the Branford River. And as this article mentions in passing, the Branford is by no means the worst place.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Welcome to the Wave of the Future

BaySense says regional blogs like Sphere might be the wave of the future.

Answers to Hard Questions

Two or three e-mails have poured in to Sphere’s inbox recently.

Rick, who cleared up my question about what killed the slipper shells (in the comments to a January 1 post), thought I should try to present a more balanced perspective on the Broadwater LNG proposal.

Here’s what I told him: I haven't been going out of my way to give only one perspective. In fact, in many posts I've linked to Broadwater's site, so readers can see for themselves what they are proposing. It's been difficult to provide other balancing material though simply because there hasn't been much balance in the papers, which is my main source of material. There probably had been some more favorable coverage back in November when the project was first proposed, but I hadn't started blogging then. If I see some other perspectives in the future, I might link to them, assuming I think they make sense and are worth knowing about.

Which brings me to my second point. I started Sphere to have fun and to post things that interested me. I spent 17 years as a newspaper reporter, where everything had to be balanced, and I'm definitely not trying to replicate that. I'm planning on posting things that interest me, that amuse me, that gratify my ego, and that draw readers to the site. So while I might link to other perspectives on Broadwater, I'm not likely to go overboard. However I will continue to link to their site. (Broadwater and other energy company people read Sphere occasionally, by the way. If they send me stuff, I'd probably use it.)

Jennifer Wilson-Pines sent me a two-word e-mail in response to this post: “War & Peace???????” I hope her outrage was mock. I apologized and told her perhaps “Moby Dick” would have been a more appropriate comparison. I also told her that regardless of length and regardless of my wise cracks, I hope she sends me more observations from her field trips near the Sound.

About this post, Jane Moffat sent me this: For over forty years I have observed a fairly
consistent snow line cutting across a fairly steep rise on Greenwich's Riversville Rd., between N. Porchuck Rd and Cliffdale Rd., approaching, still somewhat below the crest of Quaker Ridge. I THINK it is about 500" above sea level, but it could be less.

For many years I lived on the crest, about 1/2 mile south of the Audubon Center. Often rain would change to snow or snow flurries as I crossed the snow line while driving home from work. ...
I am sure lots of folks throughout CT and Westchester can give you similar reports.

David Sucher, who does a blog called CityComforts from the Puget Sound watershed, responded to a post in which I said I liked his blog even though it wasn’t an enviro blog. He commented here, then sent me an e-mail in case I missed the comment, and then posted on his own site. Here’s our short and sweet exchange. The final answer is: of course cities are part of the environment.

And my favorite e-mail, from someone named Tom, whom I do not know:

"What is a blog?"

Good question.


The water temperature at the surface of the western end of the Sound today is 41.1 degrees F. The water holds almost 10 milligrams of dissolved oxygen per liter, which is almost saturated.

In the eastern Sound, the water temperature is 42.8 degrees F, and dissolved oxygen concentrations are higher – 10.7 milligrams per liter.

I get seasick so easily that I wouldn’t go out on the Sound in winter for money, and even if I did, I’d have no idea how to accurately get that kind of data. But no matter. UConn does it, and puts it online. Check it out if you're not familiar with it -- it's fascinating even if, like me, you have no particular use for the information.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Woodpile

The Woodpile

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Connecticut Waterfalls

At my wife's suggestion, I've been checking out this site regularly. It's called Earth Science Picture of the Day, and today's photo is from the Sound's watershed -- specifically, Turner Falls, Massachusetts, on the Connecticut River.

The Earth Science Picture site has a link to a number of sites related to the Sound's watershed, including this one. A fellow named David Ellis is trying to find, hike to and photograph all of Connecticut's natural waterfalls. Quixotic, perhaps, but it sounds like fun.

Industrializing Natural Areas

It goes without saying, I suppose, that Broadwater's proposal for a liquefied natural gas terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound is not a unique example of someone wanting to industrialize a natural area. From Howling at a Waning Moon, here's some information about a government-sponsored industrialization plan out west.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Why Did Dissolved Oxygen Levels Fall in Recent Summers?

My long-awaited (at least by me) article in Offshore magazine is out and on the newstands. It's an attempt to explain, to the extent that anybody knows, why dissolved oxygen levels in the Sound were so low the past two summers, after a period of relatively good conditions.

The article isn't online, but you can learn about Offshore here, and you can read editor Darrell Nicholson's column, which refers to the article, here.

Let it Snow, More or Less

For reasons that I've never understood, newspaper editors love to assign stories about the weather; and for reasons that I understood only too well, newspaper reporters hate them. Truth is, most weather stories are by-the-numbers jobs, one long cliche of quotes and anecdotes about "the white stuff" and how much more than normal commuters had to suffer.

But this one is a bit more interesting. It tries to explain why some places get more snow than other places nearby. We see it where I live -- seven inches of snow here often means three inches two miles to the south.

Support Our Boats

This is not the worst consequence of the Iraq war, certainly, but nevertheless ... "diversion of federal funds to the military is delaying most domestic harbor dredging projects, including Milford Harbors" and "the Housatonic River estuary." The Connecticut Post doesn't say what it means by "most domestic harbor dredging projects," but if "most" means most in the Sound region or most in the country, it's probably a bigger deal than the Post lets us in on.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Blogs to Check Out

I complained not long ago that I hadn't found many good enviro blogs. I still haven't found many, but I've found some. Here they are (I've added some to my links list [lower right] and will be adding others soon).

Conservation News (not really a blog because it's not updated anywhere near often enough, but its author, Jon Christensen, added Sphere to his favorite blogs list after I begged him to).
Nature Noted (thank you, Pat Burns, for adding Sphere to your blogroll).
City Comforts (not an enviro blog, but I like it anyway).
Planning Livable Communities (planning and new urbanism in Massachusetts).
Howling at a Waning Moon (keeps a close eye on national stories; author Bob Whitson says he'll link to Sphere but he hasn't yet).
Real Climate (experts on global warming, which, with the Sound getting warmer, is way relevant).
Chris Mooney (a young pro).
Gristmill (I'm not into this one yet but I probably should be; try it though).
BaySense (Chesapeake Bay, which had the Sound's problems, and worse, before the Sound).

Read 'em, then come back.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Christie Whitman's Memoir

There are about a dozen enviro-related posts, from around the country, worth looking at at a blog called Howling at a Waning Moon, including one about former EPA Administrator Christie Whitman's new book, "a memoir that looks unkindly at the enormous influence of far-right advocates in the Administration."

Far-right advocates didn't have any affect on EPA's Long Island Sound policy, did they? Anonymous tips solicited, e-mail address in the right-hand column.

Seals in the Sound

Seals again, this time in Greenwich. From the Greenwich Time. The Norwalk Maritime Aquarium, by the way, seems to be doing a good job of getting the word out.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

On the Sound: Birds of LI

Jennifer Wilson-Pines has the dubious distinction of being the only person to attend three of my book talks, and to have done so willingly. Nevertheless, she still seems friendly. Jennifer is the president of North Shore Audubon, on Long Island, and when I heard a week or so ago that she and her husband were in Texas birding over Christmas, I asked her to consider sending in occasional reports, observations, etc., about birds and the natural world in general in the Long Island Sound area.

She responded with an account of the Christmas Bird Count which, if not quite as long as War and Peace, was nevertheless longer than the typical blog post. So I've excerpted. The heart of the matter is this: “The Long Island Sound region," she wrote, "is an exceptional place to bird, with the confluence of many habitats; deciduous and pine woods, open fields, lakes and rivers, salt water shoreline and deep open waters attracting a wide variety of resident and seasonal birds.”

She continued, "My husband and I have been surveying part of region one, the Port Washington peninsula, specifically the Manhasset Bay shoreline, for the last seven years. We have learned every point at which we can access the shoreline without being arrested. After several years we have also learned where the individual residents are to be found. We go out expecting to find five Great blue herons, three Kingfishers, a small flock of Killdeer, three Black-crowned night herons, one Northern pintail, and a flock of Ruddy’s....

"Much is given over to variables like weather – if the ponds have frozen, our dabbling duck numbers (Mallard, Black duck, Northern shoveler, Green-wing teal) drop. If the Bay is starting to freeze, even the deep diving ducks (Bufflehead, Greater scaup, Ruddy duck, Red-breasted merganser) will start to move out of the area. The shorebirds that depend on open water for hunting, like Herons and Kingfishers, are also at the mercy of the elements. Some manmade alterations – a new house constructed on a formerly vacant lot, shoreline vegetation removed, dredging, hunting – can also impact our observations.

"In North Nassau, 52 counters spent the day in search of the elusive avians. High numbers were the expected Canadas, Starlings, and the great rafts of diving ducks. Rarities included a late lingering Osprey, Northern gannett, Long-eared owls with two separate individuals sighted, Virginia rail, Turkeys, a Lincoln’s sparrow, a Barrow’s Goldeneye and a pair of Peregrine falcons that appear to have taken up residence on the LIPA plant in Hempstead Harbor.

"This year’s count yielded 107 species, a decent number. This translates to roughly 22,000 individual birds, in contrast with 120,000 observed in counts from as recently as 20 years ago. The decline in numbers can be attributed to many things: number of observers, weather, food resources, pesticides, but mostly to habitat loss. And it’s not just the clearing of far away rain forests. Every 'vacant' lot is home to many, many creatures, most of who are displaced or die when it is developed."

So thanks, Jennifer. We hope to hear from you again from time to time with other reports, avian or otherwise.

Rare Bird Alert

A white pelican isn't the rarest bird to visit this area, but it's not that common either. One has been hanging out just across the Rhode Island border, in Westerly.

Monday, January 03, 2005


The New London Day says that as many as 100,000 seals can be found in New England's waters, up from 5,800 in 1973.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Modernism in Old Switzerland

Here at Sphere we live in a Modern house and we like Modern domestic architecture. We also like Switzerland, particularly its old villages in the far east. Here's a Modern house in one of our favorite Swiss places. Next time we're there, we'll check out the context and see if it works.

Update: Soglio is a tiny village perched on a terrace above the Val Bregaglia that we visited twice, in 1987 and in 1989. To get there, you follow the valley of the Upper Engadine, the famous winter sport region, past St. Moritz, Sils Maria and Sils Biselgia – an area now scarred by highways that have muddied the air and robbed the valley of much of its beauty – and through Maloja.

In ’87 we were traveling on the cheap (if that’s possible in Switzerland) and so did not rent a car. We’d take the train or the post bus to a village, find a place to stay, and head out for long hikes in the mountains.

One of those places was Maloja, where in early June it was still late winter. The larches and beeches had yet to put out leaves, and as the snow melted, entire meadows glistened with moving water. We hiked along the Via Engiadina through tiny villages that served as summer residences for cowherds – Blaunca, for example, a cluster of 20 or so stone structures with shale roofs, 6,700 feet above sea level. A carving on one of the houses said it had been built in 1436 and renovated in 1963. Near there we encountered a flock of 10 steinbock – mountain goats – and watched them feed contentedly.

The next morning, we boarded a bus at Maloja and descended through the Maloja Pass, an incredible series of hairpin curves that dropped us from the late winter of the Engadine into the full spring of the Val Bregaglia, from 5,900 feet to 2,700. The larches sprouted leaves, the conifers changed to birch and beech and chestnut, the gardens became planted, the fields full of yellow and white and blue and violet. At Promontogno we hopped a connecting bus and rode another thousand feet up the hillside to Soglio.

There we found a hotel, had lunch in the garden of an old hotel called the Palazzo surrounded by trees, hedges, and flowers. Two giant sequoias rose from the rear of the garden and nearby a sign asked for money to keep them alive. After lunch we walked through the outlying meadows, a riot of beautifully-colored wildflowers — buttercups, cow parsnip, harebells, bluebells, three kinds of mints, daisies, bladder campions, trefoil, red clover, white clover. Then we strolled through the churchyard and stopped in across the road at a dairy, or lattaria, where we met a fellow who made goat cheese. Here's what we saw and learned, from the unpublished Andersen Diaries.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

On the Sound: Millions of Empty Shells

The staff of Sphere and our kids went to Greenwich Point Park today, where the benificent leaders of Greenwich allow us unwashed non-Greenwich residents to trod for less than $30 because it's the offseason. The place was mobbed but the air was warm, the sky blue but hazy at the horizon (the Manhattan skyline barely visible), and the temperature, at least on the Sound side where the wind was blocked by the point itself, very comfortable.

I was looking for birds and saw dozens of black ducks and buffleheads, and lesser numbers of hooded mergansers and red-breasted mergansers, a horned grebe, a kingfisher, and the usual feeder-birds in the holly grove.

On a southwest-facing cove there were deep, long piles of empty shells, predmoninantly slipper shells (Crepidula fornicata, amazingly enough), millions of them, peppered with ribbed and blue mussels, quahogs, oysters, and a few others. The numbers of shells were truly awesome, and indicative of a fecundity that those of us on shore can hardly imagine.

Atlantic slipper shells

A question that perhaps any of the two or three people who read this blog can answer: did this mass of empy shells represent the aftermath of a kill, or simply an accumulation of already-dead C. fornicata?

The Social Consequences of Sprawl-Type Development

One of the awful little strip malls on Route 123 in Norwalk was mobbed with cars yesterday as people made last-minute purchases for New Year's Eve festivities. I pulled in looking for a place to park, eased my way past a half-dozen other cars also looking for a place to park, then circled back onto Route 123 again, and repeated the process. After several attempts, I stopped behind a car that was backing out of a spot.

In an attempt to encourage the driver, I beeped my horn -- just slightly, of course. The driver backed out and, with her window down, looked at me and muttered something unintelligible that ended with the words, "son of a bitch."

I had never been called a son of a bitch while looking for a parking space in a traditional downtown -- even though I've offered other drivers similar mild encouragement with my car's horn.

"Ah ha!" I said to myself as the driver headed away and I pulled into her spot. Another example of the anti-social behavior caused by sprawl-type development.

On the Sound

Shortly before noon yesterday the Norwalk River was glassy and gray. I needed to kill about 45 minutes while my wife and daughter were occupied elsewhere, so I took my 6-year-old to the park (Veterans Park?) in East Norwalk and we walked along the river opposite the boatyards and marinas. An outboard-powered Whaler sped toward the islands, cutting the middle of the river like a zipper. Dozens of Canada geese floated offshore, and eight buffleheads bobbed and dived. We walked across the pebbles, the fragments of oyster shells, and the red and green plastic of spent shotgun shells, and over the ribbed mussels that clung to the base of the shorn cordgrass. The islands were gray in the distance and Long Island a smudge beyond.

Through my binoculars I examined the Eben A. Thacher, which was tied up alongside the old Talmadge Brothers oyster house, now Hillard Bloom Shelllfish Inc. Not a soul stirred there.

We followed the shore as it curved east. A lone hooded merganser swam near two oyster boats, the Catherine M. Wedmore and the Laurel (from Port Norris, N.J.). They were tied up in East Norwalk, near Terry Backer's headquarters, whose clapboards, windows and eaves each seemed to line up at a different angle. Through the binoculars, I read a blue sign on a building next to Terry's: "Norm Bloom & Son, Oysters and Clams."

We walked back to the car. In the park, fish crows competed with ring-billed gulls to tear apart a fast food bag.

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