Summers end….

The thing about having a little blog is it must be fed. When the summer comes out here, and the skies brighten and the rain stops, the trails and forest beckon. There are trails to revisit, or visit the first time, or areas off trail asking for attention, distant lakes to discover and reach, remote forest roads leading nowhere beyond which lies….? Of course, when you reach a certain age, and I fear – no, I am certain – I have reached it, you need to prepare for such excursions. Train. Walk miles, find nearby trails and hills to conquer, load a pack and climb stairs, or just walk, and walk, and walk. In the perfect world someone who wanders the woods would walk two or three hours every single day, all year, and then they would be ready for anything at nearly any age, even a greatly advanced age. I met such a man this year and he is a mountain goat, nearly as old as I am, going everywhere, on and off trail, as he has all his life. I envy him but could not keep up with him. Maybe after a year of training, and absence of injuries…

But you can write your blog in the evenings, some would say. This is true. But, to me, a blog is a strange sort of beast. On the one hand it offers a place to store tales, and ideas, and pictures, maybe even a few words about books written or envisioned, and as such, seems, to me anyway, a perfect place to store such things, whether anyone else cares to see them or not. On the other hand, in today’s monetize everything, build a mailing list, increase traffic to promote sales fever, the blog becomes a beast, a thing to be fed, its appetite endless and huge. When fun stories rise, or events beckon, the blog is fun, a place to record things, but when the money and traffic and out-there self promotion animal springs to life the blog becomes a monster, something loathed and avoided.

Maybe, too, this is all a function of two years of covid reaction and then the start of a European land war with the attendant media hype, lies, and hysteria filling all the airwaves and screens.

Then the forest beckons, the high and lonely places, difficult to reach, painful to achieve, but then, on the way and when arrived, silent but for the sounds of the wind, streams, insects, and animals. These are places that are still, InReach Mini2 aside, out of wifi range, phone range, web range.

Thank God.

There is a story I have been playing with now for two years, ever since I finished Totem as a matter of fact, maybe even another series, set in the future, so you can call it science fiction if you like. Whatever time I have spent with a pen and paper, or a keyboard and a screen, has been jotting notes and doing research on matters related to things future, plus the difficult task of trying to imagine a near future that might be realistic, which in these days of plagues and crisis and rage is hard to do.

All of which to say, this feeble little blog has gone dormant for half a year, now. But it is not dead, mainly because I find this a nice way to store stuff that I enjoy.

That grounded big container ship

So, just about a year after the Ever Given went aground in the Suez Canal, blocking traffic for days and creating chaos in the supply chain, a sister ship, the Ever Forward, somehow missed a small turn in the channel in the Chesapeake Bay while departing Baltimore and grounded in mud.

These ships are huge. They are 1300 feet long, nearly 200 feet wide, weigh 140,000 tons, and draw at least 40 feet of water when even partially loaded. They are the largest container ships built. Why one of these monsters was going to Baltimore is a question in itself. Baltimore is way up the Bay, far from the ocean, a relatively small East Coast container port. I was posted on a Military Sealift Command ship in Baltimore in 2015 and could see the container cranes from the ship, so I know where the Forward must have berthed. I imagine, if this was the first visit to the Port, there was some kind of event hosted by the Port, a celebration, executives with smiles and flowers and the press, “Oh, look, we can handle these ships, aren’t we the best?”

Based on videos and reports it seems the ship was traveling between 8 and 9 knots coming down the channel, coming south. The channel swings to the right, to starboard, maybe 15 degrees, but the Ever Forward just kept going straight. In the channel the water depth is 50 feet, but outside the channel the depth is 30 feet rising to 24 feet to less than 20 feet. The ship is now well off the channel, in the mud, fully, bow to stern. The depth at the bow is only 17 feet. This means that the hull of the ship, which is at least 40 feet from the keel to the water surface, somehow plowed into the sediment for all 1300 feet. Now the ship sits in the mud, with, quite likely, half that 40-foot draft not in water but in the mud beneath the water.

This is, actually, hard to imagine happening, unless that sediment was very soupy indeed. If the ship drove into the mud, pushing it aside as it drove forward, the mud would have to be pushed aside as well, meaning, forming a hump next to the hull. A rough calculation suggests this 140,000 ton ship might have pushed aside over 100,000 cubic yards of mud.

When the ship was coming south, the ship had to be under the command and control of a Chesapeake Bay Pilot. When I was sailing we always -always – took aboard a pilot when entering a port, any port. The pilot gives the commands, engine speed, wheel commands. One would think the pilot gave a command to turn the ship as the channel turned, but only the voice recorder will tell the real story. It is however likely the pilot, whoever he or she was, had rarely if ever been operating a ship that size, that slow to heed rudder commands.

Anyway, the ship went hard aground and now sits in the mud. Two dredges are working to remove the sediment from around the ship, the largest using a clam bucket that can hold 65 cubic yards at a time. Rough math, again – if it takes 15 minutes to drop the bucket, close it, bring it up, swing it over a barge, drop the load, and return to the bottom, and if the bucket never stops operating, day and night, to remove 100,000 cubic yards will require 16 days of dredging. But of course the barge and bucket have to be moved and repositioned as the dredging happens, so maybe you need to double that time, or triple it.

Apparently, also, the ship on leaving Baltimore was not holding a lot of ballast water, which is usually taken on when well offshore, so during the run down the Bay the ship is configured to reduce draft in the channel, meaning, with the weight of containers on the deck the ship might be considered tender – that is, a little top heavy. The reports are explaining that as they dredge by the ship they need to be careful they don’t cause a shelf near the ship which might allow it to roll into the deepened water – ie, take on a great list, or even capsize.

These ships are as I said earlier huge, and the containers stacked on the deck (as well as in the hull itself) reach very very high. Maybe it makes sense to remove fuel from the ship to lighten it, though this will also increase her tenderness. Another thing to do is remove containers, reduce the high weight. But the trouble here is that there aren’t many cranes mounted on barges that are tall enough to lift off those containers, and they would need to be lifted one at a time, a tedious and slow process. In the worst case, it might take weeks and weeks to remove containers and complete the dredging before the ship can be pulled back into the channel.

Of course, if the ship plowed through sediment this suggests that the bottom of the ship might be damaged, compressed, crumpled, bent. There is no question the sailors on the ship are sounding the voids and tanks every hour to make sure there are no leaks. Maybe there are leaks. Nobody had as of March 23 placed a boom around the ship, but surely this will happen soon, for there is the danger of fuel leakage as well.

This is going to be very expensive. The daily cost for dredging barges, dredges, and tugs is in the tens of thousands of dollars a day. It will be a race between trying to get the ship free as soon as possible so it can continue on its rotation, and dredging and moving enough sediment so the ship can be moved safely, without tearing open the hull or unbalancing the ship such that it shifts, maybe even rolls. And as they do this work, of course, as they pull the ship toward the channel, they come closer to the other marine traffic now using the channel. At some point the channel will need to be closed to free the Ever Forward. The worst outcome of all would be partly freeing the ship but not totally, yet blocking the channel.

This incident is not stopping a major world trade route. There will be no supply chain interruptions, except for those customers whose containers and goods are now delayed on that ship. But this is another sign of what can happen when an enormous, highly complex, clumsy ship makes one small mistake.

We will see more such mistakes.

Some early Totem reviews

“I believe that this book is a fitting conclusion to a remarkable set of novels. I enjoyed them so much, I plan to order up each in paperback to have them sit on my bookshelf. As far as I’m concerned, the Strong Heart trilogy is the best Netflix series yet to be filmed. Seriously. As I read each of these books, all I could think of was watching the story come to life on TV. I hope that these novels get into the hands of a reputable producer and are adapted for the screen.

“What I liked most were the wonderful characters, each unique, each with their own strengths and weakness, each with their own speech patterns that help to establish their individuality. I also appreciate Mr. Sheldon”s commitment to the land and the environment, a theme that runs through the entire series, one that causes the reader to take pause and consider what is happening to the planet because of climate change…

“The weaving of the mystical with speculative history is fascinating; the visions help move the story and successfully set the stage for the exciting conclusion. My only regret is that the series has come to an end because I would certainly have liked to spend more time with these exceptional characters.” OnLineBookClub for Readers reviewer, Feb 12, 2022

“I’m only at the third chapter of the book and I already love it, I have read the previous two books of the series and cannot wait to see how this one turns out. Judging by this forum and its reviews, it is going to be excellent as well.” OnLineBookClub for Readers reviewer, Feb 8, 2022

“I loved the journey this book took me through. It wasn’t just the North Pacific, but it was a journey through a culture that surpassed time and place. It’ was a learning journey that can be applied today to anyone who loves the past and wants to connect past and future with one another. That writing style is what keeps readers coming back for more. The ability to not only tell a tale but make readers live within it is a blessing. GREAT series!” OnLineBookClub for Readers reviewer, Feb 3, 2022

Woke human origins?

Here below is an article about a new take on ancient humans and the eating of meat. Essentially it argues that the thesis that ancient humans shifted from plant-based foods to meat around two million years ago is not correct. This finding came not from any new evidence or studies, but from an analysis of already-found sites, their frequency, and basically a reinterpretation of the data. It seems as if the authors a building a case for a reinterpretation of humans as a killing, meat eating species.

This study, much reported of late, follows hard on the heels of a book that came out last year, The Dawn of Everything, by Graeber and Wengrow, claiming that the earliest large societies of humans were in many cases non hierarchical, lacking evidence of temples and other manifestations of class and power distinction. The book is massive, wonderfully written, and basically offers no proof for any of its conjectures, yet it is being lionized everywhere. It seems the authors are trying to argue we humans arose as a peaceful, pacific species. However, the book is admirable in confirming that indigenous peoples carried great wisdom and western industrial societies could learn much from them, and in the past have learned much from them.

It sounds like a thesis is emerging that the earliest humans were not meat eaters, primarily, and that, furthermore, human societies since the beginnings of time have chosen many forms and many of them, early on, were benign, classless, cooperative.

It is interesting that Darwin’s survival of the fittest emerged at almost exactly the same time that European nations were busy colonizing (and had been colonizing) vast swaths of the earth. One might even argue that this thesis was justifying colonial behavior, ie, if indigenous peoples could not resist invaders then this was OK because the “winners” were fitter.

There is other history whereby scientific theses were used to justify ideologically-driven points of view – for example “eugenics” being used to justify the sterilization of people considered retarded as happened in the first decades of the 20th century.

As human evolution theories expanded during the period, say, 1875 – 1960, greater numbers of ancient human-like (or human) types (or “species”) were named and discovered. Then it was found that homo erectus, the first really big brained hominid (mentioned in the attached article about meat eating) had expanded from Africa nearly 2 million years ago (coincident with the start of the ice ages) to spread all over Eurasia and Indonesia. A school of thought arose that held that the different “races” of humans arose each in their turn from erectus all over the world, with specific appearance traits like skin color, yet interbreeding enough so the difference were groups, not species, but after World War 2 this thesis lost favor to another, arguing that all modern humans arose from a single mother in Africa, “Lucy,” born about 200,000 years ago. The multiple origin thesis was declared racist, or feared would be used to support racist ideology, whereas the “Lucy” thesis held everyone was basically the same, and countered any racial tendencies. Today the multiple origin thesis is essentially banned from any discussion whatsoever.

In the years since, other hominid species have been found – Denisovian, Florensis – and genetic analysis had determined that these different types interbred with each other and with Neanderthal and with homo sapiens. It seems that hominids of many different types in the last several hundred thousand years interbred when they could. This means they were all one species.

Some might argue that science has been used as a support mechanism for ideology. Others might argue that scientific theories and social movements may be more interlinked than anyone wants to admit.

Now we seem to be entering a new era, call it “wokeness” with studies and books sifting through available data and coming up with entirely new conclusions which support the current ideological thrust of those who are trying to characterize us and our ancestors as peaceful, vegetarian, benign beings who have somehow gone entirely wrong since….agriculture? Industrialization?

As regards this meat eating study, which again is simply a reinterpretation of existing data, the authors seem to miss many salient points. One, apes and other primates are primarily plant eaters and have huge guts to process the fiber. Two, humans were able to control fire at about the same time brain size expanded and also when teeth became much smaller. Controlled fire allows for the cooking of food, the breaking down of the structure so it is easily digested. The use of fire, and cooking, required smaller teeth and meant that the energy needed to digest all those plants in earlier primates and maybe hominids could now be used to support a much expanded brain. It is all linked together.

My personal thesis is that the earliest humans ate meat when they could find it and seafood and marine food; ie, clams, shellfish, fish, marine mammals. We forget that until 12,000 years ago we humans were not the apex predator. The great animals were – short face bears, dire wolves, saber tooth tigers, lions, huge hyenas. Humans had to hide on islands and protected refugees in the ice to prosper, and many groups were wiped out, again and again. On land, or in the interior, life surely was difficult, and dangerous.

It feels, a bit, as if there is a desire and urge to somehow classify we humans as somehow evolved from a peaceful, pacific species, to thus deny danger and death and suffering and tragedy.

https://gwtoday.gwu.edu/new-study-calls-question-importance-meat-eating-shaping-human-evolution

Tribal urge stronger than survival urge?

The urge to survive is one of the strongest forces within humans. It seems that this urge is overcome, or overridden, only when a parent’s child or close relative is in imminent danger, in which case one sacrifices oneself for another, or in combat when a soldier sacrifices himself to save his friends. Except for a blood relation or combat, though, it seems the urge to survive triumphs over all else. A few years ago someone became trapped on a cliff and cut off his own arm to escape- to survive.

In the face of a deadly pandemic most people have chosen to follow whatever steps they can to survive – isolate, wear masks, and, when finally available, become vaccinated.Yet in the case of this Covid pandemic, millions of people are choosing not to take such steps, and now, with this Delta variant, tens of thousands are dying because they have refused to take the vaccine.

This counter view, that vaccines are bad, that wearing masks is weak, is held by millions, with little change despite the very clear evidence masks and vaccines either prevent catching the virus or minimize medical consequences if people do become infected. The evidence is overwhelming that deaths caused by this virus are enormously lower if people are vaccinated. Yet, still, millions refuse to take the vaccine.

The reactions to Covid are surely tribal. Most tribes of people – groups of aligned views and interests – follow the suggestions of medical experts, believing that people who must study for eight to twelve years know more about this disease than they do. There is, however, a large and intense anti-mask and anti-vaccine group, or tribe, that, despite the clear and obvious risks, nevertheless choose to welcome their exposure to that risk. This seems to be a matter of tribal belonging, identifying with this tribe, being a member. It is almost as if the need to be tribal, surely wired into we humans for group protection in the ancient past, is stronger than the urge to survive. This seems to be the case with Covid, as it was with the Jim Jones cult years ago in South America.

While appearing, initially, illogical, it may be there is a survival mechanism at place here, in that in the distant past those who held the strongest tribal ties were able to prevail over those others without such ties. In other words, maybe in the distant past there was a selection element in favor of tribal identity overpowering even the survival urge.

It seems, whether true or not in the past, this is the case today.

Dowsing for fish….

Every fall the bluefin tuna run into Cape Cod Bay and people go out with their boats to harpoon them. The boats are anywhere from 30 to 50 feet long, there’s a stand on the bow you go out on to “stick” the fish, which can be seen on the surface sunning itself. These fish are BIG up to 1,000 pounds and worth big money. One fish can be worth $ 20,000 and is sold fresh in the Tokyo market after being flown there overnight. So this is a short but big money fishery. One year my first skipper Sten was out there trying to get tunafish, with one sternman, but he got nothing. Not a thing, and he was a good fisherman.  Meanwhile my friend Gerry, who like me was first taught by Sten, was with one Elmer Costa on his big black boat the Columbia, and Gerry and Elmer had two fish. Sten was dying of curiosity, what was Gerry and Elmer doing that Sten was not? It bothered Sten. A lot. Meanwhile the season went on and Elmer and Gerry got another fish, and by this time Sten was sort of following them around, hoping to see their trick. Their technique.

This was the same year I had shown Sten with a dowsing stick where his well was, and found his gold coin, and this also perplexed him greatly, but not as much as being outfished by someone he had trained. Gerry and I had a discussion one afternoon because we both wanted to further excite Sten, and then I called Sten and said to him, “Listen, Sten, if you want to see the trick Gerry’s using, you follow Elmer tomorrow, close, get up right by their stern and take a look.”

This Sten did, it being a foggy morning so he was able to nose in real close, and he came around the stern of the Columbia and peered through the mist and saw Gerry on the stern of the Columbia holding in his hands a dowsing stick, facing aft, the stick standing upright and held in his two hands. Sten peered closer and realized that on the end of the stick Gerry was holding was an empty Bumblebee tunafish can.

This incident gave us much amusement, but then a strange thing happened. Sten began to catch fish and Gerry and Elmer were skunked, as we used to say. Sten ended the season with one more fish than Gerry and Elmer. This confused Gerry, and me, too, and one day that winter in the coffee shop we saw Sten and asked him, what changed for him? Sten gave each of us a long heavy-lidded look and cracked a slow smile.

“You were using the wrong can,” he said. “I caught my fish not with Bumblebee but with Chicken of the Sea.”

Sten passed away in 1998, brain tumor, but until he was across the bar he always said, with a perfectly straight face, when we asked, “Of course it’s true.”

Dowsing tales…True? Magic? Your lying scribe?

The stories that come to me fall in the category of adventure/magic realism, and I confess to treasuring those things in life that remain unexplained, mysterious, and hence magical. To me, one of the mist powerful indicators that magic might be real lies in dowsing.

Most people think dowsing – finding water with a stick or using a metal rod to find underground pipes and metals – is a complete hoax.  I first heard about dowsing when I was a little boy, maybe four years old, when we were living in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, a tiny community up in the hills behind Amherst. This was back in the days when roads were repaired using a truck filled with thick oil and a bed of pebbly small gravel. The truck would roll down the road and a wagon holding pebbly small gravel would drop the gravel in a thin layer on the road surface, and behind the wagon would be pulled another tank wagon holding hot thick oil, which would be dribbled into the gravel to soak in and then harden. But this was also back in the day when most of the roads up in the hills were still dirt.

Someone a few houses down the way was trying to dig a well, and had already sunk two holes without success. One day my dad grabbed me and took me on his shoulders to the property to watch a dowser, because the guy digging the well had called in the dowser to find water, find a spot to dig the third hole. The dowser seemed ancient, and his stick was completely clear of bark and shiny, and he held it in his hands before him, a forked “Y” of a stick with the two wings of the “Y” pointing down, one wing in the palm of each up-facing hand, fingers curled around. The man walked across the property holding the stick before him, single end pointing at the sky, arms straight before him. Then the stick turned down, the up-facing end turning down toward the man carrying it, which explained to me why he was holding it so straight away from himself, to give the end room to pass his face and chest.

“Here,” he said. This is a vivid memory to me, even all these years later. I also remember my dad announcing, one day after that, with great satisfaction, that the neighbor had found water where the dowser indicated. My dad, who was a wildlife biologist, and scientist, remained fascinated all his life that there remained this thing – dowsing – which defied explanation. It still does, it seems.

The year after my freshman year in college I had a summer job in the hills of Western Massachusetts removing the brush beneath a power line right of way running from the Connecticut River to the Yankee Atomic power plant in southern Vermont. It was hard work, the summer was hot, the brush thick. There were six of us on the crew, all kids 18 or 19 years old. One day during a break one of the kids, Alan, announced he was a dowser. I said to him, remembering my four year old memory, “Prove it.” He marched off to some thick brush and cut a living branch from a willow-like small tree, Y-shaped, and he held it just as had the old dowser years before. We all watched him as he walked back and forth until the stick began to turn down, and it was easy to see he was fighting it, trying to prevent the stick from turning. But, once it started, as he moved, it kept going. By the end his face was red. I thought he might be playing a trick, so I cut a branch from the same tree, held it just as Alan had, and I started walking.

When the stick began to move it pulled toward me and then down, and, try as I might, I could not hold it back. It was unbelievable, that power. The stick was from a living bush and I was strong and I fought it, holding as tight as I could, and yet the stick kept pointing down. The force was so strong the bark surrounding the stick ripped off the stick in my hands. Peter, and Neil, two of the other guys tried it, too, but it didn’t work with them. They didn’t believe Alan or me at all when we spoke of the force.

I imagine you, too, may be rolling your eyes, as so many do. Some of you, those who have tried it and felt the power, are nodding, others may be intrigued, but I suspect most are shaking their heads.

I became a believer that day, had to, because the power of that force was astounding, unmistakable, and real. Whence came it? Some kind of charge between the water in the stick and water below? Perhaps some twisting of gravity? A mental force, perhaps?

Of course we didn’t dig out there in that rocky right of way to see if there was water there, so we never knew, then, exactly, but that force was real.

It was later, and another story, or two, that I learned what that stick was pointing toward.