Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Great Lakes Cyclone

The Upper Midwest/Great Lakes region was/is still being hit by a storm that, according to the National Weather Service Facebook Page, had conditions of a Category 3 hurricane, and made the storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald look like a breezy summers day. (Okay, maybe I exaggerate, but it still beat that storm by a bit.)

When they first started predicting 50 mph wind gusts, I was a little nervous. Monday night was almost eerily quiet. Maybe I was just imagining things, but the world seemed so still, perhaps because everybody was home battening down hatches. Tuesday morning dawned a bit breezy, but didn't seem that strange to me. I work at the airport, so we're used to getting some of the strongest winds across the runway. The dripping rain and muggy air was rather miserable for late October. But, not remarkable, other than some flickering lights and reports of power outages around the region.

Then Tuesday night I drove to Minocqua for band rehearsal. It was windy enough that driving was a challenge, and when I arrived I struggled to escape my car against a wall of wind. The drive home was a matter of dodging debris from fallen trees on the recently-cleared roads.

I entered my house fully prepared for the lights to not come on. But, to my surprise, the power was on and all was well. Unfortunately, I wasn't smart enough to fill my bathtub with reserve water just in case.

The winds increased in intensity yet again after midnight. Still, nothing unusual happened, though it was hard to sleep. I drifted off, but at 5 AM Wednesday morning was awoken by a loud thudding and a flash of light visible through my blinds. It wasn't until 7:30 AM that it was finally light enough for me to see the damage.

It was only one tree, but one very unlucky tree. It didn't just fall, and it didn't just fall across my driveway. And, it didn't just fall across my driveway and across the powerlines to my house. This carefully aimed tree managed to fall on all these things, while also taking down the power pole that brought the lines to my house, snapping it cleanly in half on its way down.

I haven't lost any other trees or suffered any other damage (yet). But, while we were lucky that it also cleanly cut the power lines so there was no danger of electrocution and we could at least get the driveway cleared, it also means that it's going to be quite a job to put in another pole and do all the rewiring.

With nearly half of the Wisconsin Public Service customers in my zip code, and some 25,000 customers across the region out of power, I doubt I'm high on their priority list. They're already predicting some homes won't have electricity restored until Friday or Saturday.

Luckily for me, I can be a refugee in my parents' home for the duration. There are many others who aren't as lucky. There's discussion of establishing shelters for those without a warm place to go. Actually, if it weren't for the shortage of water and heat, I'd actually be able to get along just fine. But our homes aren't made for living without electricity anymore. The furnace is gas, but requires an electric ignition pilot light and circulation pump. The water comes from an electric pump from the well. If it weren't for the heat, I could probably even haul my own water from home. But no heat in Wisconsin is a problem. Or at least a problem I don't want to deal with.

Requisite ironical note of all this? One of the local chambers of commerce is advertising a disaster awareness seminar. Oh, and all the area disaster response coordinators are out of the state at a training in Washington, D.C. Perfect timing.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Work and Thinking About Work

Some people claim they are incapable of multi-tasking. While I may not actually be capable of multi-tasking well, I have discovered that it is impossible for me to work and think about work at the same time.

It’s like trying to gaze at the horizon and reading the map in front of you at the same time. I can think about where I am going and map out a course to get there, but if I try to do that while I am navigating city streets and looking for a particular address, I’ll only manage to get lost while not knowing where I am going.

So, when I land at a conference with 750 of my closest colleagues and friends after a week of swimming in project minutia and entrails of e-mails and meetings, it’s really hard to pull my brain out of the grassroots and climb back up to ivory watch tower.

It took me at least a day to let go of the fact that I hadn’t returned a phone call to reserve a hall for an event taking place in December and start thinking about whether that event is really the thing I should be doing at all. Rather than feeling energized by the possibilities and ideas being shared at the conference - much less contribute effective ideas to the organizational strategic planning process - I felt frustrated, overwhelmed, and irritated that there was the suggestion that all the work I was currently working on was either for naught or missing critical pieces that would make it worthwhile.

And now that I am back, it is going to take at least a day to rid myself of all those big pictures and bright-eyed dreams and focus back down to the daily steps necessary to make anything happen at all.

Next time I’m going to have to plan in advance before I start letting people steer this cargo ship I have for a brain in new directions.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stark Naked

A few weeks ago I was severely depressed. Labor Day came, and the “autumn” switch got flipped right with the calendar page. We went from highs in the 80s and even 90s to frost warnings in the course of a weekend. Fall is usually my favorite time of year, but, as I faced the certainty of my second complete winter since my return from the tropics staring my face, I was unnerved. The color of the leaves began changing, and while fall colors are my favorite palate in the world, I kept looking past them to the moment they would be gone and the world would be left bleak and grey.

Fortunately we did get our miracle of a proper Indian summer in October - a week of days with temperatures in the 70s and even some 80s after a couple of hard freezes. The colors were glorious and the sun shone brightly.

All it took was a thunderstorm followed by couple of windy days and the leaves were gone, and even the tamarack trees shed their needles in golden snow flurries. The tree branches were left shivering with embarrassment at their sudden nakedness in the shadowy October moonlight.

But then, as I drove home on a clear afternoon I looked out over an expanse of grey tree branches and I saw in them the stark beauty of winter. I had been dreading it so much that I had forgotten the clarity that comes with the season. Where summer is thick with humidity and crowded with vegetation springing up everywhere, late autumn and winter are crisp and fresh and everything pulls back and gives you room to breath. I can see through the forest now, even to see the light from my parents’ house a quarter mile away, shining through the branches. They eyes can stretch again and you can see deer passing through the woods hundreds of yards away.

Even the more monotone color wheel brings a sigh of relief after the absolute riot of color that was autumn and the intense greeness of the world of summer. The eye only needs to process one color at a time, not millions. Life suddenly seems to have become simpler, clearer, cleaner. And when there is color now, the world really means it, and focuses on making it the best color there is.

I’m still not sure my tropic-thinned blood is ready for another long winter, but my eye and my mind are ready for the clear air and bright days ahead.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I don't ask much from my footwear designers. I don't need Nike high-top, super-cushioned, inner-spring, memory foam, buckwheat-stuffed, all-terrain, 4WD water-walking running shoes. Nor do I need nine inch nail spike heeled and pointy toed black leather knee-high designer boots. Neither are going to do me any good as 1) I don't run and 2) I don't design or make a habit of walking on men.

I do, however, ask a lot of my footwear. I walk in them. Every day. In all sorts of weather. And, usually, once I find something I like, I wear them until they fall off my feet with a plaintive cry for mercy.

And, I hate shoe shopping. Detest it. Probably because I can never find what I want or need. And that's probably because so many other people love the fact that they can buy a new pair of shoes for every day of the year. Whereas my goal is the find something that I can wear every day of the year and never need another pair.

I like boots. Actually, I really like the boots I have right now. Black, real leather. Basic flat sole with just a hint of a heel. Zipper on the inside, fits snug, ankle high. Børn boots, so they are really well made. I bought them about a year ago, and have probably worn them on 320 days since. I wear them in winter, I wear them in spring, I wear them in fall. Only on the 80 and 90 degree days did I not wear them. They go with almost anything. I wear them hiking, I wore them to my job interviews. They are the perfect Common Sense Boot.

So, are you surprised to learn that Børn no longer makes said boots? And should I be surprised that there is nothing even remotely similar in the line they now offer?

If you have any doubts, go to their website and see for yourself. And then go ahead and check the other boot sellers. Remember, I'm looking for real leather, low-to-no heel, no slouch, will last at least 365 days of continuous wear in all conditions, relatively easy on-and-off, and for goodness sake, NO POINTY TOES, chains, buckles fur, or other bling.

I would pay good money for a pair of well-made boots that fit my needs.

Anybody know a really good cobbler?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Best of Seven

It's been a while since I've been on here, but it's been a fairly intense few weeks. So, I'll take seven quick glances over things as they have been.

1. Brakes are a really good thing to have on a car. They're even better to have on a car before you being a 700 mile, three city, two training road trip. Unfortunately I didn't have brakes in time for said trip, so my parents were kind enough to loan me Sir Locks-a-Lot to see me safely across the state. It is always strange to return to driving automatic transmission after having only a clutch vehicle for so long.

2. Large Event #1 is successfully marked off the calendar. I played a relatively minor role in the overall scheme of things, but it is nice to have had it come off so well nonetheless. I am always relieved when something large is over and has been a success, but also a little disappointed that so much effort culminates so quickly and then is gone. Now time to dive into preparing for upcoming Large Event #2 and Really Obnoxiously Big Large Event #3.

3. I made my live television debut last week. All two minutes of it. Whee.

4. Cranberry Fest was this weekend. Unfortunately the date coincided with a planned trip to Madison, but I still managed to lead one cranberry marsh and winery tour on Friday. This year the harvest was in full swing, so all the amazing cranberry factoids I learned for last year were far less useful this time around. In fact, I barely needed to speak at all. But the tourists were happy and bought a lot of stuff. Seems the cranberry products industry is fairly recession proof.

5. I am now learning my way around Madison, to the point that I can have a reasonable argument with the GPS as to which way is the best way to my destination. And I often win.

6. Peak color season is here. By "color" I do mean the fall colors of the trees. This is my favorite time of year, however I'm having a hard time celebrating the sudden return of cold. We're not even really being offered "crisp" - we've pretty much just been dunked into pre-winter. I am trying to come to terms with this cheerfully.

7. I just added up my vacation days. I am due a long one.