At the old homestead, in Proctor, we had a fence.  It ran, on the east, from the front corner of house – parallel to the front face of the house – to the property line.  A ninety-degree angle at the property line, and the fence ran up hill to the edge of the driveway.  A similar configuration of fence was on the westerly side of the property and house.  The fence was constructed of eight-feet long sections of lumber; the rails and stiles of each panel came together into a butt joint.  We stretched and stapled welded wire to the wood frame.

In back of the yard, directly in from of the driveway and from garage to the property line, we had a wood slat privacy fence; we also had a solid wood set of gates.

Our neighbor, across the alley from us, was a cantankerous curmudgeon.  There is nothing wrong with being a curmudgeon, there is nothing wrong with being a cantankerous curmudgeon, but he also happened to be a busybody.

I often thought of him as Jimmy Stewart’s character in Hitchcock’s Rear Window.  He was always sitting in his window; he was constantly aware of any motion or activity outside his window.  He would comment after the fact about the comings and goings of our house.  “I see you brought home some groceries two nights ago – about 6:00 pm; where do you go shopping?”

When it became apparent to him that we were putting up a privacy fence, albeit a short privacy fence across the back of the yard in front of the driveway, he got decidedly cranky.  “You know, Alex, a neighbor might take it the wrong way, you know, with you walling off your yard and all.”

I asked him if he had ever read North of Boston by Robert Frost.  I went on to say that there was a poem in this book called, “Mending Wall”, with the line “Good fences make good neighbors.”  Neighbor gave an half-annoyed, half-inquisitive “Who?”

The privacy fence went up, and the prickliness of the neighbor eventually subsided to his everyday-normal-baseline prickliness.

It worked very well.  It limited the snooping of those behind our yard, and helped block our view of our vehicles and whatever other random heaps of stuff we may have had in the driveway.

Now, in St. Paul, we have a bit more space.  In Proctor, we fenced off half of our little-under a quarter-acre and that included a house in that footprint, as well.  At the new place, we have over an acre.  The main yard area goes from the road in the front, past the house and a couple hundred feet (~ 60 meters) back where it meets the wooded area of our property.  From the edge of this yard-clearing, to the property line is another hundred feet (~ 30 meters).  This area is heavily wooded and has a diverse collections of flora and fauna.

After returning from Boston, at the beginning of October, we started to sink fence posts.  Work, fleeting day late and school got in the way of working on the fence during the week, so, each weekend, weather depending, we put in time.

Two sets of weekends, and the posts were in the ground.  We would start on fence panels.

The constructions of the panels was identical to those we used at the old place. The only exception would be size; the panels are a foot and a half taller.  Melissa eventual plans for a coonhound; coonhounds like to climb.

A weekend here, a single Saturday there, the panels went together.  Hugging the slope of the ground where needed; we put a pair of five feet wide gates at the front of the yard to drive a vehicle into the yard.  The gates are set at a 5° slope to match the ground.

A third of the way through the fence project, it snowed and briefly became cold.  We were almost certain the remainder of the fence would have to wait until spring.  Luckily, the weather turned nice, and we were back in action.

With the help of Melissa’s dad (throughout the project, actually), a really nice Saturday, and some extra long electrical extension cords to reach the back of the property from the house, we finished up the fence.  The hounds were released and ran and ran and ran for the remainder of the afternoon after we finished.

During the construction of the fence, we got to know our neighbors a little better; they came to see the fence and chat.  Very nice people, but we will need time to find out if our good, new fence will result in good neighbors.


Hershey’s Chocolate – A Digression

Earlier today, I was out in the back of our property; we have an old garage, an old, rotting pile of wood, and a fire-pit, among other things.  I had a nice fire going in fire-pit; even though the logs are very much to the point of crumbling, they still burn quite nicely.

Our nieces and their mother stopped by the house at one point.  The girls came running out to the back to see the fire.  I tossed another log on.  The nieces kept asking if we have any chocolate bars, graham crackers and marshmallows.  They wanted to make s’mores.

Luckily, unknown to the two of them, Melissa, my wife, was out and about and was bringing back those three different ingredients.

I shifted the red embers to make a nice place to toast marshmallows.  I pulled

the pack of chocolate bars out; Hershey’s Milk Chocolate.  I realized that something was slightly different with the packaging.  I had noticed this before, but it had not really registered.  The bars were wrapped in a plastic film.

Maybe it is because it is November, and as a youngster, November meant deer hunting.  Deer hunting meant staying in Side Lake, MN, traveling to Angora, MN via the Dean Forest road, eating lukewarm beef stew from a Stanley widemouth thermos, and having a Hershey’s bar after the stew.  The Hershey’s bars were packaged with a paper wrapper and under the paper, wrapping the

This lack of foil and paper around the chocolate bar was slightly disturbing; it seemed wrong that Hershey’s would have meddled with such a simple, yet classic packaging.

Upon a little bit of Internet sleuthing, it turns out that Hershey’s discontinued the foil-and-paper in 2003.  Apparently, I have not been paying attention to what is in vogue for candy packaging for nearly the last ten years.  Further reading revealed that by beloved foil and paper wrapper had less than a twenty year run.  Starting in 1984, the foil replaced a white glassine inner paper.  So much for “tradition.”  I was how long the godawful plastic film will be in use before it, too, is replaced with something more obnoxious.

On a tradition + chocolate note, a book I read a couple years ago comes to mind: Chocolate Wars, by Deborah Cadbury.  It is a fascinating look at the capitalistic world of chocolate oligopolies over a 150 year period.


Disruptive Forces

We are back in Minnesota after spending a week or so in the Boston, Massachusetts.  Our mode of transportation was an automobile.  I am not fond of commercial radio and I have been trending toward financial/monetary podcasts as well as political podcasts.  Of the podcasts we listened to, I kept noticing a common idea that threaded its way through them.  The idea or tacit notice would popup here or it would popup there.  The idea is not new, it is not even that exciting.  Nassim Taleb, Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute, wrote a book on the subject called The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.  I lean more toward a less eloquent sounding name: disruptive forces.

Outside, it is in the low 40s F (~5.5 C), but I am sitting in our living room; we have a nice fire going in the fireplace.  With a dip into the mid-30s (~1.6 C) on the docket for this evening, a nice fire feels, well, quite nice. We are burning wood from our property – walnut, apple, and cedar, but mostly, we are using buckthorn (pdf).

In Minnesota, at the Federal government level and in forty-five other states, buckthorn is considered a “noxious weed.”  The designation of “noxious weed” is a way in which governments can apply a whole host of existing laws and regulations without explicitly codifying Rhamnus cathartica L. in legislation.  Noxious weeds are generally considered detrimental to economical or societal wellbeing (Cannabis sativa, for example, is classified as a “noxious weed” in many states; whether Cannabis is detrimental economically or societally, is, in an of itself, a completely other topic). This means that there are regulations in place to disincentivize the further dissemination of buckthorn and the others on the list of noxious weeds.  Even the penalties associated with the laws and regulations that are supposed to govern willfully and knowingly the spread of noxious weeds and invasive species (both flora and fauna) can be viewed as an attempt at a disruptive force.

With this idea of disruptive forces bobbling around in my head for most of our time in Boston and on the road to and from Boston, we were driving through Chicago, Illinois, last week, I was listening to a podcast of Science Friday.  The segment that struck me as being particularly fascinating was the discussion and pitching of Steven Strogatz‘s new book, The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Mathematics from Zero to Infinity.  Steven is a Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.  The book itself sounds quite interesting – as the playful title might suggest, it is a book where you get a smattering of mathematics without having to hold a bachelors degree in mathematics; you will not be held to know a Bernoulli differential equation from a Bernoulli trial.

\Huge{\lim_{x \to \infty} \dfrac{1}{x} = 0}  The segment that I piqued my curiosity was that of the discussion of zero and infinity. It is common place, nowadays, to simply disregard zero as that number that is after negative one but before positive one.  It is a special number – multiply any number by zero, and you get zero.  Add zero to a number and you get that same number back.  And, of course, there is infinity.  It is universally accepted by all but a fringe; infinity, however, can still be a difficult concept to get one’s noodle around.  Infinity, like zero, has special properties.  Divide any regular number by infinity, and you get zero back (the calculus limit, above, is a way of expressing this).  Infinity minus one is still infinity.  There are other properties, as well.

What does zero or infinity have to do with disruptive forces?  You need only to look at the late-medieval into the early Renaissance-era Europe and the Catholicism that ruled academia and most aspects of knowledge, life and thought of that time.  Giordano Bruno, an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, and for his time, a free thinking radical.  Bruno was born in 1548 A.D. and became an ordained priest by the age of 24.

Among Bruno’s “crazy” ideas that caused the Church to get all-up-in-his-business was how he considered infinity to exist outside the context of God.   The Church felt this notion, this belief was disruptive enough to warrant an inquisition.  Remember what Monty Python character, Ximénez shouts, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”  And of course, the end result of his trial by this Roman Inquisition was rather disruptive for Bruno’s continuation as a living person: he was burned at the stake for being a heretic.

Let us jump back to invasive species.  When you think of invasive species, if you are in eastern Minnesota, you might think of lamprey or zebra mussels.  If you are in a cohort of beekeepers in Ontario, in and around Thunder Bay, you will likely think of another pest: Varroa destructor, also known as, varroa mites. With an importation ban on honeybees from the United States to the south, and geographic isolation – 700 km to the east and west from most populations, Thunder Bay was on the short list of outposts of varroa-free honeybee colonies.  Varroa first made it into Canada in 1989, but because of Thunder Bay’s isolation  and because of the watchful eyes and ears of one zealous beekeeper named Jeanette Momot, the area stayed mite free…until the late summer of 2012.

Searching through my emails and group message posting to construct a timeline, I first noticed something was a miss with my friends in Thunder Bay when, by chance, I noticed a terse posting from Dean Harron (I last wrote about Dean in my North to Ontario post) referencing a conversation he and I had started on April 8, 2012.  More digging into posts; I found the conversation Dean was referring to:

However if we import bees from the south we all will not have any bees or beekeepers in the North at all. Alot of time and patience has been devoted by our senior beekeepers to have it remain this way, however there are some beekeepers that do not agree…what a shame!  We hope their egos will be satisfied when this destruction happens in the Northwest [of Ontario].  It will not be beneficial to anyone to say the least.

The “senior beekeepers” Dean speaks of include Jeanette Momot, previous written about in the same North to Ontario post, and himself.  Saying that the senior beekeepers were devoted is putting it lightly.  In June of 2011, I had an email conversation with Jeanette; I asked her about the history of the Thunder Bay bees.  She replied with a lengthy and interesting history of the bees, her background and a self-deprecating shot at her bee-addiction:

I started grad school in the Entomology Department at Iowa State University with Walter C. Rothenbuhler in March of 1962, where he was working on hygienic behavior of honeybees.  It had been found that this behavior made them resistant to the devastating disease American foulbrood, which had destroyed countless colonies in the states previously.  I spent the summer of ’62 working with his group on this problem at Iowa State in Ames, Iowa.  Then he was offered a position at Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, and several of his graduate students were invited to transfer as well.  So I was involved with these studies until 1964, when I received my M.S. from Ohio State.  I worked for the USDA in Fargo, N Dakota on insect control problems for a couple of years, then married and wound up back in Columbus among the bees.  We moved to Thunder Bay in 1975, but didn’t have bees until we purchased our country property in l977.  We have been keeping bees, producing honey and raising queens ever since.  Of course, I always looked for hygienic behavior in the queen mother used for the bulk of queens produced, as well as wintering success, gentleness, and honey production in the progeny, but also tried to raise a queen from each colony as well, to keep the genetic diversity.  That works because queens mate with 15 to 20 drones each.Inbreeding would lead to poor brood viability.  If the colony wasn’t hygienic, I would replace her, of course.  We had a wide assortment of bees here in the Thunder Bay District.  I was partial to the Buckfast line developed by Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey in England.  I was able to acquire Buckfast bees from Weaver’s Apiaries in Navasota Texas, and I would usually buy some queens from them each spring, until the border to Canada from the U. S. was closed in 1987.  We also had Mraz bees, Carniolans from Hawaii and elsewhere, Caucasians, Italians — we tried everything.   I always raised some queens, but since 1987 have produced all of my own queens, as well as many for the local Thunder Bay District beekeepers.  We worked hard to keep our area free of mites, and have succeeded so far.  I  also sold some bees to Mn beekeepers along the north shore of Lake Superior for many years, and they must like them, as they keep coming back for more.  We are one of the few mite free areas left in the world, and are having a hard time convincing our government to protect our status.  It is also too bad that we cannot send nucs across the border, as it is very difficult to shake packages of bees in 50F weather, and we have that and colder even at the end of May.  Our biggest problem is the weather, the long cold winters and our short growing season.  Of course farming methods, cut before bloom to keep the protein content of the forage high doesn’t help either.  July used to be the best month for honey production; now it is often our worst.  But beekeeping is still very addictive;  I have been trying to quit for about 10 years now.  Maybe it is an obsession!

Jeanette Momot – June 20, 2011

Jeanette has been the driving force behind keeping mites out of the Thunder Bay region.  She has gone to great lengths to preserve her work; she mentioned once to several of us that she had a mole at the post office in Thunder Bay, and if someone had honeybees mailed in to the region, she would get a call from this mole.  She would then contact the person who purchased the bees and explain the potential harm these non-Thunder Bay bees could pose to everyone’s apiaries in the district.  She would then go one step further; if the person would agree to destroy the package of bees, she would replace it for them with a package of local bees plus a queen at no charge.

Thus, twenty-five years of work is now threatened.  Late this summer word started to trickle down from the Thunder Bay region; varroa mites had arrived.  This unfortunate happening will go unnoticed by the scores of Canadian tourists that pass through Thunder Bay on their way to points south – like for the shopping excursions into Duluth, MN.  A small handful of dedicated hobbyist beekeepers in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota, have taken notice and are now trying to measure the situation, gauging what to do next year for they made annual treks north of the border to obtain fresh packages of mite-free bees and queens.  It is a disruptive force select handful of fellow beekeepers.

What’s next?

We are roughly two-thirds through the calendar year and it has been been a ride.  With the start of 2012, my sights were set on the middle of March – my scheduled trip to Japan.  On the way to March, things at the office went south (this is not the place to go into detail of what exactly that means).  Melissa was feeling the same tension and stress at work, as well.  My mental health was lagging and I would really feel the stress.  Japan would be a great diversion from reality.

The crescendo came the day before I was to fly out to Japan.  The thought of change – real change – had popped into my head a while before this, but between mental and physical health, the idea of massive-change had, frankly, frightened me.  However, the prospect of leaving for Japan for two weeks was liberating.  What if we were to press reset?

The University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, had several job openings in my field.  There was even an opening in a department that I had interviewed with and had been offered a position with two years prior.  An all around spectacular department, the offer, at that time, was just wrong timing.

Before flying out to Japan, I told Melissa that I wanted a new job.  I would be completely down with moving out of the Duluth area – only if she was down with the idea, as well.

As I reported in a several blog posts, Japan was wonderful, it was calming, it was grounding.

As I mentioned in another blog post, we quit our jobs in Duluth, moved south to Saint Paul and in with Melissa’s parents.  We brought hounds Sarge & Henry (Sarge has since passed on) with us and settled in for what could be a very long summer with the in-laws.

I was offered and did accept a position at the University of Minnesota in the Minnesota Population Center as a senior software engineer.  Melissa did a stint at a local home brew supply company and has since accepted a position at an independent advertising agency as a senior digital developer.

While living with the in-laws was never intended as a permanent solution, the itch for a our own place to call home was quite strong.  I never quite felt like I could comfortably sit in their in living in my underwear; we needed our own place to call home.

We looked at many, many places.  While looking, we found some that we liked, and others that would have been best to be pushed over, burnt and never spoken of, again.

The primary criterion was land and associated criteria for the land.  We wanted at least an acre (0.40 hectare) relatively shallow incline (hound-Henry has a bum-leg, and does not traverse steep inclines well).
Located in West Lakeland Township, near Stillwater, MN, we found a pleasant little home on 1.1/3 acres (0.54 hectares); two stories, nice garage, and nice oak trees.  It had issues, though.  Very steep hill, but more discouraging – was a short sale.  Our realtor was not keen on this, and neither were we; we kept looking.

I planted monarda plants at our new place yesterday.  We are semi-settled in; half of our things are still in storage in Duluth.  Located in the southeastern corner of Saint Paul, we found our place on 1.09 acres (0.44 hectare) of low, gently sloping hill; single story, stucco exterior, and hardwood floors inside.  Even though our zipcode says “Saint Paul,” and and designation is “urban” – we still have the things that happily remind me of the not-so-metropolitan: whitetail deer, wild turkeys, bear, and coyotes.

It feels quite nice to have changed directions; new city, new job, new house, new yard.

What’s next?  Plat out where the vegetable garden(s) will go; prune the many fruit and nut trees on the property, remodel an old garage on the property, remove the hundreds of buckthorn trees, rehabilitate two of the apple trees, and just try to be happy.

Gardenless Summer with a Side of Change

Minneapolis Sky Line from the UofM

Before I went to Japan, things had been bothering me.  I was not as happy as I would have liked to be with my day job; something felt off, out of whack, and unbalanced.  I need a change.  Melissa was not content with her day job; she could use a change, too.

We talked it over and settled upon exploring the possibility of moving away from the Duluth area.  Perhaps, even perchance, we move to Twin Cities area – Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota.  But, first, we needed jobs.  But before needed to look for jobs, I needed to head to Japan for two weeks.  Job perusing would have to wait until I returned from the land of the rising sun.

As much as I dislike Sheryl Crow, she was spot on with a change would do you good.  Japan was what I needed in March.  Japan was what helped me step back from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind.  Slowly, the idea of moving for opportunities, for change, seemed more appealing.

Months before leaving for Japan, we had put our spring plans into motion; ordering chickens and ducks, and hoping to fence in the front yard for a larger vegetable garden.  Grape vines were ordered to place along the fence that divided the chickens from the dogs.  Last fall, we even started to cover the grass in the front yard with cardboard, compost and dirt.

Shortly after returning from Japan, I set to work retooling my resume and began to drop a line into the Twin Cities’ job pool.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago; I quit my job at the University of Minnesota Duluth for a job in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota in the Minnesota Population Center.  Melissa will be starting a job in the Twin Cities at a local home brew and wine-making-supply company doing odd job IT work.  We sold all the chickens in Proctor; we moved all the Proctor beehives to Normanna Township; we repainted the house; we refinished the hardwood floors in the house; we sold our house and close on the sale in late July.

In the mean time, I am staying with my in-laws in St. Paul with one of the hounds; Melissa will be joining me next week.  Looking for a new house to call home is most likely my least favorite part of this leg of the adventure of changing careers.  But that is purely a whine on my part.

So, no gardens this season, no chickens this season, and no hives at our home (at the moment).