14 September 2011

And then the rains came

It’s hurricane season on the east coast. Every week or so the news outlets start mumbling about the next storm brewing off the coast of Florida or in the Caribbean. Most of them pass by without event, or even precipitation. The highly anticipated Hurricane Irene, which did serious damage further north, only brought some wind to Central PA. A few trees were toppled in the surrounding neighborhood. They landed on some power lines and we lost our electricity for a few hours.

But the greater, more lasting, impact so far came from an unassuming tropical storm named Lee. This weather system brought rain that sat on us for days. On Tuesday we had some mild leaks in the basement. We remedied the damp cement floor with fans.  Twenty-four hours later the water was dribbling with enthusiasm through holes we didn’t know existed. The storm water drains in the city were beyond capacity. Manhole covers were blown off and the excess water couldn’t be contained. The water had nowhere to go, but up. And it did, into basements, garages, homes, and businesses. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated in York and the surrounding counties. Roads closed, or had sections wash away.

Our basement took on a very small portion of the storm drain’s excess. Because our sump pump have given up the ghost years ago and was slowly decaying in the corner, we used our shop vacuum to suck the water off the basement floor. (I ventured out into the rain once in search of a replacement pump, but so did everyone else in the city. There was not a sump pump available for purchase within 75 miles.)

We rested the vacuum on the corner of the washing machine, sucked 16 gallons at a time into it, and then drained the water into the washer. After three vacuums full, the washing machine was at capacity. A quick turn on the spin cycle drained the water. After 10 hours of sucking and draining, we were just barely able to keep up with the flow.

Our neighbors were not so lucky. They had open drains to the sewer lines in their basement floors. When the storm drains overflowed, thousands of gallons were pushed up into their basements. Our two neighbors to the north got over three feet of water each.  While they lost most of their stored belongings, we mostly just lost time. Not a bad deal overall.

On the positive side, our basement floor is very clean now. We dumped half a bottle of bleach into the standing water to prevent mold growth.

08 September 2011

Help Tastes of Africa

Earlier this year I put together a sound piece about Tastes of Africa, a beloved catering company that has been a part of the Upper Valley community in New Hampshire and Vermont for 20+ years.

According to Friends of Tastes of Africa, "the company recently expanded their kitchen to accomodate a huge new contract to deliver their delicious food to West Point,  and to universities and hospitals around New England.  The flood happened literally days after completing expensive new electrical work on the new space, which was gorgeous and is now in ruins.  They are still working to assess their losses, but they have sustained heavy equipment loss (equipment they own outright) and will need to be replacing things as quickly as possible to fill their orders."

They are looking at the steep number of $150,000 to begin again.

Please feel to write to this e-mail address ( with suggestions, contribution questions, or  leads!  If you would like to make a financial contribution, it can be sent by check to: Taste of Africa; 52 Bridge Street, White River Junction, VT 05001
Or contribute via Pay Pal at the following web address:
Thank you for your support!!

If you are not familiar with Tastes of Africa, and the owners Mel and Damaris, please listen to the sound piece as an introduction.

07 September 2011

Neotropical Rainforest of Panama

Thanks to Annette – Richard’s sister – Richard and I got a unique view of the Canal and the rainforest of Panama. Annette’s current research with Princeton University and the Smithsonian Tropical ResearchInstitute (STRI) has brought her to the Central American rainforest multiple times. This time, she spent her summer studying nitrogen fixation on small, remotely accessible islands, in Lago Gatun – a manmade lake created during the Canal construction to cut down on length and dredging needs. All the islands in Lago Gatun have only been there for a hundred years, but STRI scientists have made them the most intensively studied areas in the neotropics, says my Lonely Planet guidebook.

 Isla Barro Colorado (BCI), which houses STRI’s world-renowned research facility, is where we took a ferry early on our second morning in Panama.

From there, Annette donned her captain’s hat, and piloted us from BCI to another island where her field plots are growing. To be on a small, private boat in the Panama Canal alongside huge oil tankers and cargo ships was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. The sun was bright and warm, the breeze cool and swift. The half-hour boat ride could have lasted forever, as long as I was concerned.

At Annette’s sites we helped her distribute nutrients and then explored the island. There were lots of other sites speckled around the island, put there by other STRI graduate students, all looking at different, yet very specific, slices of the neotropic rainforest.

“It always surprises me that the rainforest isn’t that lush,” said Annette as we wandered along a muddy trail. On a dry, sunny day the forest floor looks not unlike most temperate forests I’ve visited, just with different flora. The rain can change that. But so can a trip to the canopy. Since we didn’t get rained on until the end of our trip, my opinion of the lush-factor changed the next day when we visited the Rainforest DiscoveryCenter in the Canal Zone. We climbed their 30-meter tower to be at canopy level. Up there, lush was the only word to describe it.

Fog sat quietly in patches on the dawn horizon with brightly colored flashes of feathers weaving expertly through the treetops, resting on occasion for a brief respite from the morning’s activities.

Three-toed sloths hung languidly in the sun. A howler monkey mother let her newborn climb all over her with its boundless energy.

The whole ecosystem was overflowing with life, from the birds in the trees to the epiphytes growing on their host plants to the millions of ants, cutting and harvesting leaves to march proudly home.

But this lively place was not free from human impaction. The most prevalent type of trash we found was shoes – in pieces or whole. They were floating in the Canal, scattered along roads, and covered in mud in parking lots. Like most countries in the last 100 years, Panama had not yet figured out waste management. This country’s economy has grown rapidly over the last few years, and with growth comes waste. According to the Latin Business Chronicle, Panama has the fastest growing, and best managed, economy in Central America.

 Boating in the Canal.
 Annette at work in the rainforest.
 Epiphyte in the canopy.
 Toucan in flight.
 Butterfly on Birds of Paradise plant.
 Tree defense strategy.
Leaf cutter ants.

As my first taste of the tropics, I was very happy with my visit to Panama.