Some Fierce Finns and a Few Ferocious Fliers

In June a Eurail pass took us around Finland.  Dogs are welcome in their own section of the train:eDogsOnTrain_6009

But I saw they are treated even better in Washington Dulles airport:

e 6463 HydrantOne very remote station close to the Russian border was so small there was no platform, or even rail staff – just this dog guarding everything:

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On seeing us he looked happier thinking fresh meat might have arrived:

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That station was only about 10 km from the Russian border where Rubles seem to have leaked across judging by the size of the Dachas, some with trilingual “Keep Out” signs in their gardens in Russian, English and then finally Finnish.

A fine trail through the woods, where we fed the meat-eating mosquitos,eMosquito_6230

had this surprising sign:

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I’d thought we were in the original home of cross country skiing?  Or perhaps the sign just means don’t squat when skiing?

The Finns have a great new (to me) “nano-material” waxless ski base which is reportedly very effective between and freezing and -10 C snow temperatures. The material feels like the finest texture seal skin with its one way slide and stick in the other direction.  It totally replaces the large fish-scale waxless surfaces of old.  I found some in overstocked sports stores because, thanks to last winter’s climate change, the Helsinki snow was so sparse that I had more days skiing in Toledo, Ohio than they had.  I was thrilled to find a great set for about 300 Euros, and tried to ship them Fed Ex because we were flying with just hand baggage.  The only problem was that Fed Ex would have wanted 800 Euros just for the shipping!

Way north, at the Arctic Circle the sun never set on June 20th.  This photo taken at 11:00 pm searched for a small gap in the leafy trees to show the sun’s position, without over-saturating the iPhone’s pixels.

ePinholeSun_6025 Turning around, to face due South (think about it!) the tree acted as a pinhole light source and gave this nice sharp shadow.

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Even at 2:00 am this view looking due north shows an ever-present sun:

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The irony was that right then there was a huge solar storm with Northern Lights visible elsewhere (at night) as far south as Atlanta, Georgia.  Of course, in Lapland in June we saw absolutely nothing because there was no darkness to the night!  In their long nights of winter they typically see the lights weekly.

Near Santa’s village right on the Arctic Circle there is a line in the ground to prove it.  Sorry I forgot the check its accuracy with my phone GPS!  We were still only about ¾ of the way from the equator to the North Pole (about 22 more degrees of latitude needed).

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We met “Rudolph”. He did not look too fierce, but was definitely grumpy,

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so we only fed this young one:

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The reindeer are herded in for tourists for a few months and then turned back out into the Taiga to keep them “fresh”.

This young herder is drinking his coffee from his traditional birch wood “kuksa”

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– same design as the one this delicious (reindeer!) soup was served in,

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followed by (pseudo) Lichen and ice cream:

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Magnificent Lupins were everywhere, alongside highways and railroad tracks:

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Some Finns say they come from Russia and are not always welcomed!  Only in the special sand of Oak Openings can we grow them in Ohio. I have repeatedly demonstrated they do not like the Maumee River clay of my garden.

The trip included my presenting a paper on breaking glass (spandrels) at the big biennial GPD meeting in Tampere.  The noisy end-of-conference party nearly added some more broken glass. Click the link below to see:

10 sec Bartender

Back home in Perrysburg my bees are doing battle with small hive beetles, robber bees from some other hive, an emerald color fly, and wasps.  My best hive only had a few beetles, but the other hive had swarmed, taking the queen with them.  It now looks like the rascals went to my neighbor’s empty hive about a quarter mile away.  The remaining large number of workers seemed unable to keep the beetles out without a queen to guide them, or to keep out robber bees who stole almost all the honey.  I’m not in favor of monarchies but on occasion it seems that they might have some utility!

At this time of year the hives smell of honey, especially on a sunny hot day, and it attracts others.  Here are three clips of the fights you see at the front door as others try to enter, including pretty rough treatment of a darker color alien robber bee from another hive. Amazingly the attacked bee seems to suffer no damage and usually eventually flies off.  I think bees do have little teeth. They certainly can shred a newspaper barrier when I put one between different levels.  I would have thought their bites to antennae and wings would do damage?

Mobbing a Robber Bee.mov

I like the speed of the emerald color fly, but I don’t think he succeeded in entering.

Green Robber Fly

The half dead wasp was easily handled:

Robber Wasp

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink…

Coleridge’s mariner was damned for needlessly shooting an albatross. Toledo however, is bringing on its own destruction by inaction, despite warnings months ago from the Federal EPA. In the small hours of the night, ten days ago, an automated emergency phone call woke us to tell us not to drink the tap water. The annual algae bloom in Lake Erie this year had become too strong, right at the water intake pipe for Toledo’s (and Perrysburg’s) municipal water systems. This satellite view shows the western end of Lake Erie seriously compromised.  Toledo and the Maumee river are at the bottom left corner:
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For three days we were forbidden to drink the water, wash dishes (unless rinsed in afterwards in ‘clean’ water) or even to spray municipal water on leafy vegetables in the gardens.
The algae is an interesting bright green living slime. Its growth in the lake is accelerated by summer warmth and the excess nutrients (Nitrogen and Phosphorus) from fertilizer runoff from farms and riverside gardens. Heavy rainstorms can also overflow the waste water pipe system, dumping untreated sewage into rivers and lakes which add food to the algae.
The algae produces a harmful non-living, long lasting, stable toxin called microcystin. It cannot be destroyed by boiling and is too small to physically filter out, other than by Carbon filter absorption. It is odorless, colorless and tasteless, but is harmful because it accumulates in one’s liver, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) (it sounds incredible enough to be a story from the famous BBC TV sci-fi Doctor of the same name) in concentrations greater than 1 ppb (part per billion).
Microcystin is incredibly old. It evolved, with cyanobacterial algae blooms about 3 billion years ago, perhaps as a protective agent for the algae, but protecting against what we do not know – back then there were no animals in existence to eat the algae. The toxin might have been protecting it from solar UV according to today’s (2014/8/12) NYT Science section. The blooms themselves were vital to us then as they were the early creators of Earth’s Oxygen.
Our numerically challenged news reporters erroneously had it measured as “1 or 2 ppm” (parts per million) instead of ppb (parts per billion) for a while. But, understandably, it is hard to appreciate that a substance naturally produced in our lovely lake could be seriously harmful in concentrations above one drop per tanker rail-car full (300,000 gallons). But watch out for the numbers: while a limit of 1 (ppb) (parts per billion) could sound reasonable, would you accept the same level as safe if it was just as honestly, but more scarily, called 1000 ppt (parts per trillion)? No matter how you quantify it, it is truly wonderful that we can detect and measure such miniscule amounts. Such skills can save us, if only we can properly interpret the values and apply them appropriately.
Back in Perrysburg we had the interesting situation of water seemingly everywhere, yet unusable:
1. A live river full of slightly muddy water: the Golden Maumee.

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2. Clear, tasteless, odorless water in the taps, and a few recent gallons in spare storage in jugs in the basement, but who knew how far back the ban applied?
3. And my three 40 gallon full rain barrels (for plant watering) collected from clear and pure (well perhaps a little acid rain, moss spores, bird bits, etc.?) rain water from the roof.
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I was unable to interest any of the house residents (other than the quasi-dumb animals) in that toxin-free roof water, even when I offered to boil it.
Sold out signs appeared within hours, for a radius of at least 20 miles, in stores selling any type of bottled water. But friends visiting from out of state all brought gallons in plastic jugs and bottles.

The water is back on for now, and we have a stock of ‘plastic’ water to be drunk within the next 12 months as the bottles have “Use by…” dates of 2015.
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What happens, over time, to water in a plastic bottle?  I’m sure I could happily live on honey, beer and coffee made with skim milk, but dry cleaning one’s teeth is difficult.

Nobody said it would be easy but we do need to look after our planet. At least now we can measure the invisible toxins before they do too much harm. But sometimes even the very visible seems to be too hard to fix. For years Toledo and Perrysburg have been trying to prevent sewage overflows in heavy rains. Yet yesterday, 8/11, we had about 3 inches (75 mm) of rain which resulted once again in the following overflow damage to Water Street and hence, the river and the lake:
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Going Native on Front Street, Perrysburg

Here is why we need pollinators. We had the best ever raspberry crop this year, thanks to the flower by flower work of the new bees:

To get native pollinators you need native plants. It will be sad to lose daffodil, tulip, lily of the valley, forsythia and perhaps even lilac,  in return for wild bergamot, anis hyssop, rattlesnake master, mint, grape vine anemone, bee balm, black eyed susan, milkweed, trillium and wild lupine. The work has barely started and already the garden is a jungle of wild insects.

Here is the most exotic one I hope to lure in. It is an enormous cecropia moth, in full daylight, downtown on a native locust tree. It was larger than the palm of my hand:

And here is what 150 pounds (68 kg) kg of honey from one well fed bee hive in just 4 months, looks like:

Native plants grow best in their own locale, but unfortunately native animals like to eat them too.