Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Is that a 1953 Buick grille on our deck?

The weather forecast was for maybe a tenth of an inch of ice, at worst.  Then it was two tenths. Then a quarter inch.  What we got, as indicated by this photo of a '53 Buick Roadmaster grill I found on our deck this morning, was 3/4 inch of ice, accompanied by downed trees, billions of ice cubes and frozen grass locked inside translucent cylinders of ice. Herewith:
 Oh, wait, maybe that was a '52 Nash Rambler.  Or a '47 Willys Overland with the flathead four-cylinder?

For sure, the place looks like a picnic area where about 10,000 dedicated beer drinkers emptied their coolers of ice cubes. And ice cylinders and ice chunks.  Crushed ice. Bergy-bits. We've got old sailing friends coming this weekend and I'm going to scoop up some of the ice to show them how we keep the brew cold up here in the hills.  Down in some of the warm spots where we used to sail, a good-sized bag of ice could last up to,k oh, 15 or 20 minutes, on cooler days.

Look like it will be cool around here for a while.  The pictures don't do Nature justice, but you get the idea.

A cold seat

Buford's Woods

Twisted laurel

We didn't exactly expect this result.  Kein Myatt, the weather guru at the Roanoke Times, was explaining in print just the other day how the terrain up here complicates weather forecasting, and why we sometimes get long-lasting ice when others not far from us get a good breeze and a melted malt:

" If you’ve lived in Southwest Virginia for several years, you know by now that the high terrain of Floyd and Carroll counties, often extending into the Bent Mountain area of extreme southern Roanoke County, is very often the bullseye for ice storms. As recently as Dec. 26, much of this area was suffering power outages and was iced in for days when most of the rest of Southwest Virginia experienced what was mainly just a nuisance mixed precipitation event. The Blue Ridge widens into more of a plateau in that region, rather than a sharp ridgeline, so it can be harder to sweep cold air away as it clings to the rolling and raised terrain, somewhat protected from southerly winds by even higher mountains to the south and southwest. It’s also susceptible to the easterly upslope winds lifting additional moisture, providing cooling with the lift even when the winds are blowing out of a “warm” southeast angle, and trapping cold air against the east side of the Blue Ridge even when it begins to be scoured out around it. It’s also just south enough to experience thicker moisture earlier in most events than locations farther north, which may have more time to warm above freezing before the bulk of the precipitation arrives. For these reasons, Floyd and Carroll counties have been placed under a winter storm warning for heavy ice, though even at that, it appears to be a low-end warning with a quarter-inch of ice accretion – the bottom boundary for an ice-inspired winter storm warning – expected in some spots."

We're in Patrick County, but in the Blue Ridge part, where our climate is closer to Floyd and Carroll than to the Piedmont climate of Woolwine and Stuart.   We look at four different weather forecasts -- NOAA, Accuweather, Weather Channel and WeatherUnderground, and I'm unhappy to say that none of them has figured out how to get our neighborhood -- about 1,500 feet from the edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment -- reasonably correct.  Our best sources of information, as always, have been the window and the thermometer.

Thank goodness for Generac and the Stihl Chain Saw Co. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Tyranny of The Winter Project

Some years ago I fell victim to the theory that months as awful as January and February might be redeemed in small measure by tackling and completing what became known around our house as The Winter Project.  It got us through some miserable winters down in the flatlands when there was little to do but watch basketball, shovel ice and wait for the Daytona while dreaming of warm breezes, soft sandy beaches and beam reaches.

One year it was painting the dining room, front hall and living room before the paper hangers came to put on wallpaper.  (We had learned years early not to hang wallpaper together.  Some projects are not worth doing, together or otherwise.)  Another year it was pulling up old carpet and old carpet pads and yanking up about nine gazillion rusty staples that held the carpet pads down on an otherwise perfectly serviceable oak floor.  Last year it was building two sets of built-in bookshelves in the new house.

This year it was building a large spice rack to hold 45 or so of the most frequently used spices, so as to clear out a kitchen cabinet, and to stack the stacking washer and dryer, revise some shelves built to hold cleaning products and expand by 60 percent the size of the kitchen pantry shelving.

Here's how I prepared for the job: 1. Smashed my left hand in a bizarre accident when the tongue on an overbalanced 4x8 trailer half full of firewood let go from the hitch ball on the RTV and banged the hand against the underside of the dump bed on the RTV.  From this I learned the dangers of the runaway lever and a stationary object; 2. Shot a 1 1/4" finishing nail into the tip of my little finger while miscalculating where to hold a 3/4" square support for one of the pantry shelves.  From this I learned the dangers of 100 pounds of pressure behind a small nail that doesn't want to penetrate a knot; and 3. Bruised a shinbone and raised a baseball-sized lump when, seeking a change from hand-smashing and finger-shooting, I took a hike downstream and took a tumble on a steep hillside overlooking the upper reaches of the Smith River while trying to find a long-overgrown trail that led by a spooky old house I once found while looking for something else. From this I learned that hand-bashing and pinky-puncturing were not so bad.

It would all have gone a lot faster had I been able to find the handy-dandy 8-inch sharp-as-a-new-chisel Bostitch prybar that is essential to removing shoe molding, baseboards, nails driven into fingers and other misplaced objects.  Tore up the workshop looking for it; failed to find it; substituted a much larger and not half as effective Wonderbar, a magnificent tool in its own right, but much too bulky for close finish work.   After filling half the remaining trashed shop with sawdust while rebuilding the shelves and fitting new trim, I spent a couple of Sunday hours cleaning up the mess.  Restacked lumber.Found some things I was looking for weeks and weeks ago. Put away hand tools.  Found the right boxes for some power tools.  Rearranged odd pieces of trim, tucked away some cutoffs too good to burn for kindling, stored some old speakers too good to burn for kindling, and kept an eye out for that little prybar. It drove me crazy looking for it. Opened every box, every bag, every drawer, every cabinet, every tool box dating back to the 1956 model my Dad made for me out of an old shipping crate.  No prybar.  But that shop looked better than it has in, oh, three years or so.

So: The Winter Project is done.  The shop is clean.  The bruises are healing.  Oh -- and at 3 a.m. this morning I awoke to receive an internal e-mail .jpg from the quirky cerebral harddrive hidden somewhere inside my aging skull.  The .jpg was a mental picture of a little wooden toolbox that I keep in the back of the RTV, about 30" from the site of the ambush on my left hand.  Nestled neatly in that little toolbox was the black-and-yellow prybar that would have made The Winter Project oh, so much easier. From this I learned to take the advice of a good and wise friend: Next time I have the urge to undertake an ambitious project, I'm going to go lie down until the urge passes.

The wayward prybar

Friday, February 1, 2013

Why is Warren Buffett buying up Southern newspapers?

Dang if I know why Warren Buffett is buying up Southern newspapers, but I suspect it's for the same reason he buys other stuff: he thinks he can make money.  Despite cackling and heckling from newspaper detractors for at least the last decade, newspapers have not vanished from the face of the earth.  Circulation has certainly declined precipitously and newspaper advertising revenue has plummeted and employment had dropped, yet newspapers are still publishing, still paying the help, still making money, though hardly as much as they made in the heyday of the industry.

So it really didn't come as a surprise when he bought up the newspaper I worked for from the time I was a kid on a bike throwing an afternoon route, a high school sports stringer, a college dorm route carrier, and later a copy editor, reporter, Washington correspondent, Raleigh Bureau Chief and editorial writer and columnist over nearly three decades.  Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BH Media) bought The News & Record of Greensboro yesterday. It once was a fine newspaper that you could find in just about any sizable town in the state.  Now it's a small almost tabloid-sized paper, but the people who work there still aim to do the kinds of things it did when it featured such luminaries as Jonathan Yardley and Ed Yoder and Jim Jenkins and Larry Keech and Wilt Browning and Sherry Johnson and Greta Tilley and Jerry Bledsoe and Ned Cline: break stories, provide good writing, publish compelling commentary and tell people what they need to know.

Buffett's company has been buying up newspapers in this region for at least the past year. It owns larger papers such as the Richmond Times-Dispatch, medium-size papers such as the Winston-Salem Journal, smaller N.C. papers such as those in Hickory, Morganton, Statesville, Marion, and Florence, S.C., and he has bought up smaller community papers such as Floyd, Va, Bristol, Va. and Reidsville, N.C.  We are, it seems to me, becoming surrounded by the new media king of this region.

A longtime friend and former newspaper executive recalled the other day that this kind of thing once would have been against the law, back in the days when the U.S. Justice Department worried about such things as monopolies and trusts and one company dominating a single market.  Once upon a time, Landmark Communications, which owned the Greensboro newspapers as well as the local CBS affiliate, sold the TV station in Greensboro to avoid questions, or worse, about anti-trust issues.  You just don't hear those kinds of questions being raised much these days, perhaps because a lot of people think newspapers and even TV stations are dying and it won't be long before they're gone.

I don't think they're dying so much as they are changing in dramatic ways.  They'll look a lot different in years to come, as newspapers maneuver to attract more paying online readers and as they reshape general news products to attract subscribers still interested in print editions.  I'm also guessing that in small towns, print will remain a viable product for a long time -- as least in communities where newspapers still cover the news vigorously and give people reasons to buy it.  From what I've read, that's one reason Buffett is buying: He still thinks newspapers are important to their communities.

While I've never met Warren Buffett, I did spend a lot of time with his distant cousin Jimmy's music during our sailing days.  It occurs to me that I've spent considerable money over time with the Buffetts -- with CDs about pirates and shrimp and schooners and sloops, and with several of Buffett's current newspapers, currently including the weekly Floyd Press, where there's always some kind of a story that comes as a surprise about the colorful people and their aspirations for a small town with ambitious ideas.  Given that most TV stations and the bigger papers pretty much ignore the place except for the obligatory quarterly pieces about the arts, I expect the Press is going to do all right -- at least in comparison to its citified cousins down yonder in the flatlands.