Hurricane Sandy Relief: Part 3

Over the course of the week I was serving around Staten Island, I put in somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 hours (including travel time). Needless to say, we got a tremendous amount accomplished in that time, but a relatively small amount compared to the scale of the problem. After the first day on Liberty Island the weather took a quick turn for the worst (New York City residents might recall the Northeaster that slammed into the city just a few days after the ocean calmed down). The snow kept us from returning to Liberty Island for a few days, and during that time we turned our attentions to Ellis Island.

While waiting for an assignment we found the comfiest place to relax, the conference room in the park offices on Ellis.

While waiting for an assignment we found the comfiest place to relax, the conference room in the park offices on Ellis.

Ellis hadn’t been spared during the Hurricane, far from it in fact, and as another american icon its cleanup was also a priority for the park service. There were two major tasks that needed to be addressed on Ellis (that we were able to deal with at least). First, the storm surge had entered many of the main administrative buildings on Ellis, and had destroyed literal tons of educational materials (mostly pamphlets).

Ok, these aren't pamphlets, but we did just about fill a dumpster with pallet after pallet of soaked (and ruined) educational materials in half a dozen different languages. Luckily, quite a few survived the hurricane's assault and were squirreled away somewhere safe to wait for the eventual return of tourism to the park.

Ok, these aren’t pamphlets, but we did just about fill a dumpster with pallet after pallet of soaked (and ruined) educational materials in half a dozen different languages. Luckily, quite a few survived the hurricane’s assault and were squirreled away somewhere safe to wait for the eventual return of tourism to the park.

Additionally, the storm had also totaled the trailers that normally served as the base of operations for the Park Police. The area around the trailers was festooned with scrap metal that had been torn off nearby buildings, as well as pretty much everything that the police hadn’t been able to remove from their dwellings before the storm hit. We spent days sifting through the rubble surrounding those buildings alone, sorting trash from salvageable material and eventually finishing what the storm started by demolishing the remnants of the trailers so new ones could be brought in from the mainland.

There were originally two trailers in a small compound here, no more.

There were originally two trailers in a small compound here, no more.

This trailer had held the kennels in which the Park Police's K9 units were kept when not on duty, we managed to save the kennels themselves (and the dogs were safetely evacuated prior to the storm) but the trailer itself was a complete loss.

This trailer had held the kennels in which the Park Police’s K9 units were kept when not on duty, we managed to save the kennels themselves (and the dogs were safetely evacuated prior to the storm) but the trailer itself was a complete loss.

We filled eight 30-yard dumpsters with debris from the storm.

We filled eight 30-yard dumpsters with debris from the storm.

The main buildings were a different matter entirely. We pointedly ignored the tourist centers on Ellis, there was another team dealing with addressing the mold that had begun to flourish in the historical buildings and we had more than enough to do outside the buildings.

We found all sorts of things in the debris surrounding the trailers, by the time we left we'd managed to sort most of it into either the trash or back into the hands of the police who had served on the island prior to the storm.

We found all sorts of things in the debris surrounding the trailers, by the time we left we’d managed to sort most of it into either the trash or back into the hands of the police who had served on the island prior to the storm.

We left Ellis Island considerably cleaner than we found it, there was still a ton of work to do, but we were among the first to be sent to respond there, hopefully our presence helped to get the ball rolling. Ellis Island is an amazing place (the main buildings are gorgeous) and hopefully it will be reopened to the public soon.

Exploring Great Island

As much as I generally find complaining about the weather to be cathartic, I can’t really find a reason to groan about the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had on the Cape lately. Oh sure it’s intermittent at best, but every 50 degree day in January is a cause for mild celebration in my book. A reason to shed layers and play in what passes for the sunshine, if only for a few hours.

This past Sunday the mercury reached a scalding 54 degrees and I took the opportunity to explore Great Island in Wellfleet. Not actually an island, Great Island was apparently (among other things) the site of the Great Island Tavern way back when, and now is the home to a few great trails, some beautiful views of Wellfleet harbor, and acres of ‘wild’ oyster-beds. Due to the nice weather, there were a few other people out enjoying the sunshine, but the area is large enough, and the forest dense enough, that it felt as if we had the place all to ourselves.

I imagine this beach could be pretty crowded come Summer. Long live the pleasures of the offseason.

I imagine this beach could be pretty crowded come Summer. Long live the pleasures of the offseason.

We went at the lower end of the tide, although it certainly wasn't required, there was plenty of room to walk above the tide line.

We went at the lower end of the tide, although it certainly wasn’t required, there was plenty of room to walk above the tide line.

The forest on Great Island is almost completely mature Pitch Pine, not particularly novel around Cape Cod, but the lack of undergrowth (specifically the absence of obvious Poison Ivy or Cat Brier) meant that I came home from the hike without having to bath in technu.

Since exploring I’ve looked online to see what other people thought about the place (something I try not to do before visiting on my own) and it seems like my pleasant visit is far from unusual. I’m looking forward to going again during the summer and getting pictures of the Seals that apparently adore the area. As t happened, the only wildlife I saw in any abundance were Oysters, Wellfleet harbor is a premier place for aquaculture on the Cape, but I was still a little surprised to see so many growing wild and out in the open. I’ll admit they aren’t nearly as exciting as a family of Seals would be, but interesting Wildlife seems thin on the ground these days. I should really get my hands on a wildlife camera before Summer. Maybe I’ll have better luck that way.

The oyster-beds on/near Great Island

The oyster-beds on/near Great Island

A close up of the oysters in question, most were less than three inches long, too small to collect even if they were in season.

A close up of the oysters in question, most were less than three inches long, too small to collect even if they were in season.

I actually don’t have much else to say about the hike, even in the strangely warm weather I wasn’t actually there for very long. I’ll have to make another trip the next time the sun rears its head so aggressively. Until then, here are some more pictures from Sunday.

Looking back on the dunes at the beginning of the trail.

Looking back on the dunes at the beginning of the trail.

Great Island Dunes

Hurricane Sandy Relief: Part 2

As I mentioned in a previous entry, the Americorps group I serve with was sent to assist with the relief efforts in New York after Hurricane Sandy made such a mess of the city. Specifically, we were sent to Staten Island, which took the brunt of the storms force and had suffered the most damage. On Staten Island we took shelter in a building on Fort Wadsworth with a few hundred other Park Service employees (Mostly Law Enforcement officers at first) who had been assigned there.

On our first morning, after finding breakfast in the base’s mess hall, we were sent to Liberty Island to being cleaning up the damage from Sandy. Unsurprisingly, the Statue of Liberty herself was completely fine, it will take more than a measly hurricane to even scuff her paint. The rest of the island was considerably less fortunate. The other structures  had taken the full force of the storm surge, windows were blown out, doors smashed open, and the contents of entire houses looked like they’d been put through a soggy blender.

It'll take a lot more than a hurricane to even scratch the paint.

It’ll take a lot more than a hurricane to even scratch the paint.

That first day we restricted our activities to felling and disposing of all the damaged trees on the island. Moving a chipper across the water ended up taking the majority of the morning, and we ended up leaving it on the island for the duration of our stay in NYC. We spent our spare moments (the few of them we found) digging through and disposing of the trash that had been washed ashore by the storm surge. That chore ended up being equal parts disgusting and fascinating. All sorts of things float around in New York Harbor, and a strange selection of objects had found their way into nooks and crannies on liberty island. We found cases of soda that had been liberated from smashed vending machines, hats, gloves, more vile plastic bags than you could shake a stick at… you get the idea.

The storm surge had actually torn bricks from the walkway.

The storm surge had actually torn bricks from the walkway.

Liberty Island was eerie without its normal crowds. I visited the statue once when I was in elementary school, and remember it being absolutely packed. We had the place to ourselves while we cleared the debris from the main plazas, an experience I’m not likely to forget any time soon.

Clearing broken branches from the smaller trees.

Clearing broken branches from the smaller trees.

Cleaning up Liberty Island

Hurricane Sandy Relief: Part 1

I’ve mentioned before that I prefer to write updates here with the benefit of hindsight. If nothing else, waiting a few weeks (or a month or two) gives me time to collect pictures and learn more about whatever job I was assigned. This is especially true with the Fire Crew’s experience being deployed to assist with the post-Sandy recovery efforts in and around Staten Island New York.

We weathered the storm itself on the Cape, which was miraculously spared much in the way of damage. I believe that during the storm itself, another Americorps group on Cape Cod did help the Red Cross set up a shelter, but the storm was mild enough around here that they didn’t end up being needed for very long. We spent that week working our way through S-130 and S-190  — the two courses required for a Red Card — online, going slowly insane from an overabundance of energy while the wind whipped through the trees outside. (Ok, actually we lasted about an hour before we went out to experience the storm first hand)

Cabin Fever is a harsh illness

Suffering from Cabin Fever

Other parts of the east coast were considerably less lucky than we were, and when we finally finished our coursework on Friday November 2nd and were given the option to sign up to join the remainder of the Cape Cod Fire Crew in their deployment to Staten Island. We jumped at the chance, got our Tetanus booster shots, and spent the entirety of the next day packing for the trip.

Packing for Sandy Relief

We took nearly everything that wasn’t bolted down. We’d already heard how hard it was to get fuel in New York city, and took no chances on finding other equipment once we arrived.

We traveled all day on Sunday and arrived well after dark to collapse in the space that had been allotted to the responders at Fort Wadsworth. The next day we got our assignment, and headed to Liberty Island to start cleaning up the wreckage the storm had left behind.

Liberty Island

Dawn Patrol: Another reason to wake up each morning.

I wake up monstrously early, especially compared to my housemates, but I’m still finding limits on what I’m actually capable of in life. Last Winter I worked briefly as a loader for UPS, a job that required me to be at the depot floor before 5, and I thought that after that I’d be able to handle anything morning-related. Certainly waking up early for work has never been an issue in other jobs. Unfortunately, It turns out I was wrong, or at least I overestimated my abilities, which gives me a new hurdle to overcome in life. I need to make a concerted effort to be awake and active when the sun rises more often. That shouldn’t be too hard a goal, especially this time of year.

Dawn patrol is a surfer thing I guess. I don’t really surf, not with any particular regularity or skill at any rate, so when I was invited along for the ride a few weeks back I didn’t exactly jump at the chance to get up before the sun. What changed my mind was the promise of coffee and a chance to explore some beaches I hadn’t visited yet while my friend braved the biggest ‘ride-able’ waves she’d seen in a few weeks. I took that bait. If only for the coffee.

It ended up actually being a really relaxing morning, driving from beach to beach and hearing how the surf at each was lacking in some small but crucial way. I’m beginning to suspect that the greater part of surfing (especially during the winter) is actually griping about how bad the surf is. Getting wet seems to be largely optional. I could probably handle that.

The waves here "weren't regular enough." Or something.

The waves here “weren’t regular enough.” Or something. The sunrise was still fantastic.

I did manage to eventually goad my native guide into the water by implying loudly that maybe she didn’t actually know how to surf at all, that it was all just some strange empty boast. Motivated, she paddled out to a distant sand bar and left me on the beach to my own devices.

About four potential surf spots later.

About four potential surf spots later.

I ended up spending the better part of an hour watching Gannet’s make their suicide plunges into the ocean, scanning the ocean for the plumes of mist made by passing whales, and cursing myself for not bringing along a tripod. Not a bad morning. I should do it again sometime.

Exploring Cape Cod: The Atlantic White Cedar Trail and beyond

This past week’s snowstorm is the first I’ve experienced in two years that left snow on the ground for more than a day afterwards. I completely missed the storm that decimated much of the East Coast in October of 2011 (I was on Catalina Island at the time, I believe) and because of where I was working, the snow from the Northeaster that hit New York City in the wake of Sandy didn’t stick around long enough for a second snowball fight.

From what I’ve been hearing Cape Cod hasn’t had much snow in the past few years, that changed on the 29th when the heavens opened up over much of New England, and left the Cape coated in a white glaze. Having spent the holidays visiting family in Philadelphia I decided to barrel back north early to avoid having to travel in the storm itself, and so I was back in the Wells House on the Cape Cod National Seashore before the first flakes started to stick.

On the 30th, already suffering from Cabin fever despite only having been back for 12 hours or so, I went for a hike with a couple friends and happily remembered to bring my camera along.

We started by cutting through the woods (which I don’t really recommend to people not already familiar with the park) to reach the Atlantic White Cedar Trail, a beautiful hike on an ugly day, we were pretty sure it would be fantastic looking in the early morning snow. We weren’t disappointed.

No previous footprints marring the glazed surface of the walkway.

No previous footprints marring the glazed surface of the walkway.

We were the first to explore the path, and honestly might have been the only people to visit that day, Cape Cod not being particularly crowded at the moment. The trail always feels close, winding as it does through the thickest parts of the Cedar grove it takes its name from, but the addition of a blanket of snow and ice seemed to seal everything together.

Some routes were more accessible than others

Some routes were more accessible than others

In some cases, quite literally. The effect wasn’t as suffocating as it might look, and the closeness of the trees sheltered us nicely from the wind.

We eventually emerged from the grove — unfortunately, while it is a beautiful trail it isn’t very long — and decided to continue onward to the beach. The wind picked up noticeably as we left the trees, and by the time we reached the dunes (read: cliffs, I’m still not really used to the extreme topography of Cape Cod’s beaches) was howling past us and blasting the bits of skin we’d foolishly left exposed with ice-crystals and salt.

If I could bottle that wind I'd make a mint selling it to the chronically congested.

If I could bottle that wind I’d make a mint selling it to the chronically congested.

We stayed as long as we could bear, each crashing wave sent up a spray of frozen rainbows (an effect I spent way too long try to capture for one measly picture) but the frigid wind eventually sent us packing.

It seemed like every other wave was like this, well worth the frozen fingers.

It seemed like every other wave was like this, well worth the frozen fingers.

Its somehow easy to forget I have such a beautiful park quite literally in my backyard. For someone who spends almost every waking moment outdoors I’ve sure missed a lot. I look forward to watching for the arrival of Spring.

One-Hundred Books in 2012

I started 2012 with half-a-dozen resolutions. Unfortunately, I never did get around to writing a novel, finding a job that provided health insurance, or learning how to cook more than pasta, meat, and eggs.

I did however, manage to read more this year than any year previously. I kept a running tally all year, and now that the dust of my New Years celebrations has settled, I can happily say I managed to crack three digits in the past 12 months.

My initial goal was 75 books (2011’s was 52), but in part because of my summer on Calf Island, I blew that away in August. Between Americorps and GIS classes I’ve had less time for reading in the last few months, but I still pushed through a veritable tower of paperbacks in the weeks running up to the end of the year.

Here’s my list (more or less in the order I finished them):

1. Ringworld. Larry Niven
2. The Ringworld Engineers. Larry Niven
3. The Ringworld Throne. Larry Niven
4. Ringworld’s Children. Larry Niven
5. Nation. Terry Pratchett
6. Guild Wars: Ghosts of Ascalon. Jeff Grub and Matt Forbeck
7. Empire. Orson Scott Card
8. Nine Princes in Amber (The Chronicles of Amber #1). Roger Zelazny
9. The Guns of Avalon (The Chronicles of Amber #2). Roger Zelazny
10. Sign of the Unicorn (The Chronicles of Amber #3). Roger Zelazny
11. The Hand of Oberon (The Chronicles of Amber #4). Roger Zelazny
12. The Courts of Chaos (The Chronicles of Amber #5). Roger Zelazny
13. Trumps of Doom (The Chronicles of Amber #6). Roger Zelazny
14. Blood of Amber (The Chronicles of Amber #7). Roger Zelazny
15. Sign of Chaos (The Chronicles of Amber #8). Roger Zelazny
16. Knight of Shadows (The Chronicles of Amber #9). Roger Zelazny
17. Prince of Chaos (The Chronicles of Amber #10). Roger Zelazny
18. Iron Council. China Mieville
19. Embassytown. China Mieville
20. The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the fire that saved America. Timothy Egan
21. The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1). Robert Jordan
22. The Great Hunt (Wheel of Time, #2). Robert Jordan
23. The Dragon Reborn (Wheel of Time, #3). Robert Jordan
24. The Shadow Rising (Wheel of Time, #4). Robert Jordan
25. The Fires of Heaven (Wheel of Time, #5). Robert Jordan
26. Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time, #6). Robert Jordan
27. A Crown of Swords (Wheel of Time, #7). Robert Jordan
28. The Path of Daggers (Wheel of Time, #8). Robert Jordan
29. Winter’s Heart (Wheel of Time, #9). Robert Jordan
30. Crossroads of Twilight (Wheel of Time #10). Robert Jordan
31. Knife of Dreams (Wheel of Time #11). Robert Jordan
32. The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time #12). Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson
33. The Botany of Desire. Michael Pollan
34. Towers of Midnight. Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson
35. The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins
36. Catching Fire. Suzanne Collins
37. Mockingjay. Suzanne Collins
38. Shogun. James Clavell
39. Going Postal. Terry Pratchett
40. The Fifth Elephant. Terry Pratchett
41. Night Watch. Terry Pratchett
42. Monstrous Regiment. Terry Pratchett
43. Eric. Terry Pratchett
44. Three Musketeers. Alexandre Dumas
45. Count Zero. William Gibson
46. Komarr. Lois McMaster Bujold
47. A Civil Campaign. Lois McMaster Bujold
48. Diplomatic Immunity. Lois McMaster Bujold
49. Dinocalypse Now. Chuck Wendig
50. Twenty Years After. Alexandre Dumas
51. Monster Hunter Internationa. Larry Correia
52. Memory. Louis McMaster Bujold
53. A Picture of Dorian Gray. Oscar Wilde
54. Beyond World’s End. Mercedes Lackey
55. Spirits White as Lightning. Mercedes Lackey
56. Mad Maudlin. Mercedes Lackey
57. Freehold. Michael Z. Williamson
58. The Weapon. Michael Z. Williamson
59. War of the Worlds. H.G. Wells
60. The Forever War. Joe Halderman
61. Starship Troopers. Robert A. Heinlein
62. Victory of Eagles. Naomi Novik
63. Tongues of Serpents. Naomi Novik
64. The Lightning Thief. Rick Riordan
65. The Sea of Monsters. Rick Riordan
66. The Titan’s Curse. Rick Riordan
67. The Battle of the Labyrinth. Rick Riordan
68. The Last Olympian. Rick Riordan
69. Star Wars: X-Wing: Rogue Squadron. Michael A. Stackpole
70. Star Wars: X-Wing: Wedges Gamble. Michael A. Stackpole
71. Star Wars: X-Wing: The Krytos Trap. Michael A. Stackpole
72. Star Wars: X-Wing: The Bacta War. Michael A. Stackpole
73. Genellan-Planetfall. Scott Gier
74. On Basilisk Station. David Weber
75. Forward the Mage. Eric Flint and Richard Roach
76. The Apocalypse Troll. David Weber
77. Star Wars: The Hutt Gambit. A.C. Crispin
78. Star Wars: Rebel Dawn. A.C. Crispin
79. The Surgeon’s Mate. Patrick O’Brian
80. Better to Beg Forgiveness. Michael Z. Williamson
81. Cross the Stars. David Drake
82. Starliner. David Drake.
83. 1632. Eric Flint
84. 1633. David Weber and Eric Flint
85. H.M.S Surprise. Patrick O’Brian
86. Music to my Sorrow. Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edgehill
87. Eisenhorn. Dan Abnett
88. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. Steve Perry
89. Star Wars: Ambus at Corellia. Roger Macbride Allen
90. Barrayar. Lois Bujold
91. Shards of Honor. Lois Bujold
92. Leviathan. Keith Thompson
93. Behemoth. Keith Thompson
94. Goliath. Keith Thompson
95. Cloud Atlas. David Mitchell
96. Ring of Fire. Eric Flint
97. The Alchemist. Paulo Coelho
98. Fire on the Mountain. John N. Maclean
99. The Philosophical Strangler. Eric Flint
100. 1634: The Baltic War

My goal for 2013 is 75 again, I think that that’s a more realistic number than 100. I doubt very much I’ll be coming into a glut of free time any time soon. Certainly nothing like what I had during this past summer, when all there was to do in the evenings was organize the veg survey data, read, and swat mosquitoes.

I’m also going to make a concerted effort to include more non-fiction in my library over the next year. I tend to seek out books that allow me to turn my brain off while I read, but I feel like more than 3% of my yearly total should be academically engaging. Historical Fiction is a nice compromise I guess, but I’d like to do better in 2013.

Twas the week before Christmas

And Cape Cod is still a ghost town. I really do like this place, especially as empty as it is these days. From what I’ve been told, we have another four or five months of quiet before the vacation season really kicks off properly.

This week was spent completing our chainsaw training with the Cape Cod National Seashore. We started S-212 (Wildland Fire Chainnsaws) over a month ago, but Hurricane Sandy interrupted our training and we weren’t able to finish it before we split off from working primarily with the Park Service. I’m planning on writing a more in depth account of what S-212 contained for us over the next few days. For now, I’ll just share a few pictures from the week.

Luckily for us, the Cape Cod National Seashore has a location right across the street from our house they've been wanting to thin for a few years now.

Luckily for us, the Cape Cod National Seashore has a location right across the street from our house they’ve been wanting to thin for a few years now.

In brief, we spent the entire week cutting down Pitch Pines in the forested lot across the street from our house. The idea was to kill two birds with one stone, we needed chainsaw training so that our bosses within the Park Service could trust us not to cut off our own legs using their chainsaws and the Park Service needed the Pitch Pines near our house thinned out so they’d be less of a fire-hazard.

After three days of felling, limbing, bucking, and piling.

After three days of felling, limbing, bucking, and piling.

Mission Accomplished, I guess. We cut down somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty trees over the course of three days, which opened up the canopy and gave us plenty of firewood. We don’t actually have a fireplace to burn it in (its just as well, since Pitch Pine isn’t really the best ‘indoor’ firewood), but had the world actually ended on the 21st we’d have been set.

The other big project this week was turning our garage from a place that looked like a tornado made of power tools had touched down to an actual shop.

I wish I had had the foresight to take a before picture.

I wish I had had the foresight to take a before picture.

Working right by home was nice I guess. I’m just happy we finally got that training finished up. We’ll be using chainsaws alot over the next few months.

Not the Princess Bride’s Fire Swamp: Prescribed Burn 3

Our third prescribed burn this year was scheduled for October 18th. The goal was to burn a several acre cranberry bog at the behest of the owners of the Dry Swamp Bog organic farm in Orleans. They seemed to be of the opinion that burning the bog would clear out a variety of undesirable species that they didn’t want to control using herbicides while also reinvigorating the soil.

Never having done something like this before, and having a minimum of terrestrial farming experience, I was initially skeptical that we’d even be able to get the fire started (Bogs aren’t exactly on my top 10 list for ‘most flammable places’). On the other hand, I’m all in favor of reducing herbicide use (especially in wetlands areas) when possible, and was completely willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Before our walk around of the property. Most of what you can see here was our target area.

Before our walk around of the property. Most of what you can see here was our target area.

At any rate, after loading three trucks and a fire engine with all the gear we’d need to light a bog on fire, we set out and arrived on the property before noon. The first thing we noticed (as we should have) was that the entire bog area sat only a few inches above the waterline.

Ok, that shouldn’t have been a surprise. The area we were to burn was surrounded on three of four sides with trenches that were full of water. Those trenches formed natural control line, although as we found out, they weren’t perfect.
Sizing up the property our boss found one place in particular, a corner where there were nearby structures, that deserved extra protection and parked out one fire engine there on the off chance a few unlucky firebrands crossed water filled trenches.

Our very-nearly-mandatory pre-ignition group photo. The brown stalks in the foreground were actually the only vegetative matter in the bog that burned consistently. The cranberry bushes certainly didn't. Which, come to think about it, was probably just what the farmers wanted.

Our very-nearly-mandatory pre-ignition group photo. The brown stalks in the foreground were actually the only vegetative matter in the bog that burned consistently. The cranberry bushes certainly didn’t. Which, come to think about it, was probably just what the farmers wanted.

Due to the nature of the cranberry bog: the wet, the shade covering half of it, the sparse/low vegetation. We were to use fusees (effectively longer lasting road flares used to ignite material by hand) and a handheld torch fueled by a backpack mounted propane canister  We also had four backpack pumps that we were to use for control and mop-up after the burn.

Having the cannisters mounted on our backs saved us the trouble of lugging them around on dollies. However it did mean that we had to ditch our IA packs.

Having the propane canisters mounted on our backs saved us the trouble of lugging them around on dollies. However it did mean that we had to ditch our IA packs. The torches were lit manually, using the conveniently provided strikers we ended up tying to the frames.

As we’d feared/expected, the bog didn’t burn particularly well. The bearers of the two torches walked back and forth across the burn area using the long-handled flamethrowers to place dots of flame every 10 feet or so, creating a tight grid of small burning patches. The rest of us helped fill in the remaining space by using the fusees to light particularly promising patches of dried plants and by physically moving flaming material into green (unburned) territory.

How sweet does this look?! Seriously, its lucky we brought these along, the fall sun wasn't really putting out enough heat to make our job easy.

How sweet does this look?! Seriously, its lucky we brought these along, the fall sun wasn’t really putting out enough heat to make our job easy.

Here Matt is 'dotting' the burn area. Behind him the dots of fire he's laid down already are creeping along the ground.

Here Matt is ‘dotting’ the burn area. Behind him the dots of fire he’s laid down already are creeping along the ground.

Some of the plants in the bog, like this Pitch Pine sapling, simply weren't going to ignite on a day like the one we were burning on. It would have taken a much more intense fire on a much drier day to get the pine in this picture to burn.

Some of the plants in the bog, like this Pitch Pine sapling, simply weren’t going to ignite on a day like the one we were burning on. It would have taken a much more intense fire on a much drier day to get the pine in this picture to burn.

The only snag came when, as the burn boss had predicted, a few firebrands made the jump across the trench near the lone structure adjacent to the bog. There they burned merrily for nearly a minute before they were drowned by a fast acting firefighter standing by the engine’s internal pump. I wish I’d been nearby to get pictures of that sequence of events, but I was busy carrying burning grass around on the other side of the bog at the time and only heard about it over the radio.

The flames were low for the duration of the burn. Again, the effect of the sun on the fire's intensity was pronounced, as you can sort of see in this picture.

The flames were low for the duration of the burn. Again, the effect of the sun on the fire’s intensity was pronounced, as you can sort of see in this picture.

Mop up was minimal after such a low intensity blaze, but we still spent the better part of half an hour at the end of the day extinguishing every last whisper of smoke that had been rising from the field.

As I mentioned above, the only fuels in the burn area that consistently ignited were the tall brown stalks. The cranberry plants themselves were pretty much immune to the attentions of the propane torches. While this made for a somewhat low-key experience from my perspective, I can’t help but think that the end result of the prescribed burn was fairly close to what the farmers that had asked for our help had hoped would happen. It will be interesting to see how this property recovers in the spring.

Shellfish farming: Wetter than plant farming.

Let me preface this by saying I know pretty much nothing about the mechanics of oyster-farming. Aquaculture in general is something that interests me, but there’s only so many hours in a day to split between work, my daily ablutions, and trying to learn new things.

However, because I’m interested in the process, I was happy to get a chance to help the town of Brewster maintain their oyster grant this past week. The oysters grown in the cages we were fixing are used during the recreational oyster catching (collecting?) season. During the warmer months, the town of Brewster takes the oysters they grow and scatters them in areas designated for recreational collecting (harvesting?) The result is something like a cross between an easter-egg hunt, going apple picking, and a day at the beach. The oysters, which in the wild grow attached to a hard substrate, are simply plopped down in the water in the collection area to await their gristly demise. The plus side of the whole equation is that by providing people interested in collecting shellfish with a place to do so, the town is able to justifiably restrict access to other potential oyster habitats in the area. Again, I don’t know much about the mechanics of fishery maintenance. But on the surface, that seems like a good idea.

This picture was taken about twenty minutes before the storm arrived. Once it showed up  I went from looking fairly well put together to looking like a drowned cat in all of five minutes.

This picture was taken about twenty minutes before the storm arrived. Once it showed up I went from looking fairly well put together to looking like a drowned cat in all of five minutes.

Our job was to help repair some of the cages that the oysters mature in. Salt water corrodes everything, and the nails that helped keep the cages together were – in some cases – more rust than substance. I got to put on waders for the first time in almost a year and splash around for a few hours. An unexpected rainstorm put a little bit of a damper on the afternoon, but I’ve long since past the point where getting wet at work bothers me.

Patrick, the member in the bright orange jacket, was apparently the only one of us who thought to check to the forecast. Oh well.

Patrick, the member in the bright orange jacket, was apparently the only one of us who thought to check to the forecast. Oh well.

The entire process only took about two hours, which makes sense since we were limited by the tides. At high tide the cages are covered completely and our job would have been considerably less pleasant.

Each cage had multiple layers that needed to be removed, repaired, and replaced.

Each cage had multiple layers that needed to be removed, repaired, and replaced.

Hopefully I’ll have another chance to learn more about the process by which these (arguably) delicious suckers are grown and distributed. The rain, and the nature of the work kept me from being able to ask all of the questions I had at the time.

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