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Middlebury Landscape History

Categories: Atwater Contest, Random Thoughts

Over on the Turf Battle Atwater Landscape Contest Blog, I just posted a short new piece readers of this blog might find interesting. I was fooling around in ArcGIS one day, when I came across some historical aerial photographs of the town of Middlebury, including areas of the campus. I exported 3 pictures from the map of the Atwater section of campus, from 2006, 1974, and 1942. I like seeing the differences in canopy cover from year to year, and am amazed how young some “old” trees we have on the north end of campus actually are. Expect more pictures like this soon-this is really cool stuff.

Not exactly Gardening News

Categories: Random Thoughts

In the spirit of Tim Spear’s blog post “Not Exactly Administrative News: 10 great albums of 2010“, I thought I’d write about what’s been captivating me sonically for the last year.

Maybe a brief explanation would be in order first. I don’t listen to music much, mainly All Things Considered (and some of them even talked about) on the way back and forth from work. I do run, though, with an iPod Nano (read a great explanation of the system at the Middlebury Trailrunner), so to distract myself from the fact that I’m running I play loud obnoxious Alt-Rock. It’s probably a midlife crisis thing. Most of my inspiration comes from WEQX out of Manchester, one of many good radio stations near us (also see WMUD and WRMC). I’ll listen to music once in a while when working, or when the news isn’t on. (Like the Old Chapel Road annual planting? Brought to you by the last album I bought: The Pierces- 13 Tales of Love and Revenge) I hear a song I like, I download it from iTunes, and presto. So the list won’t be best albums, as I mostly buy songs. And I have no idea if they came out in 2010 or not, but that’s when I bought ‘em.

99 Problems-Hugo. Banjo is like bluegrass in general; a little bit goes a long ways. This remake of a hiphop song has the perfect amount of bluegrass funk. One of my kids likes the song cause she’s got one of those Middlebury Quidditch shirts that says “I’ve got 99 problems and a snitch ain’t one”.

Percussion Gun-White Rabbits. It’s all about the drums sometimes, and this one is much better than the other song I’ve been hearing a lot, Kick Drum Heart.

Crystallized- The xx. I’m not sure if this is a love song or not. It’s a heck of a duet, though, with almost contrasting harmony miraculously sounding good, almost great together.

Blue Blood Blues-The Dead Weather. I’m a sucker for Jack White-he’s good in everything he does. Dirty, nasty, old fashioned rock here.

The Ghost Inside-Broken Bells. Most listeners would probably recognize their first popular song, The High Road, but this one’s better. Half of this group was in The Shins, so that’ s probably why I subconsciously liked it.

Oh My God-Mark Ronson featuring Lily Allen. iTunes says this came out in 2007, but I’m including it on my 2010 list because I still run to it quite a bit. Take a good song, add some killer brass riffs, and presto, instant classic.

Dog Days are Over-Florence and the Machine. This song was starting to get WAY overplayed, until I saw a YouTube video of a baby in a car seat loving it. Now I can almost hear it constantly.

Cobrastyle-Robyn. This one came out in 2005, but I just heard it this year. I had been running to the origninal, by the Teddybears, and that’s good too, but this is a great cover.

Latest Heartbreak-22-20’s. Remember above about the drums? Same comments here.

Ruby-Kaiser Chiefs. This is the first song on one of my running mixes-it’s swift kick in the keister when you’re not in the mood to run. The Kaiser Chiefs also did the original to the Lily Allen song above, but she did it better.

You Got Me-The Crash Kings. Grungy.

Dominos-The Big Pink. Another good starting song.

Help I’m Alive-Metric. Unfortunatly, much of my running takes place at 5 in the morning, and this song is great in a super-creepy-in-the-dark sort of way. The first time my kids heard this song they thought she was singing”Help I’m alive, my heart keeps beating like a hamburger”

Kids-MGMT. I bought this one for my kids, ironically. Good beat.

Battleflag-Lo Fidelity Allstars. This is an older song, I think late 90’s. More electronica dance than anything else, but good running pace.

Handlebars-Flobots. Rap is definitely where my mid-life crisis shows through, but this is a rap song with plucked violin and trombone, so there.

Cupid’s Chokehold/ Breakfast in America-Gym Class Heroes. I’m really showing my age when I admit I’m a sucker for a good Supertramp remix, aren’t I?

Airstream Driver-Gomez. I’ve saved one of the best for last. Well done.

That’s enough I guess. What am I missing?

The True way leaves fall

Categories: Random Thoughts, Uncategorized

I was all wrong in my previous post on Leaf Color, the how, why, and when of leaf drop. Sorry about that. Take a little break from work, and watch this video for the correct biology.

Middland all a-twitter

Categories: Random Thoughts

I seem to be on Twitter. I’d been resisting for days, weeks, even months. Readers of this blog probably have picked up on the fact that I don’t even sneeze in less than a half a paragraph. However, a recent re-reading of Strunk and White, rule number 13, Omit Needless Words, got me thinking that maybe I should challenge myself. 160 characters in a tweet is plenty to make a fool of yourself, but more challenging to be useful and informative. And Patio Furniture Day, the day the landscape department puts out all the outdoor furniture for the summer just begged to be tweeted to the students.

The final revelation was the ability to tweet pictures from my cell phone, via TwitPic. One of my reasons for starting this blog was the sharing of plant pictures, as I see much more of the campus than most of you, and there are some beautiful things on this campus you really ought to see, and maybe even walk to at lunch. Putting pictures on a blog, though, is a process, one I’m readily willing to go through most of the time, just not in the growing season. See the dilemma? Heck, I’ve still got pictures of every type of crabapple blossom on campus on my desktop computer, from May 2009.  Today’s twitter picture was a Catalpa blossom, on a tree across from Emma Willard. Took a quick picture, sat down at lunch and sent it as a text/picture message to twitpic, and presto.

My cell phone isn’t too fancy, and I don’t text with the dexterity of my 13 year old, so don’t expect much. But come on over, if you’re a fellow twit (wait, that’s not what i meant…), twitter, oh, whatever.  http://twitter.com/middland.

Teaching with Technology Fair

Categories: Random Thoughts

It’s Commencement (literally, it’s about 9:30 Sunday morning, we’ve been at it since 5 Am, but now us landscapers are hiding around campus working where you can’t see us), hence the lack of any posts the last week or so. I’ve got a lot to write, but being a landscaper in spring has it’s disadvantages, time management being a one of them.  I just wanted to mention I’ll be at the Teaching with Technology Fair on Wednesday, in the Great Hall at Bicentennial Hall from 10-12, showing off the Campus Tree Map. If you’re curious as to the ArcGIS underpinnings of the map, or just want to drop by to talk plants, come on over.

10,000, and an invitation

Categories: Random Thoughts

The site stats section of the blog just claims I reached over 10,000 page views (What does that mean? I have no idea. Maybe 9000 views by the “Google”, 500 people searching for “most beautiful college campus”, and then there is the rest of you in bloggerville. Welcome, come right in.) Like having a child, now I’m feeling this mantle of responsibility, but without the diaper phase. So the invitation is simple-ask away. Walking across campus I’m frequently stopped and asked questions, like advice on fruit trees, or tomatoes. I’ve been gardening and landscaping since about 6th grade, and while I have nowhere near all the answers, I at least know where to look. (And as you may have picked up on, I’ve got opinions. Lots of opinions.) So post some feedback, ask some questions, or send some pictures of your gardening accomplishments. I’m a landscaper, and although it hasn’t felt like it yet, it is May, so give me some time to respond. And thanks for listening.

Peepers!!!!

Categories: Random Thoughts

The talk in our landscape department this morning was the peeper emergence lasts night. Being outdoor types, most of us sleep with the windows open, even with the woodstove blaring. It paid off last night, as the sound of peepers from my pond filled my bedroom.

Proving once again biologists have a sense of language, Spring Peepers are a variety of “chorus frog”. I always reach for the latin names, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Pseudacris crucifer crucifer is the Northern Spring Peeper. Pseudes (false) and akris (locust) for the sound, similar to a real locust insect. Crucifer meaning cross bearer, named for the cross like markings on the underside.

Peepers hibernate near ponds, and the males start making noise early in the spring seeking mates. Smaller than one inch, they are nocturnal, so hard to find, and although equipped with large toe pads for tree climbing, are more comfortable on the ground, hiding in the grass. I’ve learned they can tolerate freezing of some of their body fluids, so that explains their ability to have such an early life cycle in the spring.

The Most Beautiful College Campuses

Categories: Random Thoughts

Forbes recently wrote an article on The World’s Most Beautiful College Campuses. A nice slide show is included in the article, if you can ignore the pervasive advertising in it. Take a look at the Middle Path at Kenyon College, or one of my personal favorites, the campus of Wellesly College, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., of Central Park fame, and, closer to home, designer of Shelburne Farms.

Snow Removal

Categories: Random Thoughts

It’s an odd business to be in, pushing snow around from place to place. Done well, nobody knows or cares- come to work, park the car, walk to class. Miss a storm, and it’s easy to see the mistake. Just ask a student wearing their slippers or flip-flops to Proctor for breakfast. (Yes, flip-flops, not exaggerating here) It’s a misnomer to call it snow removal, we’re only pushing it or moving it to a more convenient location. The only way I know to truly remove snow would play havoc with our carbon footprint, not to mention our stormwater catch basins. While I personally believe that snow should only be moved in snowman form, that’s not entirely possible on campus, so we move it around, stack it up, shovel it off of steps, and plow it to the side.

Snow removal starts several days before the storm, sometimes as much as a week. It’s best to not get surprised by a storm and, while it happens, is rare. The more foreshadowing involved, the better shape we are in handle the storm. So we wait, and watch. Luther Tenny, Assistant Director of Facilities Management, oversees snow removal operations, and lives and breathes the weather forecast all winter long. (And all summer, too, but for golf.) He makes “the call”, and sets the operation in motion.

If conditions are right, the day before the storm we spray an anti-icer called Ice Ban on our roads and walks. It’s a topic for another blog post-suffice to say it prevents the snow from forming a bond with the pavement, and helps clear the ground quickly and easily. The devil is in the aforementioned conditions, so while it’s a useful tool, we don’t apply all the time.

Snow removal gears up at 2 AM, about the time students are wrapping up for the night, and starts with the big iron. A loader, a back hoe, and a single axel tandem truck plow snow on the major arteries of campus. These include Old Chapel Road, Porter Field Road, the Service building, Stewart Hill, CFA, Bicentennial Hall Road, and other places I’m sure I’m forgetting. The early start time ensures when staff start arriving at 4 AM to start their day they can arrive safely, and have a plowed lot to park. It is also nice to have main roads open for not just ourselves, but for the town of Middlebury as well.

At 4 in the morning things get more interesting. 6 snowplows on one ton trucks head out, and start plowing driveways, parking lots, loading docks, and other places too small for the large equipment. I’ll outline a typical route-all of them are about this long. Ready? Emma Willard, both front and rear parking lots. Storrs Ave.-the small faculty staff lot, and hop across the road for the library loading dock while you’re in the neighborhood. 3 South, then Twilight Hall, 125 Main Street (Public Safety), then the Meeker parking lot, then go down South Main Street and do 121, 119, 99/105, 100/102, 104, 106, and 108/110. Now head up Franklin Street, and do The Mill, 91, 115, and 131. Still Snowing? Repeat.

Also at 4 the sidewalk tractors join the fray. 4 people, in a couple of types of tractors, and a Trackless, head out and plow our 10 miles of walkways. In square footage, it’s over 8 acres of mostly concrete sidewalks. All the tractors have a small sander on the rear, spreading sand to keep the walks from becoming too slippery. These operators are really the unsung heroes of the snow removal team. Think of the  first snow of the year, with no snow banks as reference points, and how hard it is to remember not only where the walkways are, but where are the lips, bumps, manhole covers, trash cans, and other obstructions are, and you’ll get a feel for what they are up against.

6 Am comes, and the light is beginning to break. Unless there is a tremendous amount of snow, the sidewalk tractors have opened enough up for the shovel crews to head out in gators to all the buildings. 43 people in facilities, ranging from electricians and plumbers, to floor crew, Recycle center staff, general services, landscapers, and carpenters, to anybody else we can rustle up, load up the gators with shovels, sand, salt, other ice melters, and ice scrapers, and go shovel out all campus buildings on 10 different routes. Not just main entries, but every fire door, wheelchair ramp, garage door, fire escape, basement hatchway, and front and rear door need to be shoveled clear.

On a normal storm, most routes are done by 9:30 or so. Everybody goes back to the service building, cleans their equipment, and scrounges some coffee or hot chocolate. Then they go back to their regular job for the rest of the day.

The landscape crew stays on the snow detail, for a couple of days sometimes.  The sidewalks may need to have snow pushed back more, to make room to push off the next snow. Fire hydrants, oil fill spigots, and propane tanks need to be found and cleared. Unoccupied houses still need to be shoveled, along with decks, plazas, and roofs. Even most of the Bicentennial Hall roof gets shoveled off, with a pair of electric snow blowers, so the building doesn’t fill with fumes, and many shovels. Kohn field is cleared of snow for early spring practices and the track is cleared as well.

On average, snow events number about 15 a year. Even a 1 inch storm demands some response-the tolerance on campus is considerably lower than an average driveway. And come spring, all the sand and torn sod needs to be picked up as well. It’s great fun, actually, being part of such a large team of diverse individuals all coming together to move snow. At least for the first couple of storms…

Plants of a (mis)Spent Youth

Categories: Random Thoughts

Friends ask me how I got into this line of work. How do can I explain it to a non-plant person? It’s all about the plants, after all, but how? What is it about the flowers, or the mulch, or the dirt? How did I get from playing Led Zeppelin on my eight track, painting my parent’s house white (again) to landscaping? More