Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Winter Storm Warning of recent days reminded me of a storm that occurred many years past. I believe it was 1950 that the snowfall occurred. I was living in Wexford, PA at the time and was in my first year of college at what was then Carnegie Institute of Technology. The snowfall came when the school was on the break for Thanksgiving and began, as I recall, some days after Thanksgiving Day. It continued for some time and when it was over left some thirty-plus inches on the ground.

That was a lot of snow to shovel and my Dad and I spent some time clearing our long drive. Ridding the public roads of snow took a long time as well and the Pittsburgh area was a few days getting back to normal. Carnegie Tech was a few days getting back to normal as well and our Thanksgiving vacation was extended. I was into hunting then and the deer season came into being the first week in December so of course I took the extra time off to look for deer. There wasn’t much chance of finding them in thirty inches of snow and the deer were safe from my hunting buddy and me. But that was all right, We had a good time anyway and I enjoyed my extended vacation and returned to Tech about a week later than originally scheduled.

When I heard the recent storm warning, I had thoughts of a repeat of that 1950 snow, but it never came to be. This year’s Thanksgiving storm fell far short, a few inches in this area, though I understand other areas were hit much harder. It seems in this day of mass communication the warnings of winter weather bear an urgency and an alarm that I do not remember in years past. I’m not sure why that is. I have talked to other people who ascribe it to everything from the need of the media to raise their ratings to the greater difficulty in predicting weather in recent years to an alliance between the media and supermarket chains for selling milk, bread and toilet paper. At any rate, I don’t believe there will be people fifty years from now reminiscing about the big snow that occurred during the Thanksgiving holiday of 2013.

After I wrote the above, I went online to check details and my memory. Wikipedia titles the storm as the Great Appalachian Storm of November 1950. It formed on November 24, reached maximum intensity on November 25 and dissipated on November 30, which was Thanksgiving Day of 1950. I was a bit off on my memory of dates. It was classified as an extratropical cyclone that affected 22 states and dumped a maximum snowfall of fifty seven inches in some areas; winds peaked at 160 miles per hour in the New England highlands. In all, there were 353 fatalities due to the storm and total damages of $66.7 million (1950 dollars). The affected area was the eastern third of the United States and southeast Canada.

The Pittsburgh area received 30.5 inches of snow and a subsequent warm spell in early December resulted in river flooding.

Friday, November 15, 2013

In England horse raising country, it is the belief that a pasture should contain no less that eighty different plant species. If it contains less than that number it is considered to be “in decline.” Maintaining land within healthy standards has contributed to the raising of prize winning horses in that country. These facts are contained in a book entitled Back from the Brink by Australian farmer and horse breeder Peter Andrews in which he discusses Australia’s problems with its deteriorating landscape.

Andrews speaks out in favor of biodiversity elsewhere in his book. All plants including weeds, he claims, are important. They add to the soil things that it needs to be healthy and productive. They are necessary to ecology. This is in contrast with the custom I have noticed in this country where the ideal lawn, for instance, consists of one kind of uniformly close-clipped grass, a lawn which is regularly sprayed with chemicals to kill any but the desired plant in an effort to maintain a “perfect” lawn.

When reading Andrews’ book, I couldn’t help but transfer his observations of plants and their worth to the ecosystem with our concept of the place of individuals in society. Our society rewards a member in accordance with its estimate of that member’s worth. It encourages and sometimes dictates that its members follow certain fields of study, be trained in one of a few limited occupations and follow a pre-designed route to what is termed success. In a sense, society “weeds out” its undesirables, using our money system to insure that this is done.

On the surface, that may sound logical and advantageous. By such a method, it is supposed, each member of society contributes what society needs and is rewarded according to that contribution. But is our society, like the person who strives to have a “perfect” lawn, heading in the wrong direction? Does our confusion of need and want and a misinterpretation of what is valuable cause us to concentrate on a crop that is inferior and actually detrimental to our well being?

Every person in any society has unique talents and abilities that have the potential of offering to society unique benefits. Under our present system many of these individuals and the talents and abilities they possess are wasted. It would be better for society to encourage and enable each of its members to find and develop those talents and abilities to the highest extent possible. By doing so, the society might discover it has prospects that are richer, more fertile and far superior than those of its present pre-ordained plan.