WEATHER FROM VARIOUS ANGLES: The weather this past weekend was way warmer, way nicer, than initially forecasted. Instead of taking the incredible weather and running with it, I ran into those folks who went after the fact the Weather Service was so wrong. That gave me pause, as I pondered the possibility of someday perfecting weather forecasting. Imagine: On January 1 of each year, we get the exact unwavering weather coming up every day of the arriving year.
I’ll warn you right now that would open a gaping hole in the fabric of society. Without the weather to talk about, people would meet on the street, offer an obligatory, “Hey, Fred, how’s it going,” followed by this long soundless motionless near comatose pause, as both sides just stare idly at the air for two, three, even four minutes before suddenly launching into, “Well, see ya latter, Fred.”
“Yeah, Joe, say ‘Hi’ to the wife and kids for me.”
“Will do, Fred.”
It’s not often written about but some of the very first famous quotes attributed to humankind – dating clear make to the invention of speech – were all about the weather. For instance, some all-time classics dating back to the time of Neanderthals include, “Hot enough for ya?” “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” and “That’s awful! Were you covered by flood insurance?”
Be thankful the weather is and always must be unpredictable, least we have no further need for gratuitous human interaction.
Speaking of the current state of weather forecasting, I was recently dealt a statistical card that I have no idea how to play. Seems that the latest research clearly proves that the weather forecast is wrong almost 30 percent of the time.
I’m not into higher math. Sure, I can figure out the square root of 497, providing I can borrow your hand calculator, but that forecasting imperfection really complicates everything. Now, when I hear that there’s a 60 percent chance of rain, I have to factor in the 30 percent chance of wrongness. What the hell does that leave the chances of rain at? It’s like one of those brain teasers: “If one car leaves Minnesota at 60 mph heading east and another car leaves Long Beach Island heading west at 45 mph what is the gross national product of Zimbabwe?
Sure the brainiacs always come up with some exact meeting points for head-on drives like that, never once considering soda-based pit stops, the helping of that saucy gal with a flat on the interstate and the cops nabbing me for talking on a cellphone without wearing my seatbelt. “Uh, officer, I was making an emergency call to my mechanic to find out why my damn seatbelt isn’t working.”
CONVENIENCE STORE FODDER: I get a load of fishing reports from convenience store parking lots. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, it ain’t just anglers that pull into places like 7-11. There’s often a raw nerve of life exposed thereabouts. After stocking up with my one-stop quota of junkly goodies, I’m inclined to linger a minute or two in my truck, checking out the preoccupied and disproportionately passionate folks sitting in nearby vehicles taking coins to “Instant Loser” lottery tickets -- scratching away at the fleas of futility. A tsunami could be enveloping those fortune hunters and they’d be oblivious to it until that last ticket digit is exposed. In fact, wouldn’t that be the ticket, you finally hit the big one, jump out to cash-in only to have a tsunami wash you away? “No! It’s not fair.” Blub, blub.
Anyway, I ran into a lottery-deluded angler I know who told of a friend whose friend won huge in a state lottery. “He took his first annuity and is buying a house on LBI.” Annuity? LBI? I guess that was some big-ass winnings. Now, here’s the subtle life-cross-section irony. This angler I was talking to was playing the lottery hoping to “Get the hell outta here,” meaning getting away from LBI. There’s some kinda message there, somewhere. I don’t play the lottery but if I did it would be to have the freedom to routinely buy only the best quality liter-sized Pepsis instead of the mealy 20-ouncers.
BEAVER SHOWING: The Mill Creek dredging is a done deal but wait until you hear why the work took forever and days. Turns out the muck in the targeted channel was buttressed by the lifework of beavers. And it was quite the bottom tangle of wood and mud.
While the dredge company called it a beaver dam, it was well below water, hinting of a beaver den or, more likely, a lodge. Those are the often-elaborate living quarters of numerous beavers. A lodge is the biggy among beaver retreats. A multigenerational beaver dwelling can expand much like an old human homestead, as rooms were are on with each new family member – and their kids.
Of course, that Mill Creek dredging obstacle was not compliments of some recent big-tailed rodent. This beaver homestead was likely a past-times domain of critters that coveted the old Mill Creek, which ran freshwater sweet, with plenty of tasty timber and tubular roots.
I once helped remove an abandoned beaver lodge that was ruining the paddling of a pinelands creek. Another fellow and I were merrily digging downward from above the lodge when, poof, he vanishes clean out of sight. Being a good digging partner, I bolted the minute he disappeared from view. I inched back to the site when his head appeared from the ground where we had been digging. He had fallen into a beaver lodge. I grabbed a spotlight and we checked out the digs. It was a huge lodge and amazingly made, with smooth walls seemingly trowled by professional masons. He could both fit in it.
The beaver domain the Mill Creek dredgers hit was the first the company had ever run into. The dredge folks found out the hard way just how highly structured these homesteads can be. In fact, as long as a food supply is around – and humans and predators don’t prevail – a beaver lodge is kept in mint condition for decades on end.
And how could they tell it was a beaver’s woodworkings and not just a logjam? It was pretty easy when each piece of removed wood was pointed at both ends, as if chiseled by professionals.
Odd fact: Did you know that beaver have flaps of skin between their front gnawing incisor teeth and their back chewing teeth? The flaps close to keep splinters from being ingested and also to hold water out. The animal backs off the flaps when eating or drinking. Another odd tooth thing is the way those gnawing incisors have fiercely hard yellow enamel up front and much softer material behind each tooth. The back part abrades away faster, leaving a constantly sharpened front edge for gnawing away. Of course, even that yellow frontage wears down so a beaver’s teeth are constantly being replaced. The beaver’s back chewing teeth are permanent (after the age 2), kept for lifetime.
There are no more beaver in the Mill Creek channel, though well up the Mill Creek itself, which originates far into the forest, there are a few still kicking around.
CALVIN WINS WORLD SERIES – OR NOT: Well, the Cape May World Series of Birding is over and it was a high-ceilinged success. All kinds of feathery things were seen or heard or imagined and duly recorded by birding teams from all over the world. points were tallied and the top feather finders were high-fived.
The now-huge event sounds like good fun, though I’m a tad curious about that honor system when it comes to getting points for different bird species. “We heard the distinct rustle of a purple gallinule in the laurel leaf litter undergrowth.”
Of course, I just have to picture some guy walking into the final World Series gathering with a laundry list of every bird species in the book -- and in alphabetical order no less. “I saw all these,” he offers the judges, who seem a tad perplexed over his spotting of three roadrunners. The man then smiles oddly and hands over an addendum to the list. “Plus, I just happened to see these bad boys.” The “bad boys” being three hitherto thought to be extinct birds he swears he saw – all on one branch.
The judges are of course cynically suspicious, so the fellow pulls out a badly overdue library book entitled “Hitherto Thought to Be Extinct Birds of the World.” Squinting downward, with a lit cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth, he opens the book to pages marked by small pieces of ripped paper, reveling hand-painted drawings of each of his sighted hitherto thought to be extinct birds. He asks the judges, “This is the bird here, right? And this one, too, right?” The judges agree, offering confused headshakes in the affirmative. After revealing all three artist’s renderings, he says, “There you go, then. You’ve confirmed my sightings.” At which point the judges realize the World Series of Birding bylaws state that once a judge and/or judges confirm the identity of a sighting it is thereby official. Openly sneering at the man, the event organizers acknowledge he’s that year’s winner – and ask him to please smoke outside.
So, on the hallowed perpetual trophy of World Series of Birding you have etched names like of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Super-sighter Team, the Audubon Society Eagle-eyed See-Alls, and some guy named Calvin.
And it would be one-and-done for Cal, after discovering you don’t actually win anything by winning. “What the hell kinda world series is this? Hey, who’s going to pay the late fee on this stupid book?” he yelled as he was being ignobly ushered out of the ceremonial dinner -- after telling a group of senior birders, “Next time I’ll stuff all those frickin’ little birds I saw. Extinct species are bringing some good money on eBay, you know.”
NETTLE E-QUESTION: “I read about those nettle jellyfish in your column but didn’t realize how bad they were until I walked to the bay recently and saw them everywhere. Are they really poisonous?”
Well, they are mildly venomous but really aren’t poisonous. If properly cleaned, you can eat as many of them as you want. In fact, enjoy. It may help the fight against them. I’m not serious. There are no known recipes for these jellies – yet.
What I’m doing is pointing out an important semantic distinction that should be mastered when discussing marine life.
A creature is technically poisonous if you get sick from eating it. It is not necessarily venomous. A prefect example is the fugu pufferfish. You can safely pick one up in your bare hands, throw it around like a softball, even openly say bad things about its mother. It’s not venomous so it only stare at you, albeit angrily. However, take just one bite of its ferociously poisonous flesh and there's a good chance you'll become dead in nothing flat -- which probably serves you right for badmouthing its mama like that.
You won’t be so arrogant with something venomous – something that can inject a poison into you via bite, poke or sting. The proper word for having a creature thrust poison upon you is invenomate.
And jellyfish are top-notch invenomaters, opting for the multiple sting approach. In fact, far and away the deadliest know marine creature in the world is the tiny box jellyfish, which kills more people annually than all other in-water nasties combined, including sharks. Recent studies suggest the box jelly may be the most toxic creature known, land or sea.
Not to panic, though. The sea nettles are just slightly venomous, far from lethal, though some folks respond worse than others to the toxins in their tentacles.
Personally, I don’t rate the sea nettle’s sting anywhere close to its kissin’ cousin, the lion’s mane jelly. I’ve been brought to the edge of itch and burn insanity after having surfing-based run-ins with lion’s manes.
At the same time, the lion’s mane can’t hold a burning candle to a Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish. I once had a man-of-war slip into my wetsuit vest in Florida and honestly thought someone had dropped a lit cigar down my back. By the time I hit the beach and ripped off the wetsuit, I was in utter agony, literally dropping to the sand to scrape my back on the wet sand -- to both ease the pain and remove any lingering jellyfish tentacles. I was beyond caring that a load of onlookers, including other waveriders, were gawking at my dog-like antics. However, as I rushed to a nearby beach shower for relief, a couple folks were totally sympathetic, rhetorically asking, “Those damn things hurt, don’t they?”
The big fear about sea nettle is just how many might arrive this summer. If they overpopulate to the point of total infestation of the bay they could kill all larval creatures and small young-of-year fish. They could also kill bayside swimming activities, making things miserable for the many family folks who prefer bay beaches when small kids are in tow.
A concerted effort is being made to address the potential sea nettle explosion in the bay this summer