Monday, February 13, 2012

Solar Storms, Now and Then

If you are planning a road trip in May 2013, you might want to consider rescheduling or at least, plan on taking a paper atlas with you rather than depend on your GPS. At some point in mid-2013, our sun will reach solar max, the period of the highest sun spot activity.  It has a nine to 14 year cycle. So the last time when we were in solar max was around the year 2000. The solar activity can knock out satellites, cause us to lose them for a short time and quite possibly cause them to malfunction or disable them indefinitely. We now have a lot more technology dependent on these satellites than we had in 2000.  The solar max expected in 2013 is not expected to be one of the biggest, not even as big as the one in 2000, but some of our worse solar storms have been during smaller solar maxes. Considering how strained our power grid is these days, this could be a time that we could be without power for awhile.  On the flipside, it could be that we don't even notice it.

The biggest solar storm ever on record occurred in 1859.  At the time, ships lost the use of magnetic compasses for a short time. Also, some telegraph towers or telegraph machines had power surges causing fires and explosions.  During that storm, the aurora borealis (aka the Northern Light) were reportedly seen from the equator.  People in New York City could read the newspapers during the mid of the night from this light without a problem.   Other years we had sun storm problems were 1921 and 1960 when widespread radio outages were reported.

A few years ago, I was camping in GaspĂ©, Quebec.  I was having the worst difficult time making a fire when I noticed the dancing lights in the sky.  We lost interest in the fire and pulled up our chairs and watched the show.  I cannot wait to see them again.  I might not even have to travel this time.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rex's Eulogy

Beth and I used to attend an annual event in Middlebury, Vermont called Woofstock.   Woofstock sponsored by the Addison County Humane Society for dog owners with booths, demonstrations and games for kids with pets.  It was a fun event.  When my hound mix, Rex, was young, maybe about two years old, I entered him in their "best dog" contest.  You'd march your dog, mostly with other mutts from the shelter, around in a circle while employees of the shelter would ask you why your dog is the "best dog."   I could not even comprehend why I would have to prove he was the best dog ... of course, he was the best dog.  He was my dog, just look at him.

Of course Rex did not win the best dog contest.  It went to some lame dog who did tricks unlike Rex who just sat there and looked beautiful.  It is still very obvious to me that he was indeed the "best" dog. We don't go to Woofstock anymore.
Beth and I grew up in similar circumstances.  We had large families with no dogs.  We lived in city/suburban type neighborhoods where it wasn't easy to have a dog.   We had at least one parent that was dead set against it.  Every Christmas I asked for a dog, every year I was disappointed with my gifts.  When we grew up and moved out, we lived in dorms or rented apartments where dogs were not allowed.  We got our fixes of dog love by dog sitting, walking friend's dogs and bothering strangers.

It wasn't until 2001, when Beth and I bought our first house that we finally got our dog. We had our eye on Rex early in 2001 at the Franklin County Humane Society in St. Albans, Vermont. He was a hound mix puppy, about five months old, mostly Rhodesian Ridgeback, we think. We knew we were closing on our house in a month so we ask if we could put a hold on him.  They told us "NO" understandably, but we were disappointed.   In a few days he was adopted by another family. We closed on our house a few weeks later in April and the very next day we drove back to the Humane Society to finally, after a few decades of wanting a dog, to get our first dog. We were very excited.  When we got there we discovered Rex in one of their kennel cages. He had been returned by the family that had adopted him.  So our conclusion was ... this is our dog.  We had a fleeting belief in destiny.  I still remember driving home in our '92 Corolla with Rex in the backseat, seeing him in the rear view mirror, thinking "that's my dog."

The idea of dog ownership is an odd one.  For one, a dog is 99.8 % genetically identical to a wolf and we bring them into our houses and trust them, some of them more than other members of our families.  After centuries of breeding we have bred out the .2% of wildness to have an amazing relationship, one unlike any other.  But it is a relationship, not ownership.  I didn't own Rex, I loved him.  Perhaps for legal circumstances, we have to use the term "own" but it is not right. Any dog "owner" will tell you, ownership is something we use for objects, like cars and blankets, not for members of your family.

Rex had his problems: he had fear aggression, he barked a lot, he bit at least three people, he was relentless at begging for food and counter-surfing.  For the past decade, the word "Rex" was probably the one word I have said loudly or in anger more often than any other word.  Now that he has gone, I have done so twice already totally out of habit.  But none of these things matter to what he brought us in the category of joy, companionship and laughter.  He was cuddly and sweet. He was great on hike.  We'd let him off-leash and run ahead and always stop and look back then wait for us. His tail was amazing; there exists no better barometer for joy than a hound's tail.  He'd wag whenever you said his name. It was a great day when we discovered if you said the word "REd soX,"  slowly, he'd wag away. He protected the house.  He loved the car. We'd always joke that everytime he got in the car, he thought he was going on a trip to Patten, Maine or Jekyl Island, Georgia.  These are two places he particularly loved.  He'd lick your feet while you were relaxing at the end of the day. He'd dance with me when I played G. Love's "Rodeo Clown." The thing I may miss the most is how he greeted me when I hadn't seen him in a long time. He jump up in excitement, wagging and barking. You've never see a happier creature than when I pick him up at a dog sitter's house.  Surely, I was not worthy of this much love.
Tuesday evening we went to bed as usual.  Rex sleeping between us, Max (our lab) sleeping at our feet and Cokie (our sheppard) sleeping on the floor beside the bed.  When we awoke Rex was panting heavily and he wouldn't eat.  By the end of the day he was gone.  He had two tumors in the area around his heart.  One of them had burst and filled him chest cavity with fluid.  Because of where the tumors were, removing them could have killed him and there was no guarantee that they wouldn't grow back.  I wanted to take him home, I wanted to snatch him away, I tried to rationalize taking him and letting him die in his sleep, but I was simply being selfish.  My buddy was in pain.  As stewards of his care, we had to make the awful decision to put him down.  It is a macabre experience to put it lightly, but a necessary evil.  He had 11+ years of great days and one very bad day.  I have a lot of irrational guilt for what I had to do my friend.  I know it was the correct and moral thing to do but this is no solace for the emotional me.  We have a huge hole in our lives.  Rex, my dog, my first dog, is gone forever.  It will be awhile before I get over this.