The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

August 15, 2010

A Battle of Wits with a Bug

Filed under: Nature, Wanderings — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:00 am

Image credit: Roger Smith on Flickr

I suspect that just about anyone who has lived around here for any length of time has probably had a run-in with an uninvited crane fly at some point.  Found mostly in the Summer and occasionally noted with horror as being similar in appearance to  unusually large mosquitoes, crane flies are pretty much harmless (although their larvae are considered to be a pest for their tendency to feed on grass roots, which can result in lawn damage if left unchecked.)  They don’t sting, they don’t bite, (in fact, most species don’t even feed at all upon reaching maturity) don’t spread any diseases, and for the most part they don’t really do much of anything really, except for show up at the most inopportune times and annoy the heck out of you.  They also have an annoying tendency to stick around whether you want them there or not (but when was the last time you actually wanted one of these things around?)

About 15-20 miles past Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 between Easton and Cle Elum there is a ranch/campground owned by the LDS church which is known as Ensign Ranch, and which is frequently the location for overnight activities.  I was attending one such activity last night with a group of single adults.  To be perfectly honest, although I come equipped with most of the basic camping gear when I attend these things, I’ve never been all that great camping.  The one time I got involved with an actual “roughing it” type campout back when I was in the process of flunking out of the Boy Scouts was, in a word, disastrous.  Not quite so much that they had to airlift me out or anything like that, but enough so to put me off the idea of ever doing anything like that for fun, or anything resembling it.  This means that on the rare occasions when I do go camping it’s mostly of the wimpy “car camping” variety.  In this particular case I mean this literally, as I end up sleeping in my car.  I think I may have actually done a Blog post on this a couple of years ago, but to make a long story short, I’ve figured out that when I fold down the front and back seats of my car (the front passenger seat can be folded down flat to basically get it out of the way) and put down one of those self-inflating foam pads I can create a semi-passable  sleeping space in the car.  It’s not exactly the most comfortable thing in the world, but it’s comfortable enough that I am able to actually sleep there.  Being something of a picky sleeper (definitely not by choice) and given the fact that it doesn’t take much to prevent me from being able to sleep at all, this is actually pretty good compared to some of the alternatives.  It also tends to somewhat reduce my chances of being eaten by a bear, something that is pretty much guaranteed to ruin the whole camping trip for everyone (especially the one being eaten by the bear.)

Anyway,  I was setting up this particular sleeping arrangement in my car last night when I found that one of these crane flies had flown into the car, and had decided to hang out on the dome light.  Although I am quite familiar with crane flies (for some reason, the front porch and entryway to my old apartment seemed to attract a fair number of these) and was well aware of their harmless nature, I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the prospect of spending the night with a giant insect hovering ominously overhead.  The obvious solution would be to just smash the thing, but I generally don’t care much for doing so since it makes a mess (and besides, I usually don’t bring along a copy of How To Kille Insects when I go out camping.)  So the next step is to try to shoo the thing out of the car, a task which turns out not be nearly as easy as it might sound.  For one thing, you’re dealing with a bug with a brain roughly the size of the period at the end of this sentence, which doesn’t allow for a whole lot in terms of cognitive power.  A brain of that size generally doesn’t have room for much more than some basic motor skills, a sensory organ or two, some stuff  about mating, sex and egg-laying, and if there’s room left for anything else beyond that (apparently when you’re a big dumb insect whose survival strategy is comprised mostly of making zillions of babies, self-preservation instincts are optional)  it usually gets wasted on something silly like attraction to bright shiny objects.  Such as the dome light of a car that just happens to be out in the middle of nowhere for some odd reason.  What this means to some guy with an annoyingly huge bug in his car is that the blasted thing flies erratically and really, really, REALLY doesn’t want to leave the bright shiny object it’s gotten itself attracted to.  After several failed attempts to corral the fly out the door, the thing  finally appeared to be gone, so I finished setting up for the evening, and a couple of hours later when I was preparing to go to bed, there were no visible bugs in the car, so I completed the evening routine and prepared to go to sleep.

Roughly 10 minutes after turning out the light, I suddenly hear an unmistakable  low buzzing sound near my ear.  Crane flies flap their wings more slowly than most flying insects you might be familiar with do, which creates a much lower sound than what you’d hear from a fly or a smaller insect like a gnat or a mosquito.  Usually this particular buzz is quiet enough that you  can’t hear it, even if the bug is relatively close to you.  This, of course, means that if you CAN hear the buzzing, you’ve got a crane fly much, much closer to your ear than you really want it to be.  This by itself is unnerving enough, but in the couple of milliseconds it takes your brain to process this, any touch stimulus bearing even the faintest of resemblance to that of an insect leg is probably going to be enough to set off a full-blown panic reaction.  As has been outlined above, crane flies don’t really have any way to do any sort of harm to a human, but that certainly doesn’t mean that they can’t get a human to injure themselves in painful yet hilarious fashion.  Not that they’re aware of any of this, of course.  Tiny little insect brains don’t generally allow for much evil scheming (at least that’s what they WANT us to think…)  Fortunately, in my half-awake state at this point I wasn’t exactly in a position to overthink this, and the most convenient answer to the problem at hand seemed to involve a thrown object (in this case, a pillow) in the general direction of the buzzing.  Which then promptly stopped, and remained stopped, at least until I was able to get to sleep.

Upon waking up in the morning, as I began going through the set of  contortions that are required to get dressed inside the car (it’s enough room to sleep in reasonably well, but with all of about three feet of headroom available in this arrangement, it’s kind of a pain to do much more than that) I found, once again, that the crane fly remained, hanging out on the ceiling next to the dome light.  At this point, I had other things to worry about, so I continued dressing and after breakfast, I came back to pack up the car for the trip home, hoping it would fly out one of the open doors and decide to go do something productive with its few precious hours of adult life.  I tell you, bugs these days have no ambition.  Granted, some people have alleged that my car is supposed to be a chick magnet (so far, the empirical evidence seems to suggest otherwise,) but I think that’s only supposed to work on humans, right?  Not that I’d know where one would go to find a cute little girl fly to settle down with for a few minutes and raise a family, but I’m pretty sure that my car is a pretty lousy place for that kind of thing.  Anyway, to make an excessively long story somewhat less excessively long, by the time I finished packing stuff, the crane fly once again appeared to be gone. 

As I made the 70-mile drive back to Bellevue, I forgot all about the little matter, right up until I got back home.  As I was pulling into my parking space, I once again heard the ominous buzzing sound, and saw the crane fly (which had now hitchhiked its way across the mountains) flopping around over by the door.  After getting parked, once again I made an attempt to shoo it out the door as I hauled my stuff out of the car and up to my apartment.  Once again it disappeared, and I thought I could finally put the matter to rest.  Then again, by now you probably know where this is headed…  Sure enough, a couple of hours later as I headed out to run some errands, Craney McNuisance decided to start buzzing around yet again., but this time I was driving at freeway speeds, making it a particularly bad time to be dealing with this type of thing.  Not having a whole lot of other options at this point I rolled down the window in the hopes that the 70 mile-per-hour wind would somehow manage to suck the thing out the window (yeah, by this time it was getting kind of personal, why do you ask?) and once again it disappeared, gone for good…  Or so I thought.  Sure enough, the thing managed to evade this, and at least two more attempts to shoo it out before I was finally able to get the thing to actually fly out the window in some parking lot down in Renton.  By this time, I was thoroughly sick of crane flies, and ended up rolling up all the windows and parking clear on the other side of the lot just to make sure.  And did a walk-around of the car when I returned just to make sure it wasn’t sitting on the door waiting to fly back in when I returned.  I’m pretty sure I saw the blasted thing actually fly away now, but somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if I found it waiting there tomorrow morning…

So that’s pretty much what’s been bugging me lately.  You?

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April 6, 2009

Time to Start Thinking About Thinking About Spring

Filed under: Bellevue, Nature, weather — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 7:16 pm

For those of you out there who thought this Winter seemed a bit colder than usual, it’s not your imagination.  according to this post on the KOMO Weather Blog, March of 2009 was the seventh coldest March on record for the Seattle area (as observed at Sea-Tac Airport, where the official records are kept) and the coldest March on record since 1976.  January and February weren’t much better with far more days below the normal temperature than above it, and December…  Well, forget I even mentioned December, OK? 

Of course, even around here Winter can’t last forever, and although the official start of Spring was a couple of weeks ago, it still seems like it’s been just a bit slow in actually getting here.  Finally, after dealing with months of cold and rainy weather (it was also pointed out on the weather Blog a couple of weeks ago that at that time there hadn’t been a day over 60 degrees since the beginning of October, although unofficially I seem to recall seeing a couple on the thermometer in my car) we managed to get not one, but two days of nice sunny weather, with temperatures reaching into the Seventies.  This, of course, provided a perfectly good excuse to break out the shorts and Tevas which had been packed away for the Winter many months ago (except for a brief reprieve from the drawer during the Disney World trip in December, which I may actually manage to finish writing about at some point) and make a trip into Bellevue to take  a walk around Downtown Park, which is easily one of the nicest parks to be found anywhere on the Eastside.  As you can see from the photo above, plenty of people (and dogs) seemed to have the same idea. 

Of course, given the weather we’ve been having this year (combined with the fact that we were still getting snowed on in mid April of last year) I can’t guarantee that the weather will stay this nice, but we can certainly enjoy it while it’s here (the forecasts I’ve looked at seem to think it’ll be around for another day or so before the rain makes its inevitable return.)  After the jump, a few other photos that I took today at Downtown Park, and elsewhere in Bellevue.

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January 4, 2009

Finally, Some Snowfall I Can Live With

Filed under: Nature, weather — Brian Lutz @ 9:59 pm

Over the past couple of weeks, I have noticed that people’s tolerance for snow in its many forms has diminished somewhat around here lately.  After all the snowfall before Christmas which left nearly eighteen inches of snow on the ground and made a mess of the roads for the better part of two weeks, it seems that even the most diehard of snow fans in this area are starting to get just a bit sick of the stuff.  Fortunately, we managed to get a break from the snow for a week and a half after Christmas which allowed the stuff to be mostly melted away and cleaned up, but this evening it looks like the snow has returned for an encore, bringing another inch or so of big wet puffy flakes to the area, although it now seems to have let up again.

Here you can get an idea of the type of snow this particular flurry dropped on us.  It’s the type of stuff that seems to have just enough substance to stick to things with little difficulty, but it still seems not to be all that cold, and on the roads and sidewalks its already begun to turn into slush pracically as soon as it hits the ground. 

 

With much of what’s left from Winter’s opening salvo having already melted over the past week, this snow is mostly falling on bare ground, and with some  moderately warmer weather on the way in, I doubt this snow will be hanging around for too long.  I am seeing a few people having difficulty with the driveway out to 148th (others are getting up it with no problem at all though,) but fortunately this little flurry decided to wait until most people were in for the evening, put down a perfectly reasonable inch of snow that just barely covers up the ground, and brought with it the type of snow that would be perfect for snow sculpting (although given the, um, artistic results of the last snowfall I’m not so sure I should be encouraging such things around here.)  I suspect that most of this will be gone in the morning in time for the commute as well.

Judging from some of my friends’ Facebook statuses, it seems that not everyone shares my assessment of this particular weather pattern,  Most of the comments seem to fall somewhere in the range between “Ugh, not snow again!” and “%#$!, not snow again!” with the occasional “Boy, I sure am glad I’m glad I’m somewhere it’s not snowing” comment from some wiseguy who just happened to be somewhere else thrown in for good measure.  I suppose that after the big mess we got from the last go-around I can see why people might not be so fond of Old Man Winter at this point, but to be honest, this is the type of winter weather I can live witharound here, as long as I don’t have to go driving in it or have to put up with icy roads for two weeks at a time.  Not that I’m necessarily asking for more of the stuff, mind you…

October 22, 2008

The Autumn Leaves: A Study in Contrasts

Filed under: Nature — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 11:44 pm

I have to admit that out of four different seasons to choose from, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t choose Autumn as my favorite time of the year.  In a sense, the whole thing just seems to be one slow descent into winter, complete with the slow decline of temperatures until they reach the customary low-to-mid forties that’ll be sticking around for much of the next few months, the return of the seemingly omnipresent overcast and rain, and eventually the obligatory November windstorms that have an annoying tendency to make a big mess out of things.  That said, the Autumn does have its advantages as well. If you can manage to look over the huge pile of Halloween and/or Christmas paraphernalia sitting in the stores you can just now start to see Thanksgiving off in the distance, and of course, there are the colors of the leaves on the trees. 

For some reason, we seem to think of the Fall as being something where the leaves go from green to some color of their choosing, then the leaves all fall off in a big pile on the ground.  When you live somewhere that has an abundance of trees in many different varieties, you soon find out that it doesn’t really work out that way.  I suppose if there was one appointed time where all of the trees simultaneously shed their leaves it would be a lot more noticeable (and various cultures would probably base some sort of elaborate observance on the designated Time of the Leaf-Dropping, be it festive, religious or superstitious.)  In reality, the whole process is a lot slower and more drawn-out than that.  There’s nothing particularly subtle about having all the leaves on your trees out in the yard turn bright orange and yellow, but when I went out for a short walk to take advantage of the surprisingly clear (and very nearly even warm) weather yesterday, I was surprised to see just how much green actually remains on some of the trees out there.  I have to admit that my knowledge of the various trees doesn’t extend much past the point of  the ones with the pointy needles being pine trees so I couldn’t tell you much info about the different types of trees here, but someone more familiar with the subject can feel free to contribute that info if they like.  After the jump, a few photos of some of the trees near my workplace, and the contrasts between different trees at this time of year.

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