Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Airport Games

"Is that a woman or a man?" I asked my sister from our perch in an empty gate at the Detroit airport.

She peered at the target.  "Hmmm...I don't KNOW," she said.

And so it began, another round of Airport Games.

I spend a lot of time in airports, both for work and travel, and despite them all having the same general function, they all differ slightly, from the slightly confusing (Santiago), slightly terrifying (Lukla, Nepal) to freezing (Denver) and seemingly always crowded (Salt Lake).  Nevertheless, there's only so much reading you can do during, say, a 6 hour layover in Dallas.  So that's when I resort to people watching.  Here are some games I like to play.  They are much more fun with another person but can be played alone too.  You're welcome.

1.  Guess people's stories.  What is that couple fighting about?  Where is that handsome man with a guitar going? Wait, was that Taylor Swift walking by? This one is fun because you can always make something up, the more elaborate the better.

2.  Seek out Glamour Dos.  The last page of Glamour Magazine has pictures of real people and celebrities and determines whether their outfits are fashion Dos or Don'ts.   Airports are great places for this game, as people sport all types of outfits in which to travel.  On my last trip, there were a surprising number of well dressed women in Detroit.

3.  Try to guess where people are going or coming from based on attire and bags.  It's amusing to see shorts and tank tops in the same general area as down jackets and beanies.  I play a version of this in immigration lines in international airports that I like to call American/Not American.  Oddly, I must not look that American, because locals and even some Americans tend to come up to me speaking rapid Spanish.

What about you?  How do you pass the time in airports?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Just a bike in the park

Saturday was the warmest day we have had here in a long while.  It was time for a bike ride!  I put my Electra Townie in my truck and headed for the national park.

The majority of the park road is closed in the winter time; people ski and snowshoe on it.  The plows have now started their long journey toward Logan Pass, so the road is still closed to cars, but clear of snow.  It's great for biking.

There's still a lot of snow in the mountains.

A lot of people were out walking, but the beauty of being on a bike is that you can zoom around them.  After a winter of running, snowshoeing, and gym machines, it felt good to go faster for a change.

The Townie at a photo stop
I think it's finally spring!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Burning (the non-glamorous life)

In my last post (was that really a week ago already?!) I wrote about starting a prescribed burn with a helicopter.  This is the glamorous way to do it.  Sadly, sometimes you don't have access to a helicopter, the funds to order one, or the right conditions.  This is when you end up doing "hand lighting."  This is how you do it.

If you are lucky enough to be chosen to ignite the burn (you may regret this later), you pick up a handheld torch and fill it with a mixture of gas and diesel.  You ask around for a lighter, which used to be easy to find, but hardly anyone smokes anymore.  You light the tip of your torch and now you have fire.
 There are rules.  You can't just tromp through the woods spewing fire everywhere.  There is an "ignition specialist" and an "ignition plan", which is in the "burn plan", a document which used to be only a couple pages, if there even was one, but which now is comprised of piles of documents, including maps, a "prescription" for burning the area, and a job hazard analysis.  You generally have to walk next to other people with their own torches, either a little ahead or a little behind them, depending on which way the wind is blowing.  If you go too fast, you can send your fire towards them in a way they will not appreciate.  If you go too slow, you find yourself rushing to catch up.  There will be slash, lots of it: downed trees, brush, branches.  You'll trip on it many times.  The torch, seemingly light at first, will seem heavy after awhile.  The burn unit will seem impossibly big. It almost always is steep.  Sometimes you might envy the "holders", whose job it is to hold the fireline and keep any embers from crossing it.  This is probably a mistake though, because they are stuck in the choking smoke that you are creating, and could be having their own problems, including chasing spot fires and hauling water hoses around.
The usual view of a holder
Sooner or later your torch runs out of fuel, or maybe it malfunctions.  Hopefully there is someone on an ATV bringing torches and fuel around, but if not, you trek out to the fireline to where it is stashed.  You do this over and over again, until you are done, or until someone else takes over, usually a holder who is tired of breathing smoke like it was oxygen.  When you're done you're not really done, because you all might become holders, or patrol the line, mop up, catch spot fires, or break down the pump and hoselays.  Sometimes it's after midnight when you are really done, and you pile into the trucks and head back to the station, where there is refurb to do on equipment and trucks, everyone smells like smoke, and you want to eat all of the food.

Still.  Despite the long hours, and your tired feet and bumps and bruises from crashing through brush, your semi-permanent cough from the thick smoke, it's a good feeling when you look back at a line of fire you've just created and see it pulling into the next person's line just like it's supposed to.  You get to spend the day outside with friends and sunshine and fire.  It might not be the glamorous life of helicopter burning, but we'll take it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Raining Fire

Most of the time we put fires out.  But sometimes we start them.

On Tuesday we shivered as we loaded up supplies in our truck and drove to a nearby airstrip to meet a helicopter.  It was hard to believe that anything would ignite, let alone a few hundred acres.  But one of the districts wanted to burn today, to reduce hazardous fuels and lessen the chances of a catastrophic wildfire later on.  So this is how we did it.

First you need a helicopter:

Then you install this machine in it.
Those orange bags are filled with plastic spheres. What's in them? Read on...
A person sits in the back to operate the machine.

They load the machine with plastic spheres filled with potassium permanganate.  As these spheres cycle through the machine, they get injected with ethylene glycol (antifreeze).  They drop out of the machine onto the ground, where they ignite because of the chemical reaction between the two substances.

The operator has to make sure that the machine is operating properly, keep adding more spheres to it, and put out any fires that happen inside the machine (yes, this happens! it's not as scary as you might think).

The helicopter flew until sunset.  Earlier, the burn had been sluggish: it hasn't been long since snow covered this ground.  Later, the fire picked up; the tired crews on the ground chased embers until dark.  We packed up the empty sphere boxes and said goodnight to the pilot.  Back at the base, there was paperwork to be done, the machine to clean.  It would be after 10 before we could go home.

As firefighters we move between two worlds: one where we try to prevent fires, and attempt to stop them, and another where we rain fire from the sky and from torches we hold in our hands as we walk through the forest.  In the right conditions, what we fight we then seek to set free.

It's burning season.  Soon new green grass will grow, and we will be sending firefighters all over the west to respond to wildfires.  Cold mornings, and afternoons lighting fire, will be a memory until the fall, when there may be a small window to burn again before the autumn rains.  Now we burn.  Soon we will fight.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

In Which Chocolate Milk Cures Everything

First of all, thanks for the nice comments on my last post, where I whined about being sick and not exercising.  #FirstWorldProblems.  I'm still alive, enough so that I can share my miraculous tale of recovery.

When I was in college I took an elective called "American Folk Medicine."  One of our assignments was to interview elderly people about home remedies they used back in the day.  This was truly fascinating and I wish I still had my notes.

After I wrote that last post, I figured I should probably eat something, but nothing seemed appealing, except for a bottle of chocolate milk.  This kind, to be exact:

I love this brand of chocolate milk.  This bottle has 20 grams of protein (10 per serving, but who can resist the whole thing?) and it's even lactose free, for those who care about that (I don't).  I mostly use it as a recovery drink after exercising.  It seems to be sort of a trend to not eat dairy lately, but I don't generally follow trends.  Food is fuel.  And it's really GOOD.  (This is not a sponsored post.  I will never have sponsored posts.  I just like it).

After I drank the milk, I sat around for awhile with a cat and a book, generally feeling miserable.  Only, suddenly I didn't.  My fever broke.  I even lost interest in the ridiculous reality show that was on.  I felt almost...normal.

It seems to be common wisdom not to consume dairy when you have a cold or a flu.  And most likely it was coincidence.  The worst part of my illness had simply run its course.  But just maybe it was the chocolate milk.  Who knows?  Our ancestors believed in many different remedies that sound crazy today but may have really worked (for a headache, tie a bandanna tightly around your head and then sleep with your head at the foot of the bed?)  I'm giving chocolate milk the credit!

Have you heard of any interesting old home remedies?