Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stormwater and the New Westminster Parking Lot

The new parking lot taking shape at Westminster Choir College may look conventional, but it handles stormwater differently than has been the norm in Princeton.

Grassy strips between parking areas--shown here in Westminster's current lot--are typically higher than the pavement, forcing runoff immediately into stormdrains.

But in the new lot, some of the partitions are actually lower than the pavement. The dips in the row of Belgian curbstones on the left will allow water to flow from the asphalt into the partition strip, where the dirty "first flush" of rainwater runoff (carrying whatever dirt and oil has accumulated on the pavement since the last rain) will be filtered by vegetation. The water will then either infiltrate into the ground, recharging the groundwater, or overflow into this drain.

No longer visible (this photo was taken May 30) is the matrix of 3 foot diameter pipes underneath the pavement that will serve as a giant cistern, holding storm runoff in order to reduce the parking lot's contribution to flash floods downstream in Harry's Brook.

Water from elsewhere in the lot will flow down this drain into a small retention basin at the edge of the Westminster property. The goal of all of this holding capacity, both under and above ground, is to have runoff leave the property more slowly than before the parking lot was built. This approach of slowing the water down gained momentum in 2000, when Maryland published a design manual with the goal of reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

One way to beautify these swales and basins is with native wildflowers, as we've done at Princeton High School, just across Walnut Lane from Westminster. The high school's "ecolab" wetland--essentially a retention basin converted from grass to native floodplain wildflowers--takes runoff from the school's roof and also the parking lot next to the performing arts center, and is in full bloom right now.

Friday, July 27, 2012

PCDO Potluck

Harrison Street Park was the site of a Sunday afternoon gathering of Princeton Democrats. Rush Holt arrived midway through and promptly launched into a few remarks. He spoke of the positive effect science training can have on keeping an open mind.

In my rough replication of his words, he wished that his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives would learn, as is the nature of scientific thought, to always keep room in one's mind for the possibility that one is wrong. Those who believe they are right beyond all doubt are the least likely to be testing their own assumptions. He encouraged people, especially those who don't plan to go into science as a career, to take a science course in order to be exposed to the scientific thought process.

Other speakers included Sue Nemeth (who very graciously urged her supporters to support District 16 NJ Assembly candidate Marie Corfield) Princeton mayoral candidate Liz Lempert, and three Mercer County freeholders who are running against minimal opposition: Pasquale Colavita, Jr, Ann Cannon, and Sam Frisby.

While leaving, I noticed an impressive recycling effort, including a container for compostables. It can be hard to remember recycling when throwing a party.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Canal Nature Walk This Sunday, 10am

For those in town this weekend, I'll be leading my annual canal wildflower walk this Sunday on the towpath running along the D and R Canal State Park, beginning at Washington Rd and heading towards Harrison Street, where a loop trail winds through a savanna landscape of mature oaks and rich understory. All are welcome. Trails are broad and have been dry lately.

Some parking is just off Washington Road on the West Windsor side of the canal.
If there's time afterwards, we'll make a quick visit to the university's stream restoration, on the other side of Carnegie Lake from the towpath.

Princeton Battlefield's Portico

During all my visits to the Princeton Battlefield, these pillars have stood in the distance, across the road, significance unknown. I finally walked over recently to have a look.
 Two plaques explain that the pillars mark the entry to a tomb where unknown soldiers, both American and British, were buried.
 The "portico" was created in 1836 for a house in Philadelphia, then moved to Princeton to become the entry to house near the battlefield called "Mercer Manor", then moved to the battlefield in 1957 in commemoration of the centennial year of the American Institute of Architects. Thomas Ustick Walter, designer of the portico, is best known for having designed the dome of the U.S. Capitol.
The tomb is at the edge of the woods behind the portico. The text tells of those buried there awaiting freedom's future.
On this particular day, the most noticeable interpretation of freedom by visitors was the freedom for some to litter, and others to pick up the mess.

(A botanical interpretation of the visit can be found here.)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Solo Jazz Piano Performance Tuesday

My good friend and former band partner Phil Orr teaches music at Ryder University and plays jazz piano with great inventiveness, prowess and eclectic taste. You can hear his solo concert this Tuesday at Westminster Choir College for free, at 7:31pm. More info below:

Phil Orr Plays a Mean Jazz Piano
Solo concert: The usual Eclecto-Maniac blend of Orr-iginals, jazz standards, transmogrified Broadway tunes and mongrel music,
   run through the style-o-matic stride/boogie/swing/bop/post-bop/funk-ified/sanctified/samba-fied 
processor till nice and chunky -
tasty music!
Tuesday (yes, Tuesday) July 24, 7:31 PM for 59 minutes.
Bristol Chapel, Westminster Choir College of Rider University, 101 Walnut Lane, Princeton, NJ 08540 / directions - map
Unticketed and Absolutely Free --- such a deal!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Repair Cafe in Princeton

We had a Repair Cafe last Saturday, which is to say four of us got together to fix stuff in my garage, and two other friends brought some items by to challenge our repairian savvy. Mike fixed a short in one of his favored radios. I took the sides off a toaster to try to figure out why the bread won't stay down without considerable coaxing.

Tara brought a coat stand that needed a screw and a nut in order to stand proudly once again. The nut was not available at the store, but my neighbor found the right size and thread on an old lamp he's getting rid of. Tony rode his bike over from Kingston, carrying the bottom of a blender that refused to show its symptoms without the top.

With the internet, our nearby Ace Hardware store, and some common sense about safety, it's possible to fix quite a few things that would otherwise get hauled to the landfill. Over the past year, outside of the repair cafe, I managed to fix our garage door, our 15 year old Bosch washing machine, and when my 94 Ford pickup suddenly started leaking gas last week, I was able to take off the bed and peer down at where a mouse had made a furtive living above the gas tank until it decided to sink its teeth into the gas line as if it were corn on the cob.

Youtube videos, chat rooms and blog posts provide the support needed for this sort of cautious adventuring that can prolong the lives of possessions and save thousands of dollars. The repair cafes extend that with the power of collective thinking to solve problems, and the pleasures of good company. I think of us as kindred spirits to WALL-E, fixing stuff with our wits, spare parts and the tools at hand, wishing we could fix the planet, too.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Recycling Scrap Metal

When asked what we definitely should NOT put in the recycling buckets, the recycling plant manager said the number one problem for his sorting machinery is metal pipes. They can lodge in the spinning wheels and jam up the works, causing a temporary shut-down of the conveyor belts.
Though steel is pulled out of the recycling stream by magnets, that happens later in the sorting process, by which time the pipes may have already caused problems.

These and other metal items not found on the standard lists of accepted recyclables have some value as scrap. Though it's possible to take metal to a scrap yard in Trenton, I tend to collect a few items and then put them out on the curb with a few days to go before any trash or recycling pickups (and not in a recycling bucket). Invariably, some guy with an old pickup truck comes along and takes them, oftentimes within an hour. It helps to live on a busy street.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 14 Mercer County Recycling Event

Mercer County is hosting another recycling day this Saturday, July 14. Normally, I would pile a bunch of electronics--rescued from the curb over preceding months or contributed by friends--into the back of my pickup truck and head over to drop them off. But this year, my truck is in need of repair.

These events run from 8am-2pm, three times a year, and accept a great variety of toxics and old electronics that can not be legally put out with the garbage.

Follow the link below for more info.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Power Down, Neighborliness Up

Princeton lost yet another veteran pin oak in my neighborhood last Saturday, in a blast of wind that arrived suddenly in late afternoon when heat had risen to 95 in the shade. The tree fell straight across Hamilton Avenue, taking the power lines and much of the neighborhood's power with it.

These power outages, as inconvenient as they are, have a way of bringing people together. Biking along the dark streets that evening, I came upon neighbors gathered in a driveway, seated in a circle as if in an outdoor living room. A few candles and the few stars daring to penetrate a New Jersey sky were all that was needed to illuminate their conversation. I stayed for awhile, glad for a chance to get to know neighbors who had until then, through all the powered, illuminated years, remained unseen.

Music on Princeton's "Greens"

Come to think of it, Princeton has two plazas, one downtown at Palmer Square, and the other at the Shopping Center out Harrison Street. This past Thursday, they both featured jazz groups.

The first, my own, the Sustainable Jazz Ensemble, performed in Palmer Square's Lunchtime Music on the Green series to a crowd that appreciated the mix of original music and a cooling mid-day breeze. Being both a botanist and musician, I thanked Palmer Square for hosting as well as the sugar maple and silver maple that were providing the much needed shade and air conditioning for the event.

Ron Connor played keyboards, Jerry D'Anna played upright bass, and I provided saxophone and the compositions. (Thanks to Mark Widmer for taking the first photo.)

Palmer Square offers quite a few outdoor performances during the summer that may not be on people's radar, typically from 12-2 on Thursdays and 2-4 on Saturdays.
Later in the day, a northerly breeze blew the Jazz Lobsters into town for an evening performance at the Princeton Shopping Center.
Vocalist Carrie Jackson suffused the whole courtyard with soulful, deeply felt renditions of jazz standards,
and Audrey Welber, librarian by day, talented clarinetist and saxophonist by night, brought a fresh perspective to Benny Goodman's Sing, Sing, Sing.

Conductor Caught in Tuba-Toned Tutti

One of the finer inventions in town is the Princeton Shopping Center, where we can provision our household without the need of a car, and whose expansive courtyard allows room for music performances in a mercantile embrace. Weather has been conducive this summer for the Thursday evening concert series. Memory tends to focus on the drama and excitement in past years when a thunderstorm would crash the party partway through.

Two weeks ago, I was trying to capture the energy of Jerry Rife's sprawling Blawenberg Band in a photograph, and ended up with this, which gives the appearance that the conductor is catching the full force of a tuba salvo, perhaps in the closing strains of a Souza march.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Sustainable Jazz Lunch This Thursday

The Sustainable Jazz Ensemble will B there at P Square in Princeton as part of Palmer Square's Lunchtime Music on the Green series, with performances of Greening the Blues, Scrambled Eggs, Lemon Merengue and other sustaining fare.

Music runs from 12-2pm. Last year, we sprinkled chairs across the lawn, but some bring a favorite lawn chair or a blanket for a picnic.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Black Bear Encounters

Last Tuesday, a third black bear was spotted in Princeton, this time sprawled out front and center in the main meeting room of township hall. Having arrived late, I took awhile to notice the animal, quiet and still as the rest of us while a state wildlife official delivered a powerpoint presentation on bears in New Jersey. No doubt the committee chambers have seen their share of paper tigers, red herrings, fishy development proposals and other forms of political wildlife. On this particular night, however, town officials were safely off at borough hall, hybridizing a new Princeton while township chambers took on a more rustic, camp lodge feel, with the six foot bear skin, its sidekick Skull, and assorted radio collars and other tracking equipment on display.

In a way, the young woman making the presentation, breaking the woodsy stereotype with a fashionable pantsuit and high-heeled clogs, could be seen as presenting an unusual powerpoint eulogy for the bear as it rested in state on the table just behind her.

Here is what I learned, mixed with some info from the states informative website: Black bears used to range over all of what is now NJ, but were killed indiscriminately until 1953, when they were given some protection under New Jersey's game laws. The hunting season was closed in 1971. Over the past fifteen years, their population has spread from northwest New Jersey until they have now been sighted in every county in NJ. Despite the expansion, funding for bear management has faced deep cuts. Complaints about bears doubled from 2006 to 2008, but have remained fairly stable since then. Hunts were allowed in 2010 and 2011 during a five day stretch in December.

In spring, the one and a half year olds head out to seek new territory. Bears are highly territorial, and the young bears much prefer to seek new territories than to risk what can be very violent and debilitating battles with already established bears. Princeton's recent visits by bears are of this nature.

Lots of photos were shown of bear-proof trash cans, and bears climbing up to empty the contents of birdfeeders. Another showed a garage door bent out of shape by bears seeking food. Since any bear that experiences the satisfactions of garbage will seek more of the same, it's important that homeowners in northern Jersey and other areas where bears have become numerous act in concert to keep food out of reach. Some towns have passed ordinances to regulate trash storage.

In the description of what to do if you see a black bear, I was astonished to learn that, in the very rare case that a black bear attacks, the best tactic is to fight back. Princetonians have not been called upon to display such courage since 1777, when we all could conveniently claim we had yet to be born.

To bridge this gap between experience and expectation, I herein provide a translation of the wildlife officials’ instructions, customized to fit the Princetonian lifestyle:

Black bears are near-sighted, so make noise to avoid surprising it. If the bear stands up on its hind legs, don’t worry. It’s just trying to see you better. Make sure the bear has an escape route. For instance, if it is following you out of the public library, hold the door open and give it plenty of room. If you encounter the bear in the woods, or on Nassau Street, you can back away slowly, but don't turn your back to the bear. In a calm, assertive voice, put the bear on notice that you are a Princetonian fully armed with opinions, and will not hesitate to express them.

Avoid eye contact. If it doesn't run away right off, bang the pot you happen to be carrying with you, or download a "kitchenware noise" app on your iphone. Bears hate to cook, which explains their interest in garbage. Otherwise, clap your hands, raise your arms over your head, wave a jacket, all of which should make you look large and impressive.
On rare occasions, the bear will do a bluff charge, at speeds up to 35 mph. If a cafe is close by, this is a good time to duck in for a double latte. If that option is not available, then you'll need to dig deep. Fleeing will only make you appear weak. Perhaps the stirring words of a high school football coach will come to mind. In any case, stand your ground, wave your arms and shout. Pretend you're in front of town council, venting your outrage over moving the Dinky. The bear should veer away from you at the last moment, providing a bigger thrill than any 3D movie at the mall.

If the bear actually attacks, which is extremely rare, it's time to drop all remaining pretense of civility. Fight back. Don't worry about the bear's lack of access to dental care. Without asking permission, bop it on the nose. Bears' noses are 100 times more sensitive than ours. Use this sensitivity to your advantage, all the while reveling in what a great story this will make to tell the grandkids.

In case you surf the internet for more info, don't be confused by accounts of how to behave when encountering a grizzly bear out west, where the protocol is completely different and not nearly so gallant.