Spring up here

Spring is springing up on the mountain. The inversion saved us from what we hope will be the last freeze of the season. It reached 27 F Saturday down in town, but we bottomed out at 33 or 34 F. That saved the first hints of dogwood blooms.

earlydogwoodThis is one of the larger native dogwoods we have. It has bloomed profusely in the past. We’re going to miss this one when we move.

Some of the understory trees have fairly advanced leaves. The dogwoods are at the early stages. Poplars were starting to show green on Saturday, and some of the oaks are showing signs of life.


We had rain early Monday morning. By the time the dogs and I walked, the rain had stopped but the fog and clouds were still around.


I like the woods in fog. Everything seems more mysterious.

The other plant that is showing green is our jalapeño. This green started a few weeks ago. I wrote earlier about the mild but tasty chilis we got from the plant last fall, and about how we planned to try to keep the plant alive over the winter. Some people have reported getting a second crop of jalapeños when they do it. Here is our plant now.


We have already eaten one pepper from this second crop. The peppers seem to be smaller than the first crop, but the first one tasted good. I counted 23 after picking one last week. If they all ripen, we’re going to have trouble eating them all.

A hurdle cleared

On Monday we came close to clearing the last hurdle we face before getting our building permit. The final item on the checklist is a soil test for the septic system. Kirk, the man we hired to do the soil test, was finally able to get a backhoe onto our property to see just how deep the soil is over the bedrock. We had had a good bit of rain over the last day or so, so the ground was very wet. I wasn’t sure Kirk and the backhoe operator would want to get out onto the cleared area of the lot. They made it OK, although the backhoe slid around quite a bit during the digging. The operator had to push himself around with the bucket a few times.

Kirk, the backhoe operator, the backhoe, and a hole in the ground

Kirk, the backhoe operator, the backhoe, and a hole in the ground

Kirk and the backhoe operator admired our soil. They said it was beautiful. Kirk said the deep red color indicates that water is moving well through the soil, reaching all the little iron particles and rusting them thoroughly. That is apparently a good sign for the operation of a septic system.

According to Kirk, the soil is just deep enough to put in a conventional septic system leach field, although he said we will need to cover the leach field with a foot to sixteen inches of additional soil so the pipes won’t be too close to the surface. That’s good news, since the other possibility was an alternative system that would have been more complicated and more expensive.

The bad news is that I could hear the bucket on the backhoe banging on the rock even before I got to the lot. Once the backhoe operator reached the rock, he wasn’t going any deeper with his equipment, but we’re going to have to go through that rock to excavate the basement. It’s possible the rock can be broken up into small enough chunks to get them out without blasting, but we won’t know until we start digging.

We should get Kirk’s report Tuesday or Wednesday. Then we take it to the county health department for their approval. We then take the health department certificate, two sets of house plans, a site plan, a driveway permit, an officially-assigned street address, and a zoning verification form to the inspection department. After some period of time, we hope they will issue a building permit and we can begin the actual construction process.

A close call

My bachelor’s degree is in journalism. I worked for a newspaper for a total of about four years. For most of that time I really liked it; in fact, for a lot of that time I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Since I was a general assignment reporter, I covered almost anything except sports. I covered the rural areas around Augusta, Ga. When you cover things like the school board meeting or a county commission meeting in a small, rural county, you have to be interested in all the things that go on, whether it’s how many teachers will come back next year or who needs their road paved. I found that I had no trouble being interested in those things.

After I left journalism, went back to school at Georgia Tech, and then went to work in Huntsville, I kept the ability to be interested in almost anything. I don’t know whether it was because I had been a reporter, or simply a manifestation of my innate curiosity. In any event, for a long time I remained interested in everything that I worked on.

In the late ‘90’s I transitioned from a full-time employee to an independent contractor. By most people’s standards, my income was pretty good.

Now that I’m retired, our income has dropped significantly. We aren’t starving, but a little extra income would always be welcome. So it was a nice to hear from a former colleague about two weeks ago that his company was looking for resumes for someone to work on a task that would last 10 to 12 weeks. That suited me, since I don’t want to go back to work full time, and the job was pretty much exactly what I spent most of my Huntsville career doing. He said the hourly rate would be good, and then he quoted a couple of numbers that ranged up to about what my hourly rate was at the end. It made sense to send him a resume.

In the meantime, I started thinking.

As a retiree younger than the full Social Security retirement age, I will lose one dollar in Social Security benefits for every dollar I get over a certain amount. When I factored that loss into what I would have made in 10 weeks, the hourly rate no longer seemed so good. And then I started imagining working for a couple of months doing the kind of stuff I had done for so long, and the job itself no longer seemed quite as attractive. I have a lot to do around here, and for some reason, tiling our downstairs bathroom seems more interesting than analyzing optical signatures.

So sometime during the last year since I retired, my ability to be, or become interested in just about anything seems to have diminished. And it seems that my time has become move valuable as well. At least to me.

My friend called about a week ago to tell me that the company with the short-term task had decided to do the work with their own employees, so they wouldn’t need an independent contractor like me. I think the strongest emotion I felt at that time was relief.

It’s possible my old company will need me to do some very short term jobs, jobs that only last a day or so, and that would be nice. But two or three months? I don’t think so.

Top o’ the mornin’

I took this picture Monday morning when I walked the dogs up to the top of the mountain. It was about 9:30, long after sunrise. Just right of center, where the steam plumes are, you can see the remains of the temperature inversion from the calm, clear atmosphere we had over Sunday night.


The foggy, linear stream on the left side of the plumes is the top of the inversion. If we had walked right after sunrise, the top of the inversion would probably have been more obvious, but it was already dissipating by this time. It would, however, have been at approximately the same level in the atmosphere.

An inversion serves as a cap on the atmosphere close to the surface. It traps moisture or pollutants that are beneath the top of the inversion. The temperature normally decreases as you go up higher in the troposphere. Air that is warmer than the air at the surface (like smoke from a brush fire) will tend to rise through the troposphere because it is lighter than its surroundings. In an inversion, the air actually gets warmer is you go up, so things like smoke will rise for a while, but will tend to stop at a low altitude. A very hot plume can push through the inversion and then continue to rise. The steam plumes are doing that.*

The steam plumes are coming from a paper mill. The two tall stacks to the right of the steam plumes are an old and a new stack at Plant Hammond, one of the two Georgia Power coal-fired power generating plants we can see from Lavender Mountain.

Plant Hammond’s active stack is 675 feet (205.8 m) tall. Although nowhere near the tallest stack in the world, it is tall enough to be on the Wikipedia list of the tallest stacks in the world.

It’s tall for a reason – the Clean Air Act, which goes back more than 50 years. That act has provisions that limit the concentration of pollutants at ground level. One might think that the logical way to do that would be to limit the emission of pollutants, but it happens that if you introduce the pollutants high enough in the air, they will have been diluted enough that by the time they can reach the ground, they will meet the standards. So the Georgia Power stacks are high enough to push emissions above the top of any reasonably probable inversion height. If the stacks were below the top of the inversion, their emissions might reach the ground because they might be trapped by a particularly strong inversion, or they might just reach the ground because of other atmospheric conditions. When the emissions are injected into the atmosphere high enough, they will be diluted enough to meet the letter of the law.

Rome happens to be in a nonattainment area for atmospheric particulate matter. That status somewhat limits the industrial development of this area. Our local newspaper, the Rome News-Tribune, does not like that. They have published editorials mocking the nonattainment status (like saying that our air seems clear enough to them).

To cast doubt on the legitimacy of the measurements that caused the nonattainment status, the editorial writer has pointed out that the air quality monitoring station is located near the base of the Plant Hammond stack. The implication seems to be that only an idiot would measure air quality that close to a pollution source, and thus the measurement must not be representative of Rome’s true air quality. I have written letters to them in the past pointing out that if you want to avoid measuring the emissions from a tall stack, the best place to put your instrumentation is at the very bottom of the stack. That is perhaps not intuitively obvious, but it is nevertheless true. However, the truth seems not to be a persuasive argument when it comes to commercial development and newspaper editorialists. (I might have mentioned this in an earlier post.)

You might be wondering why the top of the inversion is so much lower than the top of the mountain, where I have mentioned on several occasions that we are warmer than the surrounding lowlands because of a temperature inversion. The reason is that although the top of Lavender Mountain is above the actual inversion, the conditions that cause the inversion also work on the atmosphere up here. As the air on the mountaintop cools, it flows downhill into the lower areas, reinforcing the inversion down there. That air is replaced up here by the surrounding air, which is warmer than the air that flows down the mountain. I have mentioned before that we can be as much as 10 degrees F warmer than the air at the bottom of the mountain.

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

* The tropopause acts like the top of a temperature inversion. The air temperature gets lower as you go up in altitude until it reaches the tropopause. In the stratosphere, which is the layer above the troposphere, the air gets warmer as you go up. That’s why thunderstorms form anvil tops when they get to the tropopause. The clouds hit the warmer air and their buoyancy can’t get them any higher. At that point they tend to spread out sideways, forming the anvil top. Occasionally a very strong thunderstorm can push its clouds through the tropopause, but not very much higher.

Leah’s Mexican birthday lunch

We usually have huevos rancheros once a week at our favorite Mexican restaurant. Leah always has a birthday once a year. This year, they coincided, just like they did last year. And, just like last year, Leah got a margarita to go with her huevos rancheros. When we were finished, Gio, the waiter, brought a birthday sopapilla, just like last year.

Leah, contemplating the sopapilla

Leah, contemplating the sopapilla

I think I mentioned last year that the sopapillas here in the Southeast are not like the ones served in New Mexico, but this one was just fine. Leah didn’t want all of it, so she broke it up so I could help her.

And a little for me

And a little for me …

I ate a lot of it. Leah got the cherry on top.