Thursday, December 29, 2011

An Artistic Character

‘Tis a small world, indeed.  After reading an Internet article by Frank Paynter, I decided to play a long shot.  Paynter had contributed several articles plus occasional comments to “Time Goes By,” a blog I follow regularly that is mostly of interest to mature adults. I knew he lived somewhere in Wisconsin, but that’s all I knew about him.

Via e-mail, I asked Frank if there was any chance he was related to Richard Paynter, a close friend of ours in the early 1970s.  The reply: “Yup. He's my uncle.”

That brought back a flood of memories.  Richard Paynter and I made small talk during work breaks at the Forest Products Lab in Madison, WI, over a four-year period. He was an artist and I was an editor at the U.S. Forest Service research facility on the edge of the University of Wisconsin campus. I transferred to the Boise National Forest in a career move, worked in the West for most of the next 22 years, and retired in Utah.  As far as I knew, Richard  stayed in Madison.  We exchanged season’s greetings for years, but eventually the cards stopped coming.

Richard Paynter ranks high on the list of true characters my wife and I encountered over the years. Even his appearance was unique. He was born with only a small part of one forearm.  He had several little miniature “fingers” near the elbow joint, which many people might have tried to cover with a shirt sleeve.  He not only did not do that, he used the little digits.  To light his cigarettes, he would cradle an open matchbook between them and his upper arm and tear off and strike a match with his normal fingers.  Suggestions that a lighter might be easier to use were ignored.

When we were moving to Madison and needed a place to temporarily store some household goods, Richard offered space in his garage.  One of our items was a small antique safe.  One strong person could pick it up, but it wasn’t easy. While unloading our stuff, I took a break to prepare myself for the task of moving the little iron monster.  Richard lifted it off the trailer with his one complete arm and asked, “Where should I put this?”

Richard was a multi-talented artist. He produced four-color illustrations for the Laboratory’s annual report, the design for a beautiful carved wood door for a new conference room, and hundreds of illustrations for publications, some modernistic representations and some realistic depictions of research equipment and lab employees at work. He also designed many exhibits, both static and portable.

Some of Richard’s best personal art creations had nothing to do with the designs he developed so skillfully at his workplace.  He produced fanciful penciled portrait-like works with a few touches of color in key places. I have never seen that style used by another artist.

An annual highlight on the Madison art scene was an outdoor exhibition in the broad area surrounding the state Capitol.  Richard showed his works there for the first two years I knew him.  He once said his total sales were in the $2,000 to $3,000 range each year.  That was very nice extra-curricular money.  We were at the same pay level at the Forest Products Lab, which was about $10,000 per year. The next year, Richard refused to participate in the Capitol show.

After some prodding, he revealed that two exhibit visitors the previous year had made disparaging comments about several of his works.  He said something like, “I’m not going to waste my time catering to idiots who don’t know a damn thing about real art.” 

Richard’s distain for his few critics was more than balanced by his affinity for any new acquaintance he thought might be a good person to get to know better.  Whenever he met anyone he liked, he parted with directions and an invitation: “Come on over to our place Friday night.  We’re having a party.”

He did not keep track of the invitations.  There was a party at Paynter’s every Friday night, so that always worked out.  But what would happen if all the regulars and everybody Richard invited during the week showed up?  Well, I attended one Friday night gathering where the guests stood elbow-to-elbow throughout the living room, kitchen, and a closed-in porch, the only large rooms on the first floor of the Paynter home.

If a first-time guest had the audacity to ask if there were refreshments, Richard pointed across the park area adjacent to his backyard. The most conspicuous structure in that direction was a liquor store.  I’m not sure if Richard ventured to the store for any of his own refreshments, or if he just extracted a share from what the guests brought. At any rate, he always refreshed himself rather thoroughly. That produced a Friday night tradition.  At almost every party I attended, Richard passed out around midnight.  Several able-bodied guests carried him upstairs to bed and the party went right on without the host.

Two works of art by Richard Paynter occupy places of honor in the living room section of our home.  One shows a little girl modeled after one of his daughters gazing through a screened panel.  We didn’t have a lot of cash to buy art in the 1970s, but beautiful wife Sandy loved that work so much she scraped up $125 to pay Richard for it. Sandy earned the money working as a nanny for neighborhood kids. When I tried to suggest a price reduction, Richard’s stony countenance told me that was not going to happen.  It was clear that he did not haggle over prices for his art.

Our other piece is a larger work Richard said was “Susy,” a young woman about to sample an egg.  I knew the real-life Susy quite well, and I think she was the perfect choice as a model for that work.

"Susy" graces our living room
“Susy” was one of a dozen or so Paynter works displayed at a one-man show at Ripon College.  Most of them had been sold by the time we saw her at the Paynter home after the show.  Sandy loved the work.  Richard told me the price was $900.  I was shocked. We couldn’t come close to affording that, so despite knowing it wouldn’t do any good I pleaded for relief.  None came.  He said all the Ripon works were priced at $900, and that was that.  We went home empty handed.

Shortly before we left Madison, Richard appeared at our house.  He said he had come to deliver a going away present.  He went out to his car, came back carrying “Susy,” and presented the framed work to Sandy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Niftiest Gift

The Geezer hopes you’ve been successful this holiday season if you’ve chosen to participate in the annual quest for the elusive “perfect gift”—something desirable, unexpected, and lasting.  Thanks to some special people, I get to enjoy such a gift year after year.

Our "Holiday Express"
To my complete surprise, for my seventh Christmas my parents, who could ill-afford it,  gave me an American Flyer model train complete with a few building replicas and a faux tunnel.  The little train provided many hours of joy. 

As with most toys, the train set fell into disuse as I grew up and became interested in other pursuits.  It was packed away in the attic of the family home.  Before my mother died, she made sure I got the train. It stayed with us in storage for nearly 25 years.  We gave the train to son Lee, but he had no place to use or store it.

Three years ago, to get ready for our move to Michigan we shipped everything we could to Lee (he now had a large house), including the train set and other items we were storing for him.  We couldn’t get into our new house until after Christmas, so we stayed at Lee’s home and planned holiday celebrations with him and his fiancée Karen. 

The first thing that came to mind when I got up Christmas morning was that famous line, “What to my wondering eyes did appear.”  The little train was running on its old track around the base of Lee’s tree!  Lee had taken the train set to a local expert for rejuvenation, bought a new transformer, and set the track up for the first run in 64 years. Karen and beautiful wife Sandy did a great job of keeping the project a secret until the Christmas unveiling.

Now, seeing the “Holiday Express” chug around the track once again is my special gift every Christmas.  Here’s wishing you equal enjoyment this holiday season. And may you receive many special gifts throughout the New Year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mitten Mutterings

The Geezer’s native and adopted states survived a bit of a tiff this week when they decided to shake and make up.  It is unknown whether hands were protected by mittens during the shake.

Mitten or chopper?
The brouhaha began when Wisconsin’s travel bureau ran ads depicting the state as a mitten to promote winter vacations. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation promptly skewered its Wisconsin counterpart with some semi-harsh comments about “trying to steal our identity.” Lower Michigan long has been known as “The Mitten” for its resemblance on maps to that item of apparel.
There has been no known violence, but charges and counter charges flew between Badgers and Michiganders.  Wisconsin was accused of stealing this year’s Rose Bowl bid after its university football team pulled off a nail-biting win over Michigan State. Wisconsinites with what they thought were long memories said many years ago Michigan stole the whole Upper Peninsula from its natural position as part of Wisconsin. The prize was control of valuable timber supplies and mineral deposits.

The Geezer has thoroughly analyzed the data and arrived at several conclusions:

Travel Wisconsin’s mitten analogy was absurd.  Any kid who grew up in the frigid northern areas of either state knows the mitten image concocted by the Badger promoters far more resembles a “chopper.”  Choppers were made from deerskin and were worn over mittens.  They were ideal for making snowballs without getting the inner cloth hand-covering wet, thus avoiding reprimands from moms who disliked mitten-drying duties.

Wisconsin footballers indeed may have “stolen” a trip to Pasadena for the roses, but it only evened things up.  Michigan State stole the first game between the teams with an improbable desperation pass in the final seconds.  Even Steven, I say.

Michigan hardly can be accused of stealing the Upper Peninsula.  It became a state first, and thus in true American tradition was entitled to grab any land it could get its mitts on (pun intended).  The peninsula was an economic prize, but social integration has been a problem. The Geezer believes most Yuppers are closet Packers fans to this day.

All is well now.  The rival travel agencies joined forces to urge residents of both states to stop the squabbling and donate mittens to warm the hands of kids who need them.  No mention was made of choppers, although they probably would be accepted. Reports from involved charities say the joint campaign is a big success.

However, trying to show the Upper Peninsula as a little mitten in the campaign’s publicity does not work well.  That part of the logo looks more like a sick fish with a large dorsal fin.  Are we headed for a new controversy involving ice fishing?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Get the Real Deal

Some folks continue to assume that real Christmas trees are removed from forested areas, thus doing damage to the natural environment.  That simply is not true today. It probably seldom was true in recent history.

Back when I worked on the staff of the Boise National Forest, our District Rangers  issued a few permits for local residents to cut one tree about this time of year.  The charge usually was a dollar.  With the permit came instructions about where to harvest the tree so the forest would be improved in the long run.  Our Idaho City Ranger District was the only one to have a big program.

Near Idaho City several large burned areas had been reforested with ponderosa pines native to the sites.  Tree plantings can have a high percentage of failure in that part of the country if seedlings are mishandled or low rainfall prevails during the first few growing seasons when the little trees struggle to get established.  To counteract climate problems, foresters directed seedlings be planted quite close together, assuming there was a pretty good chance nature would thin the stands. 

Growing conditions at the Idaho City sites apparently were well above average.  As the trees got to be three to eight feet tall, they severely crowded each other and growth was slowed. So for a number of years the Idaho City foresters tagged trees for removal and invited the public out to select and cut a family Christmas tree.  Remaining trees grew more vigorously, the families had a ball, and taxpayer dollars were conserved because there was no need to hire crews to thin the stands.

The Idaho City program ended the year after I left for another job. Idaho City had a population of only 80, and thus most people had to travel some distance, usually from Boise, to get to the cutting sites. Despite that, the public response to the annual invitation for a family Christmas tree outing had been so good there simply was no further need to thin the plantations.  That was several decades ago, and I’ve not heard of any large-scale Christmas tree cutting in a National Forest or other forested area since then.

Lee and Karen with their selection at Peterson's nursery
Today, trees come from some 15,000 farms spread through all 50 states.  Michigan, where we cut our tree every year, ranks third among tree-growing states behind Oregon and North Carolina.  We are told the growers plant three trees for every one removed. Our experience supports that.  When we cut our tree at Peterson’s Riverview Nursery each year, we must be careful not to step on the new little seedlings as we move our prize to a loading area. 

Peterson’s is no rinky-dink operation.  Trailers pulled by tractors deliver customers to large cutting areas and return them and their trees to a processing site near the office.  Crews there put your tree in a shaking machine to remove foreign matter. They drill holes in the base to help you with mounting and also facilitate moisture movement into the tree after you have it in a stand at home. Workers will trim branches to your specifications. Then another machine ties the branches to form a neat bundle, and the men carry your tree to your vehicle.

It sounds like a big operation, and in some respects it is (this year Peterson’s shipped more than 6,000 wreaths in what is just one part of the business).  However, like most tree nurseries, this is no huge corporation run by overpaid executives who never dirty their hands with production work. Jerry and Anne Peterson started the business 18 years ago.  They and son Josh, now a co-owner, work in the fields and production and sales areas year round. The firm has six to 25 employees, depending on the season.

Every time we’ve gone to buy a tree we had an opportunity to chit-chat a bit with Jerry, Anne, and Josh.  They are local people.  Their nursery is only a few miles from our home in the same county.  It is nice to know payroll dollars and profits are returned to our area.

American tree farmers like the Petersons collectively sell 30 million Christmas trees annually.  The total has declined by about 3 million in the past 10 years.  The chief reason is the growing popularity of artificial Christmas trees.  No doubt some people have good reasons to buy the plastic trees, but enhancing the environment is not one of them.  Following are several reasons why buying a natural tree is a good deal.  Thanks to the Nature Conservancy for some of them:

1. Tree farming protects precious open space, keeping fairly large areas of land free from urban development.

2. More than 80 percent of artificial trees sold in the U.S. are manufactured in China.  They are made from vinyl plastics based on petroleum that require large amounts of carbon-producing energy in their manufacture. Vinyl plastics are among the most difficult to recycle.  When they can be, the reprocessing again requires large amounts of energy. Ships transporting the plastic trees across the Pacific burn big quantities of diesel fuel, emitting more air pollutants.

3. Natural trees, especially young, vigorous ones, purify the air we breathe by taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen.  

4. After use, natural trees are easily recycled as mulch using simple chipping equipment, and the mulch improves soils as it breaks down.  About 4,000 communities in the U.S. have Christmas tree recycling programs.

5. Natural trees add a pleasant aroma to your home during the holidays.  Plastic trees, of course, cannot do this.

6. Selecting your tree at a lot, or cutting one at a nursery if you prefer, is a lot more fun than picking up a boxed plastic model at Walmart.  Son Lee and his fiancée Karen radiate pleasure with their find at Peterson’s nursery in the photo with this post.  So can you when you find and bring home the real thing.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

In Grateful Memory                      
Staff Sgt. Vincent J. Bell (U.S. Marine Corps), 28, Detroit, Michigan.  Killed during a combat operation in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, November 30, 2011.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Why Aren't We Getting It?

World leaders are meeting once again to haggle over standards to control pollutants that make major contributions to climate change.  The subject can be complex, and there are disagreements among scientists on certain points and between environmental and business advocates on major issues. Political considerations cloud the issues.

That said, it is possible to distill the information, add a measure of common sense, and describe the big picture in an understandable way. The following article, published by Richard Brewer on his web page, is the best concise explanation of the situation I have seen.  Brewer is Professor Emeritus, Department of Biological Sciences, Western Michigan University.

                            * * * * * *

Ozone, Obama, and the Deregulation Doo Dah Parade


By Richard Brewer

President Obama made two serious mistakes early this fall. First, he told the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw new, stronger, standards for ozone levels in the lower atmosphere that were intended to replace the standards held over from the Bush administration. Ozone (O3) is an atmospheric pollutant dangerous to human health because it’s highly reactive in lung tissues. It’s involved in various respiratory diseases but evidently also in other sorts of human pathology; for example, it’s believed to contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. But ozone in the lower atmosphere also has many bad effects besides just our own health and life span.  It damages plants, lowering photosynthesis and growth and is implicated in die-offs of forest trees.

Ozone is produced in the lower atmosphere by reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. The nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds come mostly from power plants, various sorts of factories, automobiles, gasoline vapor, and chemical solvents.

There are interactions between ozone production and temperature and ozone effects and temperature, such that we get more ozone produced and stronger effects when temperatures are high. These are one of many kinds of interactions that may make global warming an even greater calamity than most of the early predictions claimed.

President Obama’s second mistake was his reason for turning down the new, science-based ozone recommendations. He said he wanted to reduce regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty. But tough regulations strictly enforced are what can make capitalism work. The last few years have shown us repeatedly how things go astray when politicians manage to weaken and thwart regulations.  Weakened regulations together with the unwillingness of federal agencies to enforce existing regulations were the main causes of the financial fiasco of 2007-2009 and the recession that came with it.

Michigan has been on the deregulation bandwagon right along. In the DooDah parade of deregulation, it may even have been ahead of the bandwagon.  We had a governor a few years ago whose slogan was “Less enforcement, more compliance.”  Such a proposition if it were sincere would be fatuous, but considering everything, just calling it preposterous or ludicrous will probably have to serve.

President Obama seems to have accepted the argument of the extreme political right that there is a conflict between “the environment” and “the economy.”  For most Americans, the right wing lost on that issue 30 or 40 years ago. Some corporations tell us if the nation doesn’t give them lax environmental rules they’ll take their jobs overseas.  Since such corporations show little national loyalty, some have.

But the balance sheet we need to look at is the overall gain to our nation in terms of clean air and water, healthy citizens, healthy communities, and healthy ecosystems compared with the cost of meeting any given environmental standard. Time after time we’ve seen that the cost of meeting new standards turns out lower than the company’s forecast, that new jobs are created connected with the improved technology needed, and that the overall national cost/benefit ratio is heavily in favor of the tougher standards.

Anyone who’s been paying attention anytime these past 40 years knows that.  Why doesn’t the President?