pitcher plants of Twenty Ninth Pond
Monday, July 27 2015
location: southeast shore, Twenty Ninth Pond, remote Minerva Township, Essex County, New York
I awoke in the wee hours of the morning and went out on the big wide porch that would be where I would end up spending most of my daylight hours. It was a magical hour, made all the more so by a loud "Nyuk! Nyuk!" sound coming from various points around the pond both near and far. Some creature was communicating with its kind across non-trivial distances and the conversation didn't seem in any hurry to end.
This morning Gretchen made a pot of coffee using a coffee machine, and because she doesn't regularly use one, it turned out much stronger than expected. For me that was a good thing. I don't know if it was the strength of the coffee or the jubilation that comes with launching into a vacation on a lake (particularly one like this), but I felt exhilarated and vaguely euphoric all day.
I quickly decided that there was no better place to set up my laptop (and extra monitor) than on a large table located on the porch. It was next to a pair of 120 volt outlets (rare in this cabin) and had a view (mostly blocked by evergreens as it was) of the pond. The cabin was dug into the side of steep granite ledge, with the kitchen windows of the northeast corner looking directly into rock only a couple feet away. But on that same level on the cabin's southwest side, the floor is perhaps 15 feet above the ground. The porch ran along the cabin's west side from north to south, starting just a little above the grade and ending at that 15 foot height. But even in the center of the porch, about where the table on which I'd chosen to work was located, it was high enough to be in the breezes above the biting flies. These weren't anywhere as numerous as they had been at home, and they tended more towards deer flies than mosquitoes, but it was good to mostly be free of them.
There would be no internet connection available during our stay at the cabin (Gretchen couldn't even find a cellphone signal except up on the ridge to the east), so all my computer tasks for this week would have to be offline. I'd brought my barometric windvane, a couple Arduino boards, a Digole LCD display (connectable via my I2C, my favorite digital interface), and a handful of jumper cables terminating in an assortment of gender combinations. I'd neglected to bring any sort of switch for resetting the barometric windvane (necessary when uploading new firmware), but it was just as well, since (in the absence of a solid housing) switches take two hands to operate. So I made myself a quick and dirty momentary switch in the style of a morse code keyer. It consisted of two pieces of steel wire (from a coil found in a surprisingly well-appointed tool closet) separated by a layer of duct tape, one of several securing them to the table surface. The switch could be operated single-handedly to the left of my laptop, a perfect position for firing reset after my right hand (manipulating the mouse) triggers the Arduino IDE's upload procedure.
Soon after setting my Arduino development environment, I began experiencing problems with my barometric windvane. The barometers all share a common I2C address, so to access them, I use a multiplexer on either the SDA or SCL pin (I forget which, though either technique works). For some reason, only some of the multiplexed barometers were reachable this way. Trying to access the others always led to a crash of the windvane's master Atmega328. I tried various things in hopes of fixing the problem, but nothing worked. But since everything had been working perfectly when attached to Woodchuck (my main machine back home), perhaps the problem was the laptop. Specifically, perhaps the problem was an issue of power quality or voltage levels. Fortunately, I keep a multimeter in the Subaru (indeed, it had already suggested that the weird dashboard light issues were not trip-threatening). I measured the power voltage for the Atmega328, and it was 5.03. That should have been fine, but then again, the barometric sensors are all 3.3 volt devices getting unshifted data signals from the 5 volt Atmega328 with only pull-up (or, in this case, pull-down) resistors to keep the data levels within a safe window. Such a setup could possibly make the barometers sensitive to slightly-high Atmega328 supply voltages. So I decided to condition the power supply by getting it from a Mega2560 board at the end of a long USB cable instead of directly from the EliteBook 2740p. This dropped the voltage down to 4.91 volts, and with this the barometric windvane operated completely reliably.
All of that happened over the course of many hours, with various interruptions. I'd reach some satisfying point along the way and celebrate by canoeing or kayaking in the pond, or, in one case, Gretchen surprised me with lunch. She'd unexpectedly whipped up delicious vegan quesadillas involving vegan cheese, refried beans, and a garbage-pail assortment of things rescued from our refrigerator just before we'd left Hurley Mountain.
The boats at this particular cabin are kept in an actual boathouse, that is, a building with a roof, walls, and doors that sits on posts just above the water, allowing boats to be stored, launched, and landed entirely indoors. It was actually easier to do these things from the dock, especially picking up and dropping off Ramona (who was always willing to get into the canoe). I took her for a short ride this morning, but since I hadn't figured out any good landing spots on the shoreline, I didn't actually take her anywhere but on a boat ride that departed and arrived at the same place.
One of my solo kayaking adventures took me northwestward across the pond to its western shore, where I found an obvious beaver lodge. Later in the evening, Gretchen and I would canoe together and see that there were two distinct lodges over there about 80 feet apart, though the more southerly one looked older and less well-tended.
Another solo kayak adventure took me to the south end of the pond, the point from which it drains in a tiny trickle of a creek. There are a number of large trees that have floated into this area sideways, jamming and perhaps slightly damming the water flow (a process that beavers might have built upon, though there is no obvious beaver engineering in evidence. The large trees in this area have segmented the end of the pond into a series of separate shallow pools that are home to many dozens of tadpoles. I got out of my kayak and walked along the trunks of the large trees, hoping to catch sight of frogs before they let loose with a squeak and jumped into the water. The only frog I managed to see before it launched itself in this way was a bullfrog slightly larger than my fist. I could understand their shyness; to them, I didn't look too different from a Great Blue Heron. In addition to the frogs and pollywogs, the other interesting item of biology was the presence of beautiful purple pitcher plants, the carnivorous species that digests insects in vaselike leaves that hold a mixture of water and digestive juices. These were rooted on the top surfaces of some of the flotsam, occasionally mixed in with blueberries (or plants that resemble them).
Back on the porch at my computer station, Eleanor was lying on the floor beside me when, unexpectedly, a Chipmunk appeared beside her and then went to sniff her foot. He then came over to me, and I held still so as not to startle him. At that point Eleanor spied him and jumped to her feet. The Chipmunk grabbed my foot for an instant and then ran off towards the south end of the porch, evidently disappearing onto a ledge (since that end is so high above the ground).
This evening Gretchen whipped up an Asian meal, which we ate out on the dock. As evening descended, I brought the computer and extra monitor inside and Gretchen and I watched a couple episodes of season three of Orange is the New Black.
View of the lake from the front porch of our cabin.
Me with my computer/Arduino rig. (Click to enlarge.)
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