dry hemlock kindling in the fire pit
Thursday, October 1 2020
Early this afternoon, Gretchen and I drove to the branch of our credit union on Hurley Avenue in Kingston to finalize the purchase of the 43 acre lakeside parcel in the Adirondacks. The credit union was taking the pandemic very seriously, making us show our IDs before letting us in, and taking note of our contact information, presumably for contact tracing, should the need arise. We sat in front of a plexiglass screen while we first had our paperwork notarized by one of the bank employees. Then she initiated the process for the wiring of nearly $130,000 to an escrow controlled by the lawyer of the person selling us the parcel. Good thing we checked those documents, because a number of errors (including a digit transposition on an account number) would've surely caused problems. Once we had all that out of the way, Gretchen FedExed the paperwork, having me take a picture of her putting it into the dropoff box. It a gorgeous day, with perfectly blue skies that really set off the fall colors that are beginning to appear on the forest foliage. And last night's heavy rains had made the fields of the Esopus Valley electric green.
This evening Ray and Nancy hosted a small socially-distanced dinner party in their backyard for us and Sarah the Vegan. The heart of the meal was us using leaves of romaine lettuce to wrap around rice, fried tofu, cabbage, and other things to food that could be eaten without utensils.
I'd brought a present for Ray, which I claimed to be a belated birthday present (his birthday was on July 1st) but was really just an excuse to give him a gadget I knew he'd like. It was a pocket lighter that uses a battery-powered high-voltage arc to ignite things (it's also fun to try moving that arc around with a magnet).
After sunset, it became so cool that the dogs gave up on sniffing around the neighborhood and wanted to go inside to be warm. So we left them in there while Ray put some wood in his steel fire pit. The wood had been out in the rain and didn't want to catch on fire. But I kept going under the dense hemlock hedge nearby to salvage dry dead hemlock sticks, and these would cause brief (30 second) infernos that eventually convinced the damp wood to burn. Meanwhile Ray was regaling Gretchen with tales of all the famous authors he knows from bartending at the Red Onion. Gretchen is a bit of a celebrity whore, and she was upset that Ray wasn't doing more to cultivate their friendships, particularly when they'd expressed interest in coming to his house. From there, the conversation turned, as it often does with Ray, to the topic of Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener, which Ray claims to be something of a Victorian The Office. By this point, Ray and I were drinking Maker's Mark bourbon out of tiny glasses with ice cubes, the way he likes to do.
I'm back to watching Issac Arthur videos on YouTube, though I only watch them on the bedside laptop (currently one of my Compaq Elitebook 2740ps). A particularly interesting one I watched either tonight or last night concerned phosphorus as an essential element for biology. I'd always assumed phosphorus is naturally abundant, but according to Arthur, it is not, and its distribution might be highly uneven. This is because it is not formed during conventional solar nucleosynthesis. Instead, it must be made by silicon undergoing neutron capture, followed by beta decay. This apparently only happens in type-2 supernovæ. So if there have been no supernovæ in a region of space, it will be phosphorus poor. Meanwhile, biology as we know it absolutely depends on phosphorus. It is part of the structure of DNA and RNA and an essential component in the energy transfer molecule ATP. For this reason, Arthur actually thinks space-faring organisms will in some cases need to pack their own phosphorus in order to venture into certain parts of the Universe. The alternative is to make their own using particle accelerators.
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