“The snow glows white on the mountain tonight.”

We and all our neighbors have given up on seeing an end to this winter. The mail is no longer delivered because the mailbox is encased somewhere within a large snowbank, well packed by the city snowplow. We know that the days are few until everything will be covered in snow and ice. We resist through cross-country skiing, sledding, or sculpting snow, but we know that those efforts are futile.

Most of the garden plants are deeply buried, but an hydrangea pokes its branches up only to be ice wrapped. What we used to call the front entrance has become a pile of snow. The propane tank is hardly uncovered and accessible as the supplier requires, but our iron sculpture marks where we remember it being. The deck looks like a comfy pillow, rather than a site for cook-outs.

One massive icicle comes off the back roof, drops down eight feet to connect with an ice-encased iron fish, then continues three feet below the deck. It must weigh over 50 pounds.



Canoe sculpture

Monochrome for Austin, Nancy Rubins

Monochrome for Austin, Nancy Rubins

While we were in Austin last week we saw a dramatic 50-foot diameter structure composed of roughly 75 canoes and a few rowboats jutting out at various angles. The boats are suspended from a steel framework by cables, with a design claimed to withstand Austin’s winds.

Some of the boats are damaged boats donated by canoe rental companies, still showing their logos. I tried to imagine the rapids that could lead to such a massive, beautiful disaster. The structure represents the far end of a spectrum that has my wood and canvas canoe quietly plying a Wellfleet pond at the other end.

A few students, assuming that the sculpture was funded through tuition, started a petition asking the University to return their tuition money.

Unveiled on January 17, the canoe nest is the newest piece in the Landmarks collection, the University’s public art program. It sits in front of the Hackerman Building at the corner of Speedway and 24th Street. Eventually it will be part of a larger outdoor art project stretching a half dozen blocks along Speedway, with a pedestrian walkway.

New 50-foot-tall sculpture makes waves on campus | The Daily Texan.

Scleral lenses

Scleral and corneal RGP lenses

Scleral and corneal RGP lenses

It’s not a serious health problem, but it has been annoying. About eight months ago I injured my left cornea, down to the limbal stem layer, which ordinarily can regenerate the rest. It was slow to heal because of a variety of conditions whose very existence or the treatment of interacted in unfortunate ways.1

There was a little pain, poor vision, and light sensitivity. I couldn’t wear the contact lenses that were the only way to correct my vision and had trouble finding a glaucoma treatment that my eye could tolerate. During this time, I had many appointments with various specialists, and tried a variety of topical medications and an oral one that made me ill.

Scleral lens in my eye

Scleral lens in my eye

But now, a solution is in sight. Despite some last-minute delays, including one caused by the Blizzard of 2015, I just got a scleral lens for each eye. My lenses are new, so it’s too early to say for sure, but my eyes already feel better than they did with ordinary contacts or nothing at all. And I can see again.

A scleral lens is a large contact lens that rests on the sclera, the white portion of the eye, rather than on the cornea. The lenses bulge outward, creating a tear-filled vault which protects the cornea and allows it to heal. You can see in the photo how it compares to the regular gas permeable (hard) contacts I had been using. Prototype scleral lenses were made in the late 1800’s. Lenses would be shaped to conform to a mold of the eye. But without oxygen permeability they weren’t very practical. The modern lenses are made possible by the development of a highly oxygen permeable polymer for the lens itself and digital imaging techniques (including optical coherence tomography) to record the shape of the eye’s surface. That information allows creation of a virtual 3D scleral lens design.

Because the lenses are rigid and fluid-filled the correction can be better than with glasses or various kinds of contact lenses. That fluid, and the fact that the lenses don’t touch the cornea, means that they feel better and can help the cornea to heal. I’ll have to allow some time to see whether those promises hold true. There’s also some work involved in learning how to insert and remove the lenses.

Sclera lenses

Sclera lenses

A scleral lens is not the same as a sclera lens (see left). Either might invite thoughts of extraterrestrials.


(1) Keratoconus, glaucoma, dry eye, astigmatism, etc.

Ballston Beach breakthrough, 2015

Ballston Beach in Truro had another breakthrough with this recent storm, effectively making North Truro and Provincetown into an island at high tide.

You can see some photos we took at low tide yesterday afternoon (click to enlarge) and below that a dramatic video taken by Bobby Rice of Truro.


The blizzard of 2015

View from our bedroom this morning

View from our bedroom this morning

I had convinced myself that buying new X-C skis last fall was going to prevent us from ever seeing snow again on Cape Cod. The ski god must have relented. We may get as much as two feet.

Susan took some photos through the blowing snow. The photo at left shows the view from our bedroom this morning. That light blue is the wall of the small deck, and you can faintly see the metal table and chair.

The garage door to the front porch is the only one we can safely open. But one of the geraniums in the music room is still blooming.

In a few hours a neighbor will come and do a preliminary plow of our driveway. We arranged that in case my eye doctor could set me up with my new, much needed scleral lenses. That’s now postponed until Thursday.

Since you’re getting this, you know we still have power. That may not last all day, since there’s a lot more snow and wind to come. The UPS unit has been clicking on and off as the power fluctuates. Coffee is ground for tomorrow, in case we have to use a camping stove for breakfast. And we can melt snow to flush toilets.

In the meantime, we can ski, if we don’t sink too much into the powder snow.

A non-selfie: the Andromeda Galaxy

On January 5 this year, NASA released an image of a portion of Andromeda (aka M31), the nearest galaxy to our Milky Way. It’s the largest picture ever taken, a 1.5 billion pixel image (69,536 x 22,230) requiring 4.3 GB disk space. The full image is made up of 411 images captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. 

The largest NASA Hubble Space Telescope image ever assembled, this sweeping bird’s-eye view of a portion of the Andromeda galaxy (M31) is the sharpest large composite image ever taken of our galactic next-door neighbor. Though the galaxy is over 2 million light-years away, The Hubble Space Telescope is powerful enough to resolve individual stars in a 61,000-light-year-long stretch of the galaxy’s pancake-shaped disk. It’s like photographing a beach and resolving individual grains of sand. And there are lots of stars in this sweeping view–over 100 million, with some of them in thousands of star clusters seen embedded in the disk. (via Hubble’s High-Definition Panoramic View of the Andromeda Galaxy | NASA)

A video takes you through the photo (thanks to Chuck Cole for spotting this). Andromeda probably has a trillion stars, ten thousand times what is shown in the photograph.

Andromeda and the Milky Way will collide in about 4 billion years. Although more than a trillions stars are involved, the distances between them are so great that it is unlikely that any of them will individually collide.

Walk to Ptown

Ever since moving to the Cape, I’ve wanted to walk to Provincetown. It wasn’t because of the Wampanoag people, or other early explorers and settlers who wrote about the area, such as Gosnold, Champlain, the Pilgrims, or Thoreau. It was simply that I wanted to connect with the land and sea in a way that walking does, more than riding in a car or bus, or even on a bicycle.

Yesterday, Emily, Stephen, and I managed to do it–what turned out to be 35,000 of my steps.

We walked out the front door, down the hill to Wellfleet center, across route 6, past the ponds of Herring, Williams, Higgins, Slough, Horse Leach, and Round. Then we split up, with Stephen taking the beach walk along the Cape’s backside while Emily and managed the brambles on the dune ridge. We met up again at Ballston Beach, where Emily took a break, having carried the pack the entire way. Stephen and I continued on the beach past Long Neck Beach to a spot between the abandoned North Truro Air Force station and Highland Light. At that point we turned west to cross the Cape to the Bay side. From there it was a straight shot north to Provincetown, where we met up with Emily and Susan and had a lovely early dinner.

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