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Weekly Columns!

All your favorite weekly columns and letters to the editor- online!

 Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli

Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt
I learned a long time ago to not believe everything I read, particularly not information that comes via the internet. Monday afternoon The Express received via the internet the following news tip:
"When I got home from Red Cloud, my husband told me he had learned the Village of Guide Rock had attempted to demolish one of the town's oldest buildings, thought to have been originally used as a livery stable. But when the workers tried to pull it down, it immediately sprung back up. After three tries they gave up and called the local agricultural extension agent.
"After examining the building, the agent said he wasn't sure it had been a stable at all, but rather, a feed and fertilizer store. He decided that one of two possibilities was causing the trouble. Either the place had held fertilizer so long that it immediately grew back, or that it had been a building for so long that no matter what they did, they couldn't make it unstable. After a great deal of discussion, the town council has decided to try to get the state to declare it a historical site."
That's quite a tale but its not believeable.
According to this newspaper's Guide Rock correspondent, Sandy Larky, the Village of Guide Rock did pull down an old building which is thought to have been used as a stable. For more information, read this week's report in the Guide Rock News column. Sandy's report indicates the building easily surrendered to its fate.
When I was a youngster, I was told the moon was made of green cheese and a man lived there. I later learned neither was true. Monday, for the first time in 70 years, we had what the National Weather Service called a strawberry moon. But the moon contains neither cheese nor strawberries and nobody lives there.
Monday afternoon I read an email from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks which was encouraging Kansas fishermen and women to try the sport of handfishing.
I've never wanted to stick my hand down the mouth of a catfish and after learning about a handfishing accident which took the life of a local man, I have little interest in going handfishing, but I still like to listen as others share stories about their attempts. Growing up I knew several people who went handfishing and spun handfishing stories at the filling station.
At the time I thought it illegal in both Kansas and Nebraska and was surprised to see the following story which, at first, made me think handfishing was now legal in Kansas. But before you decide its okay to go handfishing, read the entire story which follows. The handfishers I knew were probably not going about it in a legal way.
"It takes a strong grip, steady nerve and a high level of moxie to partake in the Kansas handfishing season. For anglers possessing all three, the handfishing season for flathead catfish, June 15 through Aug. 31, is a sure-fire way to have a good time.
"Handfishing is allowed only on the Arkansas River; the Kansas River, from it's origin to the downstream confluence with the Missouri River; and all federal reservoirs, from 150 yards beyond the dam to the upstream end of federal property. In addition to a fishing license, unless exempt, handfishers must also have a $27.50 handfishing permit. Handfishers may not use hooks, snorkeling or scuba gear, or any man-made device except a stringer. Man-made objects, such as barrels or tubs, may not be used to attract fish.
"If you haven't tried it yet, handfishing involves searching for the underwater lairs of flathead catfish, which can weigh more than 50 pounds, by diving and feeling along undercut banks or other recesses. Once a fish is felt, the angler then tries to work a hand in its mouth and grip the fish's lower jaw to bring it to the surface, hence the need for nerve and moxie."
And now for the third disputed fact of the week.
Those who are saying summer didn't arrive until Monday are full of beans. They can't make me believe the hot, dry days of we had during the first 20 days of June can be properly called spring days. And this week I have found data to support my position.
Astronomical summer may not have arrived until Monday but the meteorological summer arrived June 1 and that is the one that is important.
In case you haven't noticed meteorologists and climatologists define seasons differently. So, why do meteorological and astronomical seasons begin and end at different times? In short, it's because the astronomical seasons are based on the position of Earth in relation to the sun, whereas the meteorological seasons are based on the annual temperature cycle.
People have used observable periodic natural phenomena to mark time for thousands of years. The natural rotation of Earth around the sun forms the basis for the astronomical calendar, in which we define seasons with two solstices and two equinoxes. Earth's tilt and the sun's alignment over the equator determine both the solstices and equinoxes.
The equinoxes mark the times when the sun passes directly above the equator. In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice falls on or around June 21, the winter solstice on or around Dec. 22, the vernal or spring equinox on or around March 21, and the autumnal equinox on or around Sept. 22. These seasons are reversed but begin on the same dates in the Southern Hemisphere.
Because Earth actually travels around the sun in 365.24 days, an extra day is needed every fourth year, creating what we know as Leap Year. This also causes the exact date of the solstices and equinoxes to vary.
Additionally, the elliptical shape of Earth's orbit around the sun causes the lengths of the astronomical seasons to vary between 89 and 93 days. These variations in season length and season start would make it difficult to consistently compare climatological statistics for a particular season from one year to the next. Thus, the meteorological seasons were born.
Meteorologists and climatologists break the seasons down into groupings of three months based on the annual temperature cycle as well as our calendar. We generally think of winter as the coldest time of the year and summer as the warmest time of the year, with spring and fall being the transition seasons, and that is what the meteorological seasons are based on. Meteorological spring includes March, April and May; meteorological summer includes June, July and August; meteorological fall includes September, October and November; and meteorological winter includes December, January and February.
Meteorological observing and forecasting led to the creation of these seasons, and they are more closely tied to our monthly civil calendar than the astronomical seasons are. The length of the meteorological seasons is also more consistent, ranging from 90 days for winter of a non-leap year to 92 days for spring and summer. By following the civil calendar and having less variation in season length and season start, it becomes much easier to calculate seasonal statistics from the monthly statistics, both of which are useful for agriculture, commerce and a variety of other purposes.
And so for those of us who believe summer arrived June 1, the folks at the weather bureau are on our side.


A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan

By the time most of you read this, I'll be at one of my favorite film festivals ­­ the Snake Alley Festival of Film in Burlington, Iowa. This is the fifth annual SNAFF, and I've been to all of them but the first. In each of the three previous years I've attended, I did so as a finalist in the festival's short screenplay contest. Last year (finally!), I came home with the coveted Writer's Block Award, shared with the director of "My Friend Max," who also contributed some to the writing of the script.
Last year, in addition to the screenplay contest, we had two short films accepted as well ­­ the documentary, "Shakespeare With Noodles," for which I was co-producer and co-writer, and the comedy, "Damn it, Mamet!" which I wrote. Neither film brought home any hardware, but "Damn it, Mamet!" did pick up a nomination for best comedy. This year, I have no script in the finals (didn't have one ready to submit), but our film, "Leaving Kansas," was accepted and is scheduled to screen in a block of short films tomorrow (Friday) afternoon. Some of you may have seen the film when it screened in Superior last month.
It's difficult to anticipate how your film will be judged and scored, but given the success of "Leaving Kansas" last month at the Wild Rose Independent Film Festival in Des Moines, I believe we have a legitimate shot at best drama, and also the festival director's award for best performance, for our lead actress, Cheri Bloomingdale. Winning best drama would automatically put us in the mix for "best of the fest," but I think that would be a long shot, as would the festival's audience choice award, which typically goes to a comedy.
Last year, the organizers changed the dates of the festival from June to August, which I initially thought was a good idea. Turns out, the weekend they picked was right in the middle of when two of the best restaurants in downtown Burlington close for two weeks each year and the proprietors take a vacation back to their home lands, Mexico and Greece, respectively. I think everyone will be happy to eat in their restaurants again this year, though their absence forced us all to experiment with other places, some of which were quite good.
My favorite thing about Snake Alley is that it's just for short films, which means they screen between 80 and 100 short films each year during the three-day festival. I also like that everything is on one screen, which means if you get enough sleep to stay awake and you don't care about meal breaks (none are provided), you can see every film the festival has to offer. I accomplished that the first year, but not since then.

Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli

It's wheat harvest time! Until the grain is safely in the bin, a farmer knows it is a race with time, weather and machinery break downs to get the harvest completed.
Growing up on a farm, I always looked forward to wheat harvest. My sisters and I went to the harvest fields and rode on the combine with Dad or in the trucks loaded with grain to the local elevator. In earlier years, Dad's combine did not have a cab on it, and of course with no cab there was no air-conditioning. It made for a hot, long day. Dad would come in from the harvest fields covered with wheat dust and chaff. The machinery and trucks were much smaller then and it took many rounds to fill the wooden boxes on the trucks. Since the trucks had to be available and ready in the fields, wheat delivery was made to the nearest grain elevator. No air-conditioning in those early day trucks, and with windows open, the dust from the dirt and rock roads rolled into the trucks.
It was exciting riding in the grain truck to the busy elevator. Sometimes the lines were almost a block long, and if the wait was too lengthy, we could go into the elevator building and get an ice cold soda from the pop machine, and maybe even a candy bar. Orders were given by the elevator operator when to bring the truck into the unloading area, and when to stop the truck. When the unloading knob was pulled out, the filled truck box was raised slowly and the wheat poured out. Then it was back to the field.
While waiting for the next truck to be filled, there was time to climb into the partially-filled truck box and jump around, barefooted. The wheat between our toes felt good.
At the appropriate time, Mom drove into the field with a lunch for Dad and his helper. It was usually sandwiches and plenty of ice tea, but for supper it could be fried chicken, hamburgers or a hot roast beef sandwich. Dad thought it best to eat meals on the go and they would often take the meal with them.
When Dad began going on custom wheat harvest runs into Oklahoma and southern Kansas, we'd watch the bigger combine, with a cab, be driven up into the truck box. Dad would usually drive the truck with the loaded combine, and the hired man would drive Dad's pickup pulling the combine header on a trailer. They were off to parts unknown to me and my sisters. Dad was always gone over Father's Day, unless it rained them out where they were cutting, then he would get to come home for a few days. Sometimes when Dad would need a part for his combine, Mother would load us girls up, and off we'd go to see Dad and deliver the part. It was usually a quick come and go trip as Mother was in charge of looking after the cattle back home. When Dad did finally come home to do our harvesting, we'd hear all the harvest stories he had to tell. Sometimes he'd laugh so hard that we had to wait to hear the end of the tale. He would also tell of the misfortunes, the combine break-downs, but he'd rally again as he told of hired man mistakes, adventures with the other harvesters he was cutting with. He'd tell of attending the churches along the harvest route, the harvest meals the farm owners brought to the fields, homemade ice cream, the short trips they took when it rained them out of the fields. Sometimes those good stories made me long to accompany Dad on harvest runs.
Today's wheat harvest is more organized and fast paced. The trucks used are mostly long semis that hold more grain, allowing more choice of where to haul the grain in order to get the best price. The combines are huge with long headers that can barely make it down the country roads. Computers in the combine cab keep the harvester informed on matters including yield and moisture. Air-conditioners keep the harvester comfortable during long hours in the cab. The semi-trucks are air-conditioned too. Tractors pull large grain carts and can be rolled up next to the combine for unloading as it continues on its route. The wheat is then transferred from the cart to the semis. Cell phones allow the harvester to keep in constant touch with the semi driver, grain elevator, weather forecast and those at home.
Yes, wheat harvest has changed a lot through the years. From big steam engines operating threshing machines, to early tractors pulling combines, to today's modern harvest machinery. The change is called progress, convenience and efficiency; though the stress, hard work and long hot days are still the same. Wishing all a successful and safe wheat harvest!