Friday, August 29, 2008

Ham Radio

I'm writing now about my father's hobby as an amateur radio operator. As I search the Internet to learn more about Ham Radio and be sure of appropriate wording, I have found interesting articles and websites. I was particularly curious about the hide-and-seek games my father had played in Danvers. These are called "Hidden Transmitter Hunts" or "hidden mobile transmitter hunts" or T-hunts, for short. The paragraph below, quoted from an article "Let's Go T-Hunting" copyright 2001 by Joseph D. Moell of California, could have been written about my father, who often won the Monday night contests in Danvers by successfully hiding his station wagon and its mobile radio:

"T-hunters have become very sophisticated at finding dastardly hiding places. With the right combination of location and antenna, they make it difficult for hunters to get reliable bearings. Like a ventriloquist, a good hider can make the signal appear to be coming from some other location. With careful planning (and a little luck), the signal's characteristics can cause the hunters to approach the transmitter from the most difficult direction, with impassable roads or other obstructions, even though the T may be easily accessible via other routes. Perhaps the hider will camouflage the setup so well that the hunters won't find the transmitter unless they literally trip over it." by Joe Moell KØOV

Monday, August 25, 2008

George and Pat Ruth

Today I am remembering George and Pat Ruth, who lived for many years in Danvers and were very close friends of my parents. As a young couple they lived near Essex Aggie school. My father met them and invited George to coming sailing. Years later George described the thrill of that first race in my father's 16-ft Town Class boat. Pat and George became enthusiastic crew members for years of sailing. They also were avid skiers and dancers. They loved life and were devoted to each other.

Years later George and Pat lived in Torrington, CT, where he taught school. My father and I visited him there sometime after Pat had died of cancer. George, retired, was pursuing his passion of restoring an old airplane. When he finished his plane, he was delighted to fly again. (He had been a fighter pilot in WWII.) In 2000 he moved to WindSock Village (West Ossipee, NH), a community designed for pilots of small planes. Every house has its own hangar and roadsigns announce "Yield to Crossing Aircraft." I visited George in June 2007, sat in his hanger, and watched airplanes taxi by. By then he could no longer fly, but he was happy he had lived "0 to 80 in perfect health".

Yesterday I called to ask George something about my father's Ham radio hobby (another interest they had shared), but his phone had been disconnected. Oh, no. I've learned that he died on July 3rd, age 85. I found his obituary online. His belongings will be sold in an estate sale at his house in WindSock Village tomorrow.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Don't step on the snakes!

This month's column describes some encounters with snakes at our home in Danvers.

Don't step on the snakes!
By Sandy Nichols Ward

"Don't step on the snakes!" my mother said as we headed out the front door. She was a nature lover who taught us to respect wildlife. A family of garter snakes had taken up residence under the large granite block we used as our door step. The snakes liked to bask there in the sun. We learned to open the front door slowly and give the snakes time to slither out of the way. It was fun to watch  them move, especially the little ones.

The snakes caused us no harm and we were not to harm them. My mother never expressed fear of snakes, so we weren't afraid. As children we had a healthy curiosity about the snakes who shared our yard. I must confess that sometimes I may have scared or traumatized a young snake as I picked it up to examine or put in a box to keep as a pet.  I liked the yellow stripes along the body and the smooth feel of its skin. My mother had mixed feelings, though, about captive snakes. She encouraged our interest in wildlife and was glad that we wanted close-up experience. After all, she was the one who initiated the capture of polliwogs each spring and set an aquarium on the kitchen table so we could watch them grow into frogs. She helped us feed lettuce to the turtles we captured and kept in a box. So the idea of keeping a snake in a box seemed acceptable, at least for a while. But when we discovered the box empty and could not locate the escaped snake,  my mother was upset. Whether she was more concerned for the poor snake or had qualms of her own about a loose snake inside the house, I never knew. I was preoccupied at the time with the loss of my little pet.

On one occasion my mother did express serious concern about a snake and told us to stand back while she called Gilbert Merrill, a friend and naturalist who worked at Boston's Museum of Science. This snake was large, much larger that any garter snake. And its coloration was different: brown with mottled patterns shaped somewhat like diamonds across its back. It was coiled in a deep pile of leaves in a small space behind our house bounded by the main foundation, the el extension on the kitchen, and the concrete steps from the back door. In other words, the snake was cornered in a three-sided pocket. We had run up the steps suddenly and startled the snake, which then shook its tail in alarm, making quite a rattling sound. Thus my mother reported a possible diamond-backed rattlesnake in our yard. Gibby responded excitedly: if we really had a rattler,  he'd drive right out to see it; rattlesnakes were so rare in New England! He described to my mother the characteristics she should look for to distinguish it from the more common Eastern Milk Snake. A milk snake could shake its tail like a rattler, and if in dry leaves, a rattling sound might be produced. Milk snakes hunt and eat mice and other small rodents, so they are considered beneficial to have around houses or barns.   We were pleased to discover that the big snake by our back door was indeed a milk snake. We let it remain, and from time to time would see it again in our yard. We learned to walk carefully and be observant of nature around us, so as not to step on snakes in our path.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


I've been sailing in a small cruising boat this month: 5 days in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, and then 5 days sailing from Salem Harbor to the coastal waters of New Hampshire. These trips have brought back many memories of sailing with my father. It was exciting to sail in Salem Harbor and see Marblehead Harbor --where my father kept his boat-- in the distance. I'll probably write something soon about sailing...