Category Archives: winter

Winter Olympic Sports for Dummies


I haven’t been sleeping much.  This form of insomnia afflicts me once every few years, whenever the Olympic Games are on.  Currently, it is the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games which is the source of my insomnolence.    The time difference means that I need to stay awake from 2 to 4 in the morning to catch the best events live.   Events such as the USA-Canada Gold medal women’s ice hockey match earlier today which incidentally was everything you would want in a game if you were an ice hockey fan and a Canada-phile like me – less so if you were rooting for Team USA.

This was really a heartbreak for the Americans who went 2 – 0 ahead and were generally having a much better game than their rivals.   Victory was within grasp.  But even as the Americans already had one hand on the gold, the Canadians drew one back with just 3 min 36 seconds remaining in regulation time.  Still, USA just needed to keep the Canadians out for just a few minutes.  Ah, but Canada gets another goal with just 55 seconds left, sending the match into sudden death overtime where they sealed their remarkable comeback victory with a goal at the 8 minute 10 second mark.

It had thrills, excitement and drama.  It was great.  It kept me up into the wee hours of the morning and now I walk around with dark rings under my eyes – and them be Olympic sized rings too!

Have you been watching the games?  Many of the events in these Winter Games are strange to a non-skiing tropical squirrel like myself.  Perhaps they may also be strange and unfamiliar to some of you dear readers?

As a public service and after intensive and exhaustive research, the Lone Grey Squirrel presents “Winter Olympic Sports for Dummies” to provide enlightenment and better appreciation for these weird and wonderful sports.  Here I try to give simple and concise descriptions for each sport.

Ice Hockey – A smash and crash, check and deck, slash and dash fest involving a puck, fights and men (and women) with false teeth.

Curling – Stone throwing

Bobsled –  A sport where you jump into a coffin and slide down a frozen Wet n Wild ride at breakneck speed.  Don’t know who Bob is though?

Skeleton – That’s when you do the same thing but can’t afford the coffin.

Ski Jumping – “Oh, I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky” A cruel sport where spectators yell out “Jump! Jump!”

Skiing – The sport is just going downhill all the way.

Speed Skating  (Short Track) – A great sport for watching spills and multi-person pileups.

Speed Skating (Long Track) – a sport that seems to really only involve orange clad Dutchmen standing on the winners’ podium – so it really hasn’t anything to do with the rest of us.

Biathlon – Sport endorsed by the NRA.

Figure Skating  – This genteel and graceful sport involves kneecapping and death threats (see Tonya Harding video).

Well, that’s all folks.  Must try to sleep now.

 

 

 

Adapting to Living in the New Artic


I understand that our friends in North America are currently facing a second major snow storm of the winter brought about by an extreme weather formation called the polar vortex which in turn is probably an impact of climate change.

Let’s face the truth.  Climate change is already here.  It’s too late to try to avert it; now we can only look into adapting to climate change.  Us squirrels are already learning how to find our buried nuts under several feet of snow (we are experimenting with adapting avalanche beacon activity).

I know that all that endless arctic snow and cold can be a real emotional and mental strain.   So as a service to all polar vortexed readers, the Lone Grey Squirrel has scoured the icy wastelands of the world for ways to adapt to this aspect of climate change.

And we found the answer in Irkutsk, Siberia.  Ah, Irkutsk, Irkutsk.  I know it so well. (It is one of the territories on the board game Risk).

irkutskrisk

Anyway, the only way to adapt to the drudgery of cabin fever and the bitter cold is to learn to love the icy weather.  Have fun with it.  If life gives you lemons, make lemonades.  If climate change gives you ice as far as the eyes can see, then do as Ethnobeat, a group from Irkutsk, has done – make ice music!

Let’s face it.  Much of North America is going to look a lot like Siberia from now on.

Here is Ethnobeat playing on and with frozen Lake Baikal.

 

 

 

 

 

Cold, Wet, Hot


This is a composite post on three rambling thoughts which should not be confused with (although related) to my earlier post entitled “Wettest, Coldest, Hottest”.  This post is not as superlative as the previous one.

My first rambling thought was about the cold.  Have you noticed the new look of the blog with the picture of snow crystals and the aurora borealis?  It seems a number of my blogging friends are feeling the winter blahs.  That’s quite normal.  In fact last Monday is supposed to be the official Bluest Winter Day  (as in “singing the blues” and  not “the bluebird of happiness”) or so I read on someone’s seasonally affected blog.  Hence, I decided to try to bring some cheer by reminding all you good folks that winter can also be so beautiful. Feeling cabin fever?  Go out and watch the stars at night.  Enjoy a soak in a hot tub.  Run naked through your neighborhood in the cold.  (not necessarily in that order).

Ooo! Ooo! I just thought of another great idea.  Work out all your frustrations with an exciting game of ……….curling.  Why, it’s perfect.  Played with brooms and stones………..reminds me of “sticks and stones will break my bones”.     Yes, definitely an X-treme sport.

Speaking of order; it is fine when the bitter cold stays in Canada, greets Scandinavia or covers Siberia but as I said in the previous post, it is not natural for Texas to be colder than Canada.  Climate Change!!!!  The latest is that hundreds of people in North Vietnam had to be hospitalised due to a cold snap which has also killed hundreds of buffaloes.   Okay, rambling again.  To summarize this point – winter can be pretty but should stay where it belongs.

My second rambling thought is on how wet this start of the year has been.  Australia has already suffered “floods of biblical proportion” in Queensland and now the flooding has spread to Victoria and according to the newspapers, the experts anticipate even more floods to come in what is now being called the “once-in-two-hundred-years flood”.  This is already by far the costliest disaster suffered by the Australians.  And they were not alone, in the last two weeks, there were abnormal floods in Sri Lanka, Philippines, Brazil and Sweden amongst others.  The tragedy of the mudslide in Brazil which has killed at least 600 people with many more still missing was caused by a downpour that deposited one months rainfall in one hour.  Malaysia too is having floods and our neighbor Thailand had serious flood last month.  It’s been a very wet period.  Again, water brings life as long as it stays where it belongs.

Now you might think that my third rambling thought would be also about the weather.  But you would be wrong cause I am a squirrel and I have eaten one too many bad nuts.  So, this last thought is about fire – to warm all you frigid northerners and about the supernatural – to send chills down your spine. Mwahahaha (<- evil mad scientist laugh).

There is a story coming from a house in a village in the north of West Malaysia, very close to the border with Thailand.  The owner of the house is a 73 year old woman who lives there with her family including two grandchildren.  The house is built on land belonging to the Islamic Affairs Department and she has lived there for more than 30 years.  However, starting just before the new year, the occupants have been plagued by unexplained mini fires that appear to break out spontaneously all around the house.   The fires have burned clothing, prayer mats, furniture and even set the gas cooker on fire.    Reporters from one of the national dailies went to interview the family and while they were there, they witnessed five such fires.  There have been as many as twenty such incidents in a day.

Fourteen Islamic priests came to exorcise the fire-starting spirit.  They performed prayers, chants and rituals.  The leader of the group noted that the owner had a collection of ancient daggers and he believed that the spirit or spirits were attracted to these ancient artifacts.  However, despite their efforts, the fires resumed the next day.

The home owner has even now resorted to invite a well known Chinese kung fu master to carry out an exorcism.  This will be the next stage in the story.  As you can imagine, the whole family is in a terrible state.  How can you rest or sleep when you are expecting another unexplained fire?  These things are alive and well in Malaysia.  This tale has been brought to you by Spooky Squirrel.  Any theories my skeptical friends?

Innocent or …….?

Unburied Nuts from 23rd December 2007: “Not a Creature was Stirring”


Squirrels love to bury their precious nuts so as to uncover them later to enjoy at leisure. In the same way, this blog, from time to time, brings an old post back for another short period in the sun. This one happens to be one of my earliest post.

What Creature Stirred and Left These Mysterious Trails….



photocredits: Deep river

“Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse……..”

(Excerpt from poem by Clement Clarke Moore; 1822)

Snow had fallen thickly during the night and the wind had blown fiercely with its own melancholic howling through the trees. I was glad to have been tucked in bed that night safe and snug. Christmas was a couple of days away and when I drifted off to sleep, I was soon in a dream world filled with the visions of the expected wonders of warm fellowship and the joys of the season.

I awoke the early the next day while the morning light was still dim, feeling fully rested and fresh. I excitedly went to my small basement window and as expected the night’s storm had dusted everything with an inch or two of snow, creating a wonderland. The distant streetlamps were still able to cast sufficient light on the newly fallen snow that everything seemed to sparkle like diamonds.

It was then I realized that someone had already been up and about before my eyes had opened to the new day. Just in front of the window was a wooden walkway and a small bush. Both were coated in snow but clearly visible all around them were tiny tracks.  Spikey had already come by.

Grey Squirrels do not hibernate. They remain active during winter and are most active during the daytime when it is warmer. I had continued to feed Spikey during winter with nuts. Initially, I left them in a pile on the wooden walkway. However, I soon realized this exposed the poor creature to the blowing wind. I eventually found a large rock that was suitable as a feeding table because it had a shallow hollow on its top surface which was ideal for placing the nuts. I placed it next to a small bush.

I had chosen the bush because its network of leaves and branches created a scaffold for the snow to layer upon creating a snow igloo of sorts with the interior spacious and ice-free.  Spikey was able to enter and shelter under the snow-covered bush and feed while reasonably protected by the elements. The bush was also within easy view of my window which enabled me to observe squirrel behavior throughout the winter.

At the Feeding Station

photocredit: drroz2


Drawing from Anonymous. Animal Tracks, Stackpole Co., 1954.

The tracks of the grey squirrel in the snow is fairly easy to recognize and has been described as the double exclamation marks, “!!”. This pattern stems from the gait of the squirrel who first plants its two small front paws in the snow and pushes himself forward before his hind legs land in the snow, just ahead of where the front paws first was planted. The long strokes of the double exclamation mark is made by the relatively long hind paws while the front paws provide the periods for the exclamation mark.

For me, seeing a trail of “!!” was a real heart warmer on a cold winter’s morning.

Red-eyes


A dreadful ailment is affecting Malaysian Grey Squirrels. The characteristic symptoms are blood-shot and droopy eyes and a tendency to drift into a comatose state in the middle of the day. After much research, medical experts conclude that the epidemic will be over by the beginning of March. But will the squirrels be able to survive till then?

And what causes the blood-shot eyes and comatose state during the daytime? Television. Or rather the television coverage of the Olympic Winter Games from Vancouver which unfortunately screens at the twilight zone hours of 1 am – 4 am in Kuala Lumpur. After several days of keeping such vampire friendly hours, my eyes are sore to the light of the sun, my skin has a ghastly parlor and my brain goes into REM sleep at work .

Just the other day, I struggled to stay awake with a gallon or two of dark hot coffee while trying to watch this particularly interesting winter sport with an exciting match between Team Canada and Norway. I desperately needed to sleep but the game had interesting changes in fortune that kept me glued to the TV set. I invested an hour and a half of my slumber time to watch the match and would you believe it………..the local station cut the coverage just 10 minutes before the close of the match. How frustrating!

Now what was this interesting sport that caught my attention? Well, here is where this post really starts. Are you familiar with that delightful rhyme that goes; “Stick and stones will break my bones…….”? Well, this sport has sticks and has stones.

The stones are made of granite, weigh about 20 kg and have handles. The sticks are actually broomsticks. You also need a long stretch of ice with frozen droplets of water on the surface which are called pebbles. There is also a painted house with no walls and hog lines.

Briefly, there are four in a team and they take turns to throw the rocks at the house which is down the far end of the ice. One guy throws the rock, one guy tells him where to throw the rock and the other two use the brooms to sweep the ice so that nothing gets in the way of the rocks. The guy who throws the rock must also make sure he throws the rock before he crosses the hog line or else I think the hogs get angry.

Oh yes, this has also been called chess on ice cause it is obviously very intellectual. The Scots claim to have invented this game in the 16th century but the Lone Grey Squirrel doubts this. I think guys in kilts would not have a lot of fun on ice. Also we all know that Scots toss cabers and not rocks.

I am more inclined to believe that during the 17th century, a bunch of Americans from Salem set off to throw stones at some local witches but a peace-loving witch enchanted them and they ended up playing a game with their stones and the witches’ brooms.

There! I have done my best to educate you on the special sport of curling but if you are still not satisfied, you might want to get the truth from wikipedia. Or you could watch this video.

Nor Sleet Nor Snow



Last week, my wife found herself in New York after a two week working road-trip that saw her travel from Asia to Europe and finally to America. We were looking forward to her returning on a Wednesday evening flight from JFK Airport which would bring her back home just in time for the traditional family re-union dinner on the eve of the Chinese New Year.

On Wednesday morning in Kuala Lumpur (9 pm at night in New York), my wife called and gave me the disappointing news that she might not be able to come back as scheduled. Earlier that week, New York had already been hit by a blizzard which resulted in all the airports being closed for three days. Now, barely two days later, another blizzard was rolling in. My wife’s flight was scheduled for 9pm that day but the problem was that the snow storm was expected to roar in at noon. The travel agents and the airports were predicting that no flights would make it out that night.

Even worse, even if my wife could get on a flight the day after or the following days, she would be stranded in Singapore because all the flights from Singapore to Malaysia were fully booked for people traveling home for the Chinese New Year. There seemed noway that she would be spending the Chinese New Year holidays with me. Very depressing news indeed.

Anyway, later that day, it happened to be my weekly bible study group day and I shared the situation with them and challenged them to pray with me for something that if not impossible, seemed to be most improbable; that God would somehow get my wife home for the holidays. That was at 8 am New York time and a phone call from my wife confirmed that the snow was already falling and New York was under a blanket of white. The storm was still expected to peak in another 4 hours and her flight still a distant 13 hours away. The airports still were prediting cancellations.

Well, having committed the matter to God, I went to sleep and woke up the next day to find an exciting SMS on my handphone from my wife. Her flight was in the air and she was on her way back. Hallelujah!

It later turns out that Newark and LaGuardia airports were closed by the storm. JFK Airport remained open but one by one the flights were cancelled. Somehow, her Singapore Airlines flight was boarded, spent three hours de-icing on the runway but finally took off. It was to be the ONLY flight to leave that night.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again. God is the best travel agent there is. Happy Chinese New Year! May great things roar in for you this Year of the Tiger!

Emergency Exits


SNOW SQUIRREL

Spikey, the vagabond clown and professional smoocher, was my original guide into the neighbourhood world of squirrels. I first started feeding him in early autumn and I got into the habit of leaving him some peanuts on a small rock with a concave surface which just the right height to act like a feeding bowl for squirrels. He would come by in the morning and also in the evening before sunset and feed from this feeding station.

This feeding rock just happened to be right next to the base of a small, one foot high evergreen bush. When winter came and the snow arrived, the whole garden would be covered in white. However, the small evergreen bush with its tight interlacing branches and leaves was only covered with snow on the outside, leaving its interior snow-free. In a sense, it became a miniature igloo with one opening which was just the right size and location that Spikey could reach the peanuts on the feeding stone and yet be mostly protected from the bitter winter winds. It became routine to see the little rapscallion installed in his place there, sheltered and comfortably feeding at the station.

One evening, I happened to be watching from the window as Spikey took his usual spot. He was happily munching away for several minutes when suddenly he straightened up in alarm so that his head was fully visible above the surrounding snow. I scanned around to see what had got his attention. There was some movement amongst the bushes further down the path. I watched and soon a large squirrel appeared on the path.

It was Speedy. Speedy is a large and rather fearless squirrel. He had been seen standing his ground and fighting off crows. He was also a bit of a bully with the other squirrels and was very much Spikey’s nemesis. He would occasionally chase Spikey away from enjoying the bounty of hard earned peanuts from his begging and clown routines. Nobody stood up to Speedy.

This was the first time though that I was witnessing a Spikey – Speedy encounter in the winter snow. As Speedy ran up the path to the feeding station, I quickly realised that Spikey had disappeared from the entrance of the snow igloo. I would have seen him and so would have Speedy if he had tried to run out. It was therefore reasonable to assume that he had sought refuge inside the interior of the snow igloo.

I watched with interest as Speedy, quite unaware of Spikey’s presence, came up to the feeding station. To my amusement, Speedy came and took over the same spot at the entrance of the igloo and began feedingon the peanuts. I was transfixed. I knew that my charming Spikey was a bit of a chicken-heart when it came to facing up to Speedy so I was imagining the state of panic he would be feeling as he found himself in the dark interior of the bush with the only entrance blocked by the huge bulk of Speedy.

I watched in wonderment and interest wondering what Spikey would do next. The minutes began to tick onwards and Speedy showed no hurry to leave, happily devouring the peanuts. Maybe about 10 immensely stressful minutes had passed when suddenly there appeared to be an “explosion” of snow flying into the air from the back of the bush. Out came a flying, snow covered Spikey. It was over in seconds and Spikey disappeared into the distance. It happened so fast that Speedy didn’t even understand what happened. He stopped for a moment but then went back to his feeding. I, on the other hand was on the floor rolling in laughter at the image of the snow-covered squirrel flying out in the explosion of snow. Priceless.

The very next morning, I had a close look at the feeding bush on my way to work. To my surprise and amusement, I found that some squirrel (most likely Spikey) had during the night, dug an additional three exit tunnels from the feeding bush. He was probably thinking, “Never again! Never again will I be caught like a rat in a trap!” And indeed he never had another such noghtmare experience with Speedy blocking his escape!

SNOW TUNNEL RAT