Monday, November 24, 2014

Hypothermia, or "Aren't You Cold?"

To see teenage boys at a school bus stop on a winter morning, dressed in no more than shorts a hoodie and sneakers is to believe that some magical cold-proofing has been discovered. One wants to ask “Aren’t you cold? Does your mother know you are out in that?” On both counts, apparently not.

Perhaps what the boys are demonstrating is the distinction between feeling cold and being cold. Men of a tender age tend to have a low percent body fat compared to girls, say 10 to 15 percent compared to 18 to 22 percent. Part of the difference is boys having less subcutaneous (under the skin) fat. This means boys will have better blood circulation to and from skin. Also, underlying muscle will be closer to the skin. Both differences warm skin at the expense of lowering core body temperature faster. The end result is girls feel cold faster than boys, while doing better at preserving core body warmth. In a similar fashion, alcohol relaxes surface blood vessels, so drinkers feel the cold less while at the same time losing heat faster.

Bicyclist dressed for winter ride
The distinction between sensing cold on skin and losing core body temperature is important to anyone planning outdoor activities ranging from walking, biking, skiing, ice fishing, kayaking or snowmobiling. Exposed skin is prone to frostbite in very cold weather, especially when moving fast or exposed to strong winds. At temperatures above freezing the frostbite risk is gone, but hypothermia can still occur at air temperatures well into the 50’s, especially if clothing becomes wet from rain or sweat.

Shivering sets in once core body temperature drops below 95 degrees. Shivering, i.e., involuntary muscle twitching, burns fuel to generate heat. Whenever muscle cells contract, more than half the energy used is “wasted” on heat production rather than contraction. In cool weather, bumblebees pre-warm their flight muscles via shivering. As core temperatures head south towards 90 degrees our shivering response becomes stronger and the “umbles” set in, as in having the fumbles, stumbles, grumbles and mumbles. Emergency medical treatment is warranted when core temperature fall below 90 degrees.

Paradoxically, vigorous exercise in cold weather increases risk of hypothermia, and thus can be described as an exercise trap. First, exercise blunts perception of cold. A university study of people exposed to cold and either exercising or not exercising found that the ones who were exercising “felt” less cold even though their core and surface temperatures were declining at the same rate as when not exercising.

Exercise also generates heat, and thus sweat. Sweat, just like rain or immersion in water, reduces the insulating quality of protective clothing. When this water evaporates, it cools. Finally, prolonged endurance exercise can result in depletion of muscle fuel, and either delay or compromise the shivering response.

In the US, hypothermia accounts for about 1,300 deaths per year (1/3 female, 2/3 male). That figure includes deaths due to alcohol-related exposure and homelessness, but not boating accidents in cold water, which are instead logged as drowning.

Winter scene
Locally, wooded areas are large enough to get into trouble in cold weather. Don’t go out alone, especially in the fast-fading light of late afternoon. If heading out alone, someone should know where you intend to be and when you expect to return. A cell phone doubles as a means to call for help and a GPS device, aiding emergency rescue to home in on your location.

Getting back to our teenage boys, deliberately under-dressing for cold weather may be a form of preening for members of the opposite sex. Males of many species demonstrate their superior fitness by growing the largest horns, or brightest feathers, or showing physical prowess over other males. Being (apparently) impervious to cold is one more way of claiming to be a physically prime specimen of manhood. Is it also demonstrating mental superiority? Not so much.

This column was first published in the Beacon-Villager in November 2010. Winter is upon us again, so worth a reminder that hopothermia is a careless way to die.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Maynard Parking Deck, 1984-2014

Click on any photo to enlarge
Town reports from 1982-84 describe the process of proposing, funding and building a parking deck behind Memorial Park. Maynard received a state grant for $513,000 in 1982. The initial description called for 70 parking spaces. Construction was to start fall of 1983, but delays led to the contract not being awarded until January 1984. The budget increased while size shrank: in the end $750,000 of state money provided an upper level with 45 meter-free parking spaces. The project was completed November 1984.

Maynard had a number of pro-business town improvement projects in the 1980s. DEC's world headquarters was still in Maynard, and downtown businesses were bustling. In addition to the parking deck, the railroad berm was removed from the area behind what is now China Ruby, the Paper Store, the Outdoor Store, Video Signals, CVS and Gruber Bros. Furniture. That entire area became a parking lot in 1985.

Until the parking deck was torn down in the summer of 2014, the end closest to Nason Street displayed a modest plaque "RAYMOND J. SHERIDAN, SR. MEMORIAL PARKING DECK." Sheridan [1909-1981] served as Maynard's Superintendent of Streets from 1942 to 1951, followed by more than twenty years on various and diverse town Committees and Boards.

Demolition of the parking deck was warranted because the estimate for repair was sizable, and those repairs would not guarantee a long future life. In New England, the expected lifespan for outdoor parking structures is 30 to 40 years. From American Cement Manufacturers, "Corrosion of reinforcing steel and other embedded metals is the leading cause of deterioration in concrete. When steel corrodes, the resulting rust occupies a greater volume than the steel. This expansion creates tensile stresses in the concrete, which can eventually cause cracking, delamination, and spalling. Exposure of reinforced concrete to chloride ions is the primary cause of premature corrosion of steel reinforcement." Simply put, road salt, either directly applied, or tracked in on car tires, degrades concrete. The freeze:thaw cycle of water penetrating cracks adds to the damage.

Several websites point out that maintenance and repair in the first fifteen years will prolong a structure's lifespan at relatively low cost, whereas later efforts at repair cost more and achieve less. 

Back to Raymond Sheridan. He was in part responsible for an embarrassing gap in Maynard's history. In 1909, the publisher of the Boston Post newspaper decided, as a promotional stunt, to gift gold-headed ebony canes to hundreds of towns in MaineMassachusettsConnecticut and Rhode Island, to be awarded to the oldest male resident. (And to be returned to the town's keeping upon his death.) Best count is that canes went to 641 towns.

Each cane had a 14-carat gold head engraved with the inscription, "Presented by the Boston Post to the oldest citizen of _____[name of town]."  The selectmen were to be the trustees of the cane and keep it always in the hands of the oldest male citizen (women were allowed the honor after 1930).

Maynard is one of many towns that lost track of its Boston Post Cane. The tradition had been dormant for forty years when, in 1968, selectmen decided to attempt to find the missing walking stick as part of the town’s pending 1971 centennial. Through careful research, Ralph Sheridan was able to recreate the history of the Maynard Post Cane from 1909 through 1928. But then, by all accounts, it vanished from the face of the earth.

Ten years after the centennial, the Maynard cane reappeared when the children of Raymond J. Sheridan, Sr., were cleaning out his bedroom closet after his death. Raymond had apparently acquired the cane in 1962 from the office of the Maynard Public Health Nurse; she had gotten it after the last cane recipient died, and not knowing the historical significance, put it in an office closet. Apparently, he did much the same, at home.

Maynard's Boston Post Cane resides on display at Town Hall. In 1999 the Maynard Historical Society decided to revive the tradition of honoring “Maynard’s Oldest Citizen” by presenting him or her with a symbolic version of the cane in the form of a plaque issued by the Maynard Board of Selectmen. Historians with a burning curiosity about Boston Post Canes in general should consult As of 2014, more than 400 towns either have their cane, know who has it, or know what happened to it. Watertown set the record for lost-then-recovered, as that town's cane went missing in 1910, only to be returned in 2009.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Winter Moths - Act Now (Nov/Dec)

Male Winter moth fits inside circle the size of a nickel.
Females are just under a half-inch in length.
An insect invasion has plagued eastern Massachusetts for the past 10-15 years. Winter moths, native to northern Europe, reached parts of Canada in the 1930s. The introduction was accidental. The problem is monumental. Visual evidence of how bad it is will be upon us shortly, as the male moths, looking much like like tan-to-brown shaded triangles, are strongly attracted to outdoor lights. There will come evenings in late November or early December when upon arriving home, you may see scores of moths gathered round the light over your front door.     

The "winter" part of the name refers to an evolutionary strategy used to avoid predation. Most insect eaters (birds, bats, spiders, wasps and other insects) are active during warmer months. Winter moths shift the active parts of their life cycle into the colder months. Eggs are laid in late November and December and hatch in late March. The tiny hatchlings eat the beginning-to-open flower and leaf buds from the inside out.

Female, note small wings
By May, caterpillars are full sized, and descend to the ground where they transform into pupae, hidden in leaf litter. Pupae stay dormant until after the first frosts of November. The emerging adults, freeze-resistant thanks to anti-freeze compounds such as glycerol, use their short lives to procreate before dying.

Winter moths have an interesting dimorphism. Males have strong flight muscles, with an ability to pre-warm these muscles through shivering before cold weather flight. In contrast, females have only vestigial wings. Sacrificing flight capacity allows more than fifty percent of their adult body weight to be given over to eggs. Mating is achieved after the females climb up tree trunks and then release scent pheromones into the air. Males fly to them.

Winter moth larvae are generalists, but especially like fruit trees, maple, ash and birch trees, and blueberry bushes. Flower bud damage leads to low fruit and berry yield. Leaf loss can be so great that too many years in a row will kill trees, especially if dry conditions prevail during the time the trees are putting out replacement leaves. Treatment involves putting sticky products such as Tree Tanglefoot around tree trunks in November and then spraying a few times in early spring. There are organic treatments for those who do not want to use chemical pesticides.

        11/14/14 update: After a few night frosts, moths are beginning to appear in Maynard

TreeTanglefoot on birch tree
This is not the first time an invasive moth has had such a massive impact in the Northeast. European Gypsy moths were deliberately brought to the United States - specifically, Medford, MA - by Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, in the 1860s. As an amateur entomologist, Trouvelot was experimenting with Gypsy moths as a means of establishing silk manufacture in the Americas. He failed. Moths escaped.

Gypsy moths occupy a different portion of the calendar than winter moths. Eggs laid in August hatch the following May. The rest of the life cycle is compressed into a few months. Nearly 140 years later, this pest's territory is still expanding westward and southward, although a number of introduced biological controls, including parasitic insects, have blunted severity of the outbreaks.

"Ecological release" refers to situations in which a species undergoes massive population expansion, due mostly to lack of predators, parasites and diseases. The best known examples are for species introduced from one continent to another, but can also occur when apex predator species are removed from the top of the food chain (think whitetail deer without wolves or mountain lions, and not enough human hunters). For invasives, the resultant population expansion from point of entry is fast for species with high mobility, slow for creepy crawlers.

Moth menage a trois stuck in the goop. Males are attracted
to pheormones released by females. Click on any photo to enlarge.
These two moth species are examples of slow expansion because females are unable to fly. Egg laying occurs on or near the tree they grew up on. Dispersion is achieved be a few methods. Post-hatch caterpillars can release a silk strand from the abdomen, then unclasp from the twig and allow wind to blow them to a new location. This means is better known for young spiders, and called 'ballooning.' Older caterpillars can descend to the ground and explore, one tiny footstep at a time. Either way, the failure rate is high, but enough succeed that territory continues to enlarge, and areas that are sprayed with pesticides will re-infest over time.      

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fleepo the Clown (Philip Bohunicky)

Plaque honoring Phil's contributions to Maynard
(Click on any photo to enlarge)
Ten years gone since Philip W. Bohunicky, aka "Fleepo the Clown" passed away on 11/11/04, a month shy of his 85th birthday. He had been a fixture in Maynard's parades and celebrations for close to 40 years. He, as have others, qualified for the honorary title "Mr. Maynard" in his time.

Phil wrote up part of his life's story for the Maynard Historical Society shortly before he died. As he told it, he began sponsoring and coordinating Maynard's Christmas parade in 1966 because of an event from his youth. His early memories were of growing up in a Catholic orphanage. He described a snowy winter evening when the nuns told the boys that after evening prayers they were to put on their winter outfits. They walked to the center of town, where he heard a small band playing "Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells..." and everyone joined in to sing Christmas carols.

In his own words "All of a sudden a huge red fire engine appeared around the corner with its sirens and horns blasting away. Standing in the back of the fire engine was a huge Santa Claus waving and yelling 'Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Ho Ho Ho!' As Santa faded slowly in the distance I was mesmerized, and to this day, oh so long, long after, I never forgot when I first saw Santa Claus when I was only six years old and living in the orphanage."
Parade float for Happy Toes Square Dancers
In addition to starting the Maynard Christmas Parade tradition, behind the scenes he also personally covered much of the cost of putting on the event, a responsibility since taken on by the Rotary Club. Phil also organized the annual Easter Egg Hunt at Crowe Park and helped provide entertainment at the Fourth of July carnivals - same location. At many events he was joined by his children and others who performed as the Happy Toe Square Dancers.

Phil's main alter ego was "Fleepo the Clown," but he also put in appearances at children's and charity events as Grandpa Fleepo or Harmonica Phil. Many Maynardites remember Fleepo on WAVM's television channel as The Fleepo Show. Or in costume, on roller skates, handing out lollipops. Or seeing him drive by - in costume, on his way to an event - with a very, very large stuffed dog in the car as his sidekick. His license plate read FLEEPO. One story that made local news in April 1990 was that Fleepo was hatjacked of his signature antique top hat at the Easter Egg event. The hat was never recovered.

Fleepo, stuffed animals, perhaps two of his three children?
As to how his clown name came to be: Philip apprenticed for years with Chris Sclarppia, who went by the clown name "Bozo" (not the famous Bozo). Chris took the French pronunciation of Phil's name - think "Fe-leeep" - and from there mutated it to "Fleepo."

Out of costume, Bohunicky put in uncounted hours supporting Little League baseball, T-ball and the water safety swim program conducted at Lake Boon. He had served in the Army Medical Corp in Europe during World War II, and appeared in uniform at Memorial Day and Veterans Day remembrances. His post-war career was as an electronics technician at MIT's Lincoln Labs, in Lexington. He died on Veterans Day, 2004.

This is not to say that Philip Bohunicky was all sweetness and light. In his involvement in various town government activities and volunteer groups around town he was at times strongly opinionated and ornery.

Parade float honoring 25 years of Christmas parades
(photos courtesy of Bohunicky family)
Little is known about Bohunicky's early family history. One source mentions both of his parents dying when he was an infant, and with no other family member to take him, he ended up at St. John's Catholic Orphanage in Utica, New York, until he was eleven, and then with a series of foster families. His good luck was the last family insisting he attend high school, and then the G.I. Bill putting him through Massachusetts Trade School.

The surname Bohunicky is Slovakian, and can be taken to mean  from Bohunice," which turns out to be the name of a small village near the western border of the Slovak Republic. If his parents were immigrants from that region it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire back then.

Phil's contributions to town spirit continue to be remembered. Each year, the Philip Bohunicky Humanitarian Award is presented at the WAVM banquet to a member of the town who exemplifies the same type of dedication to his/her community. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hidden History of Maynard


Cover photo from 1910

128 pages. 54 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.62619.541.7
Price: $19.99 (e-book $9.99)

The book is available in Maynard at The Paper Store, as e-book at various venues, or directly from the author, who will be at the ArtSpace Holiday Sale, December 5-7, 2014.

Maynard resident David A. Mark brings his years of experience as a writer to create this fact-populated collection of fifty short essays gathered into seven theme-linked chapters. The contents were originally published 2012-14 as Mark’s column in Maynard’s newspaper, the Beacon-Villager.

I continue to write for the newspaper.
My more recent columns are posted at

In this, his second book, the content is 100% history. Chapters again cover the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, plus a focus on the unusual people and unusual businesses that prospered here. So, from the question as to why there was a mink ranch in Maynard, to whether Babe Ruth came a-drinking here when he lived in Sudbury, here is David Mark with his well-researched and entertaining answers to those questions.  

Only in Maynard
Meet the Maynard Family
19th Century
20th Century
Unusual Businesses
Unusual People
21st Century
Click on photo to enlarge


MAYNARD: History and Life Outdoors (2011)
128 pages. 53 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.60949.303.5
Price: $19.99

Maynard: History and LifeOutdoors mixes 2/3 local history with 1/3 observations on nature and local recreational activities as a means of exploring what Maynard, Massachusetts offers to anyone willing to get away from too much time looking at screens and not enough time spent seeing, hearing, touching and smelling the life going on outside. History starts with eighteenth century stone walls, then carries forward to twenty-first century river clean-ups and farmers’ markets. Nature spans skunks to skunk cabbage, deer to deer ticks, and birds to bird food. Recreational sports essays range from describing the slow-motion, nightmarish feel of snow shoeing to how to avoid overhydration – the potentially deadly opposite of dehydration.

Author selfie, one fine cold morning (5ยบ F)
Maynard – Why “Outdoors”
Eighteenth Century
Birds and Bugs
Nineteenth Century
Assabet River 
Twentieth Century
Marble/Whitney/Parmenter Farm
Twenty-first Century