Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Unapologetically Utopian

 If you look up terms like "effective altruism" and study the many characteristics derided as "woke," you will find, in addition to ominous interpretations that project a future in no way pleasant to the majority of people who would find themselves living in it -- however briefly and uncomfortably -- common threads of utopian fantasy. These go back well into the 20th Century. The principles in some of them stretch back as far as recorded language, but by the 20th Century a lot of technological developments were well established and evolving to support many of the practical underpinnings of a society based on the greatest good for the greatest number.

Because greatest good and greatest number are elastic terms with no universally agreed definitions, the uses of these technologies diverge into the various earthly paradises and hellscapes explored in futurist academic and fictional narratives and analysis. They also underlie the current privileged areas and existing hellscapes that we have already established.

I have said for years and will repeat with tiresome persistence that human-powered transportation, most notably using bicycles, has always been a game that any number could play. The more people using bikes and their own muscles to get around, the better the world becomes. It is unapologetically utopian.

More than 40 years ago I set out to demonstrate how much easier it was to negotiate the crowded streets of Annapolis on a bicycle than in a car. What the other road users saw instead was just some idiot exposed to weather and traffic hazards, not a thought leader and influencer. They put up with the few transportation cyclists in town with varying levels of tolerance depending somewhat on the neighborhood. The further you got from older residential neighborhoods and the center of town, the more likely you were to have friction with an irate motorist. But no place was safe. A skirmish could break out anywhere. Still, the struggle seemed winnable.

By the time I left Annapolis, the local cycling group could put 15 or 20 riders onto the road in a group ride on a summer afternoon, but their consensus was that the traffic was so hostile that they would meet at the mall parking lot on the west edge of town rather than start somewhere downtown, as we had done when it was four or five plucky road racers from 1979 to 1982. Of those four or five racers, three of us also rode our bikes for transportation, because none of us owned a car. We would have to borrow one to drive to a race. By 1987, I was the last one who was living without a car.

Racing was always secondary to transportation for me. Transportation cycling provided a baseline of mileage and saddle time on which to build whatever recreational riding I had time for. Meanwhile, one of the other car-free riders invested his spare cash in carpentry tools to prepare for when he eventually started his own highly regarded contracting business, and the other one saved up enough money to make a down payment on his first home in Annapolis. He didn't buy in the most expensive neighborhood, but in Annapolis there were no cheap ones. Transportation cycling improved their lives to the point where they could give it up and never look back. The fact that they gave it up is unfortunate, but it does underscore how not everyone can use a bike to get around. Although one of them started out as a naval architect, they both ended up working as carpenters, and that requires a truck and tools.

We need people who build things. What they build depends on their vision of the present and future that they want to create, or the lack of any sorting criteria. The trap is that someone might stake their savings on tools and training to build things, and have to take jobs building things that are ultimately harmful, just to get the money to live. Principles are a luxury. To make that happy future, the human species needs more than infrastructure and tools. We need to agree on where we're headed, informed by all kinds of investigative thinkers who study the interactions of all life and environment. We need someone to design and build the transportation network that can accommodate all vehicles, including thousands of bike riders who will eventually be taking advantage of the vast benefits of simple, human-powered transportation.

I guarantee that if the human species had chosen back in the 1970s to focus its efforts on making a long term plan instead of knowingly forcing crisis after crisis in order to generate profits and duel for global dominance we would have fewer young people scornfully dismissing Boomers. Not trusting my own generation's better judgment as I saw how they were progressing I didn't add my own cannon fodder to the future that looks increasingly likely. Meanwhile, my 30-mile commuting days on rural roads and highways here in New Hampshire look less like proof of concept and more like proof of insanity. My system is stretched to its limit to try to maintain all of the things I've come to like a lot -- not to say love -- in my life. But this rickety economy depends on the considerable savings of even a half year of bike commuting compared to uninterrupted motor vehicle use. So it does demonstrate that one can still stretch a dollar a long way using pedal power where possible. It's worth expending my waning strength on it.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Throwing our bodies in front of the machines...

 Two women ran side by side along the edge of Mill Street on this sunny morning in meteorological spring. They were facing traffic, as they should when no other infrastructure is provided, but there is a sidewalk on the other side of that street. I expected them to divert into a parking lot entrance a few yards ahead of them, because that's what pedestrians on that side of Mill Street usually do. Instead, they continued to run up the traffic lane itself, toward the intersection with Main Street, a corner that motorists regularly round as if they're being filmed in a chase scene. It may be a driver yanking a quick left from Main Street southbound or snapping a quick right just past the last parked car on Main Street northbound.

Most motorists are unaware of how fast they're actually going in their machines designed to isolate them from the wind of their passage and the roughness of the pavement. Locked into the flow, we all have a tendency to focus on stopping only where we had already planned to, or wherever circumstances force us to. Drivers scan constantly for objects the same size as their vehicles, or larger.

The runners would have had to pass a retaining wall that gives them nowhere to go except right up the lane past a small building to get to the little section of parking lot beyond. And that section of parking lot is used as the entry to the bigger parking lot behind that small building, by drivers careening off of Main Street. With piles of snow crowding the roadway at that corner, the runners would not be able to walk across the worn dirt and trampled grass for a few yards to get to the sidewalk along Main Street, as they could do in the summer. This would bring them right up to the corner of Main Street itself. I couldn't see them once they passed the lower end of the little building, but I knew what their options were.

Their trajectory didn't end with a screech and a thump. One reason that people continue to do risky things is that they usually get away with it. In my observation, most drivers are aware enough to avoid hitting anyone. But are they happy about it?

Whether drivers are happy to see us doesn't matter unless you encounter the one who is finally having a bad enough day to engage in assault. You can't know who that is. So, if you want to use the roads you have to put yourself out there.

My first thought was that these women were idiots to place themselves at risk like that. But then I considered the challenge of creating traffic systems that accommodate all users. Unless a jurisdiction has the space and the budget to separate all users, we're going to mix. In Wolfeboro, not every street has a sidewalk. People walk where they can, because otherwise they would have to deal with congestion and parking for short hops in the village, which is already crowded with vehicular traffic. And, especially in the summer, the dinky sidewalks are so crowded that pedestrians spill over into the streets, or cross wherever they happen to be.

Pedestrians and bike riders are mobile traffic calmers. We aren't made of concrete. We aren't crash-absorbing barrels, although we will burst on impact, splattering liquid all over the place, if an inattentive motorist plows into us. Drivers know this, too. Most of them don't want to be grossed out like that. So our mere presence serves to remind them to be more alert. Our presence in larger numbers creates friction in their flow, automatically slowing them. Our bodies in front of them confront them with humanity.

The women did not get hit, but they did remind drivers that we exist. Every non-motorized road user reminds drivers and transportation planners that people do something besides drive. I would not have taken the route that they did, nor would I have advised them to do it. And I don't think they did it to make a statement. I think they were pretty oblivious. That makes it an even more powerful demonstration that walkers and pedalers need to figure in planning and in the perceptions of drivers. If no one is seen out there, the people who make the plans don't perceive a need. Drivers happily forget how to act around us. If you hang back and wait for the perfect facility, you will wait a long time. So we throw our bodies in front of the machines.

With Daylight Relocating Time starting this weekend, all I will need is some base miles and halfway decent weather to start the bike commuting season. This used to involve a distinct period of retraining motorists. For some reason, for about the past decade, drivers have seemed to adapt more readily, with less hostility than they used to. That can change at any time, though. No rider on the road can ever assume that the troubles are over. Just be grateful for times when they seem to be suspended. No doubt around here the transition is eased by people like those two women, who just go for it, and by the handful of riders who take every opportunity throughout the winter to grab a quick spin. We owe them reinforcements, these defenders of the people's right to self-propulsion. Not every struggle for freedom fills the news with flames and mass casualties, mobilizing national governments. Your own world is right here for you to shape.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

People you don't want trickling on you

 Specialty retail is hard, but specialty retail in a small town is even harder. In a small town where the median income jumps by six figures in the summer, the machinery of trickle-down economics operates in plain sight.

 Back in the 1990s, slopping over a bit into the 21st Century, we operated under the philosophy, "Charge what you're worth, and be worth what you charge." Since then, the cost of tooling and the complexity of the systems we have to master has made it harder and harder to stand out and turn a profit. As each subcategory of bicycle becomes more narrowly focused and intricate, a few specialists emerge to cater to the dwindling number of addicts who can afford -- or think they can afford -- to pay whatever it costs to keep their chosen machines running. A town this small can't support all of those specialists, nor will it fund a generalist shop with well-equipped departments for every possible need. When the machines were simpler, we could do an excellent job, charge what was a decent price at the time, and only go broke very gradually. It was so gradual, we didn't even notice it. We were still having too much fun.

Summer is the busy season. It is nowhere near as busy as it was in the 1990s, but it's still more bustling than winter. Winter brings its own type of business, but without the second home crowd that swells the population by tens of thousands and raises the median income by hundreds of thousands for a couple of months.

In our year-round customer base, the income range covers everything from SNAP and Medicaid to stock portfolios and bragworthy adventure vacations. So we have some indigenous tricklers as well as the seasonal ones. Ideally, we wouldn't burn any of them off. In real life, however, some go away mad when things go sideways, and others turn out to cost more than they trickle.

The high-cost tricklers divide roughly into two categories: accident prone and abusive of their equipment, and outright deceitful. The deceitful may also be accident prone or abusive of their equipment, but they are the ones who make a stink afterwards and try to strong-arm you for warranty, or cover the tracks of their abuse before presenting an item for evaluation.

In a small town, you often have to maintain a working relationship with people in life outside of the shop. You may even be friends, or at least friendly. That makes the diplomacy more delicate when they want to support a local business and you know that whatever they buy is going to come back in pieces within a few days to a couple of months.

Some of these human booby traps manage to bugger up their bikes in ways that tie up a work stand for days, and/or call for parts that are very hard to get or very annoying to install. Given the way the latest bikes are designed, just about anything is very annoying to install.

It extends to ski season as well, especially when the misfortune magnet has a taste for higher-end equipment. That stuff is built for speed, not for durability.

In the animal world, insects that are toxic often have distinctive color patterns so that predators know to avoid them. In the retail world, we have to learn to identify the specimens that will end up forcing us to regurgitate the money that they put into our coffers. A refund may have costs attached that take more out of us than just the purchase price. Even if it just zeroes out, in all likelihood we didn't have the money long enough to make the tiny bit of interest that you might get from a sufficiently colossal bank balance. And credit card transactions in either direction have bank fees.

Both the merely jinxed and the outright duplicitous usually end up taking their acts on the road, relieving us of the diplomatic issue as they search for either the perfect place that sells things that never malfunction, or new suckers who haven't figured them out yet. But occasionally they return, forced by momentary need, or seized with nostalgia, or perhaps just hoping that we've forgotten the last time.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Bike Zoos

 Once again, the chat filtering in from the sales floor is about abandoning the road and only riding in car-free spaces.

How does one get to these car-free spaces? Mostly by driving, but partly by scurrying anxiously along the shortest possible route on public streets before diving into the perceived safety of the bike preserve. These habitat parks will be the last home of the vanishing cyclist.

It tolls ominously for me, one of the last remaining free-range riders looking forward -- somewhat -- to the return of transportation cycling season. I say somewhat, because I acknowledge, as I always have, that interacting with motorists exposes a rider to a certain amount of danger. Today's visitors, chatting with upper management while I did my best to be unnoticed, recounted how their son had gotten peened twice in Boston. 

Statistics may favor the survival of the vast majority of riders on the road, but that does not make any specific individual invulnerable. Someone is getting hit out there to keep our average from being 100 percent good. It could be any of us on any ride. Good habits, training, and experience improve your odds, but someone else is driving the bigger, more dangerous vehicles. 

I still wonder how much these refugees from road riding think about how bloody it would be if all of the other drivers out there jousting with them on the two-lane, and flying in formation with them on multi-lane roads were really as bad as they describe. There are places I wouldn't like to ride, and places I would consciously avoid, but the choice is guided by a lot of factors, not simply the number of drivers or an untested hypothesis about their collective lack of skill. Neither overestimate nor underestimate your counterparts on the road. I have been extremely impressed by the reflexes and alertness of many drivers over the years. Generally, if someone encroached on me it was because I had neglected to control the space properly. My major reason to suspend the commute when I can't do it in daylight is because I can't control the space when drivers have trouble discerning me in the glary environment created by multiple floodlit vehicles converging in an area we're all trying to fit through.

Because humans have not abandoned the concept of ubiquitous personal motor vehicle ownership, we can look forward to a future of continued sprawl, traffic, and parking problems, even when the vehicles are powered by electric motors instead of dead dinosaurs prehistoric oceanic plant life. If you look at the evolution of the bicycle itself, the most popular form is the one that has mutated into a motor vehicle: the smokeless moped. Simplicity and durability are so last century.

You make your own choices. Having done so, you then try to figure out if you can even operate in proximity to the choices that others have made. If not, you have to devise a path through the landscape and the shifting contours of popular culture to go where you want to go and avoid encountering the incompatible rhythms and speeds of other users. I refer not so much to the age-old problem of mixing human powered vehicles with motorized ones on public rights-of-way, but to navigating among the other purely muscle powered and hybrid cyborgs in the car-free spaces as well as in the general public traffic mix.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Nosehair Update

Since my post on January 10, nosehair-freezing cold finally did put in a brief but dramatic appearance on February 3-4. It even spawned breathless news broadcasts and articles because the Mount Washington Weather Observatory recorded a record-setting wind chill factor.

Wind chill is not temperature. Block the wind and it goes away. If you are wearing sufficient insulating layers and a windproof shell, the effect nearly vanishes. I say nearly, because most of the time our bodies and our buildings are losing a little heat even when snugged up adequately for average conditions. Outside of the enclosure, a little thermal gradient fades out from us, reducing the rate of heat loss from where we want it. Wind whipping over this strips it away, removing the invisible insulation we gained from it.

Winter cyclists have to deal with wind chill all the time, because of how we generate our own, rolling along at whatever speed we're doing. Cold-weather cycling is one of the hardest activities to dress for, because the rider is generating heat through exertion while flying along through the cold atmosphere, cranking up hills and coasting down them, with an actual wind that may come from any angle, interacting with the apparent wind created by forward motion.

I don't know anyone who tried to go for a ride on Saturday, when the temperature started out around 12 to 15 degrees below zero F, with a wind gusting over 30 most of the time. In our shop, with the furnace cranked, we spent most of the day with an indoor temperature from 52 to 54 degrees F. We finally got almost to 60 by closing time. The building was constructed in the 1860s, I believe. The walls were thin, and insulation nonexistent. In a Nor'easter, we can feel the wind actually blowing through the back wall. On Saturday, the wind was westerly enough that it didn't come through directly, but it still stripped escaping heat away from the outside. Some insulation has been added in modern times, but the thin walls mean that there's not enough space for much.

The next day, the temperature climbed steadily to the upper 30s and only dropped to the 20s. Today it got even warmer, with a bit of sunshine. Winter reverted to the temperature range it had stayed in since the season began.

The cold stab did get Lake Winnipesaukee to freeze all the way over, but I would not recommend going out on the new ice. "Ice in" is merely a technicality.

The series of storms that finally brought enough snow to open the cross-country ski trails also brought rain and wet snow in a diabolical combination that produced a thick crust on top of loose snow underneath. The crust can't support a person on skis or snowshoes. It varies in thickness so that the way it breaks from one step to the next makes snowshoeing a laborious series of stumbles as the edges of the shoes catch on the crust. On skis, the crust still breaks, and neither the crust nor the loose snow offer any grip. In bare boots, a post-holer discovers that the snow is deeper than you might expect, with the meager accumulations and long warm spells. On the groomed trails, the cover is barely adequate. Grooming reduces the snow depth and steadily wears it away, while the thinned surface is more vulnerable to the sun heating the dark earth.

The roads don't exactly beckon, but they do offer a passable option for a pedaler who has not invested in a fat bike with studded tires. Some snow machine trails are probably firm enough for a regular mountain bike with studded tires. I prefer and recommend changing to weight-bearing exercise for part of the year, but even the less helpful exercise of pedaling is better than none at all.

I don't have time on a workday to fit a ride in at either end of it until commuting season, and my days off seem to get eaten up with all the things that I don't have time to do in the margins of a workday, so I'm just deteriorating steadily until the daylight gets long enough to start getting base mile rides. I salute all you people with the strength of character to ride a trainer on a regular basis. I do not envy you in the least, but I respect your gumption. That's a lot of sweat and bike abuse.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

"Road Biking is so dangerous!"

The road is the least popular place to ride a bicycle. We don't bother to stock road bikes anymore. I am the last person associated with our shop who does ride on the road. This may include former employees as well as the current staff. Among our clientele, road riders are a minority. Some converted to gravel. Some shifted their concentration to mountain biking. Many only ever mountain biked. And we have lots of path riders. Some of the path riders used to ride the road and gave it up because of age-related deterioration, or traffic fear.

I've said before that Wolfeboro is not a nice place to ride a road bike. When the summer people aren't here, some of the local drivers like to be reckless with the clear running room. The major arteries of the town are state highways, so there's some amount of through traffic all year. Lake season adds thousands of seasonal residents and visitors, some of whom arrive already hostile to cyclists. You can sneak past some of this to escape to the north and west, but you have to go farther and farther to get to a bit of peace before you head back into it. I'm sure that lots of towns have their own discouraging aspects.

Road riding is somewhat dangerous, though not as dangerous as it seems. We are "vulnerable road users," at the mercy of the drivers around us. But those drivers present a far more gruesome hazard to each other.

Last week, a northbound driver on Route 16 over in Wakefield crossed the center line and hit a southbound vehicle, killing the driver and sending the passenger to the hospital. The offending driver also ended up in the hospital, but has not died. The accident is under investigation. State police have asked for witnesses and any dashcam footage that someone might have caught. It sounds pretty forlorn. Did anyone see? Did anyone happen to capture the grim event on camera? What could any of that tell us about why some numbnut crossed the centerline at highway speed and smashed into some poor idiot just driving along? Route 16 is notorious for this type of crash. One back in the 1980s was attributed to a yellowjacket that flew in through the driver's open window and stung him in the crotch. That grim bit of slapstick cost several lives.

Crumple zones, air bags, passenger compartment reinforcement and restraints all improve the survivability of a motorist blunder, but the death toll is still in the tens of thousands every year. It's really easy to hit combined impact speeds of 80, 100, 120 mph when vehicles collide on two-lane roads, or someone ploughs through the median on a divided highway to visit the opposite lanes. In the course of a normal day of driving you pass thousands of people. Any one of them could be The One.

Then there are motorcycles. I thought about getting one back in the late 1990s, when a friend was selling a nice vintage BMW. It might be nice for those days when I was too tired to pedal, but I didn't want to be stuck in a car and have to take up a full parking space at work. But that got me thinking about what I was really gaining. Not much, actually. On a motor vehicle I would be obligated to keep up with the other traffic, without the easy option to pull off and get out of the way, the way a bicyclist can. It seemed like all of the vulnerability with none of the best advantages.

Lots of people love riding motorcycles. Everyone acknowledges the danger compared to being in a car, but I'll bet that most people think that a motorcycle conscientiously operated by a properly dressed and helmeted rider is safer than a bicycle in traffic. Maybe yes, maybe no. In stop and go traffic where the vehicles can accelerate to 30 mph or more between slowdowns or stops, the motorized cycle will be able to keep up, while the bicyclist will have to deal with motorists who are probably already impatient squeezing past in the faster sections. But just in the general run of things, the motorcyclist is exposed to impacts at higher speeds, and is in danger not only from the mass of other vehicles, but from the mass of the motorcycle itself.

A lot of road bike safety depends on traffic volume and speed, topography, and the design of the road itself. I don't think that heavily urban areas offer road biking as such. Streets call for different strategy and tactics. It's the difference between a road race and a criterium, only with a full-on tank battle superimposed on it. There are definitely places I would avoid on my bike, but I would also look for ways to circumvent them so that I could continue riding.

If nothing else, when I'm pedaling along the highway on my way to work, if someone wants to come across the centerline and peen me, they're going to have to come a lot further to reach me than if they come at me when I'm trapped in the lane in my car, winging along at 60.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

It ain't really winter 'til your nose hairs freeze

 Every time we get a weak winter, I compare it to my memories of 1990-'91 and 1991-'92, the two that stood out for late arrival of snow, little accumulation, and overall mildness. The winter of 2005-'06 was another disaster for winter-based industries in New England, in which I recall doing more riding than skiing or other winter-specific activities. But a check of the records shows that in all of those winters we had at least some short periods of usable winter, and a few nights of nose hair freezing cold.

Your results may vary, but I find that nose hairs begin to freeze as the temperature nears 0°F, and intensifies as the temperature continues to drop. For instance, someone misread our digital thermometer and told me that it was 17°F one morning, but I knew as soon as I walked out and breathed in that it was 1.7°. 

When I'm stacking firewood into the shed in the summer, I often think about what conditions will be like when I reach that part of the pile during the dark and frigid months. I can recall many images of shivering under the cold LED light in the shed, pulling down an armload of logs to keep the wood stoves cranking against the implacable cold of the universe, toward which our end of the planet is pointed during the northern hemisphere's turn to aim away from the sun. This winter, just about every trip to the woodshed has been more like late March, or even April, except for the sun angle and day length.

I could post this as a ski column on Explore Cross-Country, but there is no skiing, and there might never be. It should surprise no one that this is the warmest, wettest, least useful winter on record, at least until the next one. We're already getting calls about bike service, not from winter riders, but from people who want to get a jump on their spring tuneups. We still have demand for ski services, so we don't want to reconfigure the workshop for grease, but we may need the income soon. It's still too early for full bike shop efficiency, so the wise rider will wait until at least mid-March, but that could change if winter-specific demand dries up.

I did notice in my training diaries from the 1990s, that I took more opportunistic rides back then. The training diary is also my daily quick summary of weather conditions, which I started adding right around that time, to give my other activity entries more context. Now I find that I really miss the hour or so that I carve out for a ride or a hike, when I have so much other stuff to get done on a day off. From the perspective of age, it seems that the people who get things done are the ones who long ago sacrificed their health, and fitness to the priorities of work. It shouldn't have to be that way, but any better way takes too much thought and care for each other's well being, to make sure that anyone who wants it can have a balanced existence.

The other argument against too much riding is that a rider needs weight-bearing exercise for bone density, and to use the body in different ways that relieve the muscles and joints from the limited range of motion provided by pedaling. You can do weight training, and definitely should stretch in some way, but for the unscientific trainer it's easiest to go do something else. Yesterday, I hiked up the mountain behind my house. I probably won't do it again, because the logged areas are now choked with brambles and sweet fern, and the uncut swaths are filling in with bushy little saplings flourishing because so much sunlight can get in. With decent snow, the brambles and sweet fern are at least somewhat covered and separated by it. Yesterday, I was either wading through the thorns or pushing through the beech thickets to try to gain a few yards on the remnants of the old forest floor.

Because I started late, I did not gain a summit, only one of the intermediate steps that offered a view westerly. To the north I saw that Ossipee Lake is not fully frozen. That is not a deep lake. I know that the big lake, Winnipesaukee, isn't frozen shut, but it is deeper and much larger, requiring a longer, harder freeze. Even giant mud puddles like Province Lake had such thin ice that the ferocious winds of the storm on December 23 broke it all up and piled it on the leeward end, where it refroze into a surface useless for skating. I remember a hike in about 1997, on a small range just over the border in Maine, from which I saw the startling blue of Sebago Lake, unfrozen in a landscape of white. We did have some snow that winter, although as climate change really started to sink its claws into the region, the weird sight of open water provided a warning to the few who cared to acknowledge it.

A native of the area used to say that he hadn't noticed much change in the climate, even up to a couple of years ago, but he has been pretty quiet about it recently. I doubt if his nose hairs have frozen any more than mine have, even if he does live in one of the colder little valleys. And, as a logger, he knows darn well that the wetlands haven't firmed up to allow the normal amount of winter cutting.

No matter how much the temperature warms, the sun angle and day length won't change. There will be more losses than gains, from many economic sectors. People have already reported ticks. Various unpleasant insects are expanding their ranges. The purifying freeze, as hard as it might feel at the time, serves a purpose for the overall health of the ecosystem. Unfrozen lakes in winter warm sooner and reach higher temperatures, aiding things like cyanobacteria, which ruins summer recreation after a warm winter ruined that season's recreation. Cyanobacteria can kill your dog. And it's not that great for humans.

We're only at the beginning of winter's July. There's plenty ahead. Averages are made of highs and lows, so we could get slapped with a little cold snap. The longer it takes to get here, the harder it will bite, because we can't help instinctively feeling like spring when the temperature mimics it. As the sun launches more and more steeply up the morning sky, the first half of a mild day will make you forget how much winter still lies ahead, until the instant shift to late afternoon light reminds you. The sunset is getting noticeably later, but it darn sure isn't late.