Paul Nordberg

My activities & loves

<  Blog – 2024

Beach heather · June 5, 2024menu icon

beach heather on Crane dunes

One the the most dominant, and pehaps the dominant, species of vegetation at the Crane Estate is beach heather, Hudsonia tomentosa Nutt. There are countless acres of it.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has an excellent summary sheet about it. H. tomentosa is notable for its ability to thrive in very dry, nutrient-poor sand dunes, where few other things can take root. The USDA remarks,

In various coastal locations in the mid-Atlantic, beach heather has been observed to preclude other plants from growing in close proximity. Coastal scientists suspect that beach heather is capable of producing allelopathic compounds to reduce competition from other species.

Indeed, the broad expanses of beach heather that I observe have little other vegetation interspersed, whether because of such allelopathic secretions or simply because little else will grow in such a sterile environment. I suspect both. The beach heather does occur in close proximity with reindeer lichen, scrub oak, and beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata). There are heather-free areas under beach pine, but I guess that this is only because the pine create deep shade, with droppings of duff below – an environment inhospitable for beach heather. You can see the shady, relatively bare spot in the picture above.

Red poppies · June 3, 2024

red poppy

Poppies are among my favorite flowers. These are more striking with their bright red color. They do not last very long – but that transience is part of the intrigue of flowers.

Arrival of the organ · May 16, 2024menu icon

Paul's organ

The organ has come.

I thought about this decision long and hard, especially because it was a plunge into uncharted waters.

But viewed from the long-term perspective, taking up the piano as an adult was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I have a curious mind and thrive on goals. And my love for music has been constant over the decades. I am happy having attained an intermediate level of ability. I would add that the experience of the last year with video-making clearly demonstrated to me that I am still capable of learning, perhaps more so than when I was younger. There are limits, but I haven't reached them yet.

An accomplished organist recalled to me the advice of her teacher, that all that the organ and the piano have in common is that they have keyboards. So, I will begin at the beginning and expect that it will take five years for me to attain a level of ability that will satisfy me. I will be careful in the first few months to build good habits.

The heading "Arrival of the organ" makes me think of the music commonly called "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" from Handel's oratorio Solomon. That is a very festive piece and would be suitable for the occasion. It was written for orchestra, but often is played on the organ. That works well. The piece has a lot of repetition, which lends itself nicely to changes in registration. I wish I could play it. Maybe in a couple of years.

20th anniversary · May 8, 2024menu icon

Robert B. Nordberg

This date marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of my father.

The tractor won't start – episode 5 · May 7, 2024menu icon

Paul, Jo-Jo and tractor

Of all events of in my daily life, the most painful set I can think of is machine malfunctions, especially those involving internal combustion engines. In particular, amid these lower circles of hell, lawn tractor failures fall into the deepest abysses.

I have had a string of five of these during the last three years, nearly all of them freakishly unusual. Sigh.

On Saturday, my John Deere tractor, with 9.2 hours total use showing on the meter, refused to start at all. Just to be sure, I recharged the battery, but to no effect. To make a long story short, at this point the most likely explanation seems to be a dead starter. But because it isn't certain that is the problem, it is not as easy a matter as bringing a new starter to where the tractor is, but of bringing the tractor to the shop in New Hampshire. And if the tractor refuses entirely to move on its own, the situation really becomes problematic.

It is at least balm on the wound, and a pleasant surprise, that this event is still covered under warranty. And the people at John Deere service were as nice as they could be. I made it a point to drive up to New Hampshire, rather than using email or the phone. That was a good decision. They have computers and basic ability to use them, but the world of tractor repair is not a very high-tech one. It is populated by farmers in coveralls, and being able to talk face-to-face about the signs of solenoid failure and such made it easier for the staff to feel I was part of their world, I think. They scheduled pickup of the tractor within a few days, to be followed by its return a few days later, assuming all goes as we imagine.

It does leave me wondering that when I asked service staff if their experience was that a starter motor would fail after less than ten hours' use, the response was, Yes, it happens. Not very good quality control!

The picture, by the way, is of me as a boy with my grandfather Jo-Jo and his tractor, on his farm in Kansas. I loved the farm and the tractor and Jo-Jo.

Daffodils · April 20, 2024


Lichens · March 26, 2024


My knowledge of lichens is scant, to the point that I realize on casual inquiry that most of the few things I thought I knew about them are not actually true. I am not even sure what is a lichen, what a liverwort, what a moss, what a fungus. Somehow, my imagination had lumped lichens together with mosses, thinking that they would do best in the shade. – Wrong by almost 180°, it turns out.

My attention is drawn by the gradual appearance of clusters on stonework I have placed in the last dozen or so years. I would have guessed that the growth would take at least decades, if not generations. I didn't know I could have this seeming marker of hoary authenticity!

The most helpful words I have found on lichens recently is that there are many different kinds, with very individual and disparate tastes for light, temperature and surface.

One of the most common in my area and many others is, I learn, Flavoparmelia caperata, the common greenshield lichen. It grows preferentially on tree bark. It is more tolerant than other varieties of polluted air and may be found in cities. Indeed, I have seen it in Cambridge, across the river from Boston. The examples above and to the right below seem to me, as a layman, a close relative, Flavoparmelia baltimorensis, rock greenshield lichen. As its name suggests, this latter thrives on stone, even hard granite, newly split, or covered with carbon remaining as pollution from the coal-burning era. lichen on brickIt seems less interested in brick, even though brick is softer and offers what I would have imagined a less forbidding surface.


I realize that there are all kinds of other examples spread wide around me, which I am trying to learn about. One variety, widespread through the dunes of Crane Beach, appears to be Cladonia rangifera, often called reindeer lichen. It is soft and fluffy when damp, a bit brittle when dry.

Spring cleaning · March 17, 2024 menu icon

spring cleaning

As a matter of pure logic and hygiene, the timing of cleaning in spring seems strange to me. Wouldn't it make more sense to do it in fall, after windows are closed to wind-borne dust and there is less trekking back and forth from the outdoors?

And yet something just feels right about the activity as there is more light and we have renewed energy.

A couple of factors are moving me toward action now. One is that the winter so far has been very mild, allowing me to get ahead of outdoor chores that usually become consuming once the ground thaws. Another is the expected arrival of my organ in a couple of months, and the associated conversion of function from dining to music room. The space was in borderline need of repainting, a much easier task before placement of a new musical instrument than after.

Of course, cleaning is as hopeless a task as any other obsession. The more you take care of things, the more things you see that need taking care of. I am finding now that my attention is riveted, horrified, on the tops of surfaces that accumulate dust: window sills, door mullions, baseboard molding, picture tops. That much is fairly easy. A slightly damp cloth takes care of the worst of it. – Soon enough, the call of the outdoors will become irresistable. There will be many other things that needs to be done indoors, but they will be out of sight and out of mind.

Organ · February 13, 2024 menu icon


I have purchased an organ. It is supposed to arrive around May 1.

Ideally, I would have begun the instrument at a tenth of my current age – although it would have taken special arrangements for my feet to reach the pedals. Before proceeding, I set myself tests of my continuing ability to learn, working at skills I had never been able to master. I find that, if anything, my ability to learn is better than it was many years ago. There's less of mere determination, and more of judging calmly, as I go along, whether a given tactic is working or not. If not, it's not repetition that's lacking, but some approach I haven't figured out yet. I may not know what it is that's missing, but at least realizing that I'm missing a piece of the puzzle is a step forward.

Modern organs are increasingly electronic, almost exclusively so in the market niche I'm in. Today's electronics are amazing. It is a trivial task to match the sound produced a given pipe of a legendary organ, a Stradivarius violin, or other world-class musical instrument. It has become commonplace to mimic the reverberation that takes place in a concern hall as sounds bounce back and forth from one surface to another, and slowly decay. What has only recently worked its way into practice is to copy the sound pattern of some particular locale, usually a cathedral of enormous size with hard stone surfaces that reflect sound well. After a certain point, acoustics is empirical. Applying mathematical theory, you could come close, but computer chips haven't quite been there to match top-level physical sites. That's changed. Now, chips do a million calculations per second. At the touch of a switch, you can move your organ's sound from one famous cathedral to another.

But when my organ comes, I will begin at the beginning, and look to master basic fare. That will keep me busy for more than a while.

Cataracts (no more) · January 19, 2024 menu icon

my eyes

I have been aware for quite a few years that the lenses of my eyes have been developing increasing cloudiness that at some indefinite point began to qualify as "cataract." The condition has been coming on ever so slowly, faster than a glacier but not as fast as the tide. The effects to date have been very mild. I expected that the future would come sometime. It did.

A few days ago, I had a corrective procedure for the left eye. It took about ten minutes. There was no pain and no period of disability, at all. By the next day, my vision in that eye had improved from 20/70 to better than 20/20. That is galloping success. I had been looking forward to the procedure just to have it over with. There is another surgery scheduled for the right eye in a few weeks. This time around, I am feeling that I just can't wait – not simply to have it over with, but for the sake of better vision.

The helpfulness of volunteers through the Ipswich Council on Aging in transportation has been simply amazing. It is a group of wonderful people out that I had no previous acquaintance with.

© 2024 Paul Nordberg