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V o lu me T h i rt y F o ur , N umber 2

March–April 2020

A most unusual year generates the good, the bad, and the ugly Spring is here! Early!

New medical threat emerges, proliferates

Text and photos by Lynn Ayres

After an unusually mild winter, spring 2020 arrived early. The signs were here by mid-February. Temperatures were usually above freezing, sometimes into the ’50s and even ’60s. We hadn’t seen any snow to speak of—a dusting here, a slushy “wintery mix” there—but the annual winter blizzard (or two, or three) never arrived. Flowers began budding and blooming, which they often do during a prespring warm spell. When this has happened in past years, a late blast of winter has caused buds to freeze and drop to the ground. Not so this time. Strangest of all, the birds started singing. Winter birdsong is infrequent and irregular, but in spring—when a young bird’s fancy turns to love—it increases dramatically. The male sings to define his territory and attract a mate. Other birds are doing the same. “Over here, ladies. My place has the best food and nesting materials. And get lost, you second-rate suitors!” This started in February, and I was afraid the birds would set up housekeeping too soon, with unfortunate results for their babies. But I think they’ll be okay.

While flowers were blooming and birds were singing, a dangerous new coronavirus was spreading across the world. Emerging in December, it was named COVID-19, short for “coronavirus disease of 2019.” It spread quickly. Because it was new, no one had immunity. It began as an epidemic in China and spread worldwide within months. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March, and by late-April, the world saw over 3.1 million people infected and 216,000 deaths. WHAT IS A VIRUS? A virus is an infectious agent that can only replicate within a host organism. When a virus particle is independent from a host, it consists of genetic material contained within a protein shell. IS IT ALIVE? Good question. For about 100 years, the scientific community has repeatedly changed its mind over what viruses are. Today they are thought of as being in a gray area between living and nonliving. One criterion that defines life is the ability to reproduce. Viruses cannot do that on their own. In order to reproduce, they must infect a living host and hijack its resources. WHAT IS A CORONAVIRUS? The name “coronavirus” is from Latin corona, meaning “crown” or “wreath.” The name refers to the characteristic appearance of large, bulbous surface projections creating an image reminiscent of a crown or of a solar corona.

COVID-19 virus

Photo from Johns Hopkins

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cleaned and sterilized common areas. After two weeks, housekeeping resumed with a simpler schedule. Beaumont added more restrictions as more information about the virus became available. Visitors were required to use the front entrance or the Health Center entrance, where they were given a questionnaire and had temperatures taken. Shortly afterward, visitors to the mansion and apartments, including Villa residents, were prohibited altogether.

WHAT CAN WE DO? There is currently no vaccine against COVID-19, but there are things we can do to avoid being exposed to the virus. Follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Wash hands frequently. Regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or clean them with an alcohol-based hand rub.

Beaumont has made its mandatory lockdown as painless as possible.

Avoid touching your face. Eyes, nose and mouth are gateways for infection.

Meals: Lunch and dinner are available through takeout or delivery, although villa residents must have their meals delivered. For other groceries and supplies, Resident Services has arranged for deliveries from Acme.

Increase social distance: Stay at least 6 feet away from others. Shelter in place. The disease spreads from person to person. The fewer people we interact with, the less likely we are to become infected.

Exercise: Classes with Diana, Karen and Amy are available every morning on Channel 1971. Or enjoy springtime by taking a walk outside. Neighbors with dogs do it several times a day.

WHAT MUST BEAUMONT DO? This virus is especially dangerous to the elderly. All retirement communities in Pennsylvania are required to adhere to policies mandated by the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. To keep social interaction among residents to a minimum, Beaumont canceled all meetings and social gatherings. The Dining Rooms, Ballam Theater, Arts and Crafts room, Fitness Center, Gift Shop, Beauty Shop and Library were closed. Weekly housekeeping was suspended while employees

Social life: To interact with friends and relatives, phone or send an email. Although there are no concerts, lectures or movies, there’s always television. Many residents have hobbies such as reading, writing, needlework, crossword and jigsaw puzzles (actual or online), painting, and other activities that are best done in a quiet atmosphere. If we must stay at home, we are fortunate to be living at Beaumont.

Ode to a Virulent Virus

In Memoriam

My nails are ragged. My hair’s a mess. I don’t know how to cope. The virus that is raging round Has made me lose all hope. So many shops are closing down, The ones with all the pros, And when they ever start again Heaven only knows! My lovely space seems vastly small (Tho’ I can always walk the hall), Visits to friends are strictly forbidden. We all know why, but the threat is hidden. There is always TV, but that gets tiring, And I’m saving my book for tonight, when retiring. But we have a glorious, lucky break: We can at least communicate! It’s all due to that neat tech whiz That I’m as close to you as your computer is!

John Woolford March 21, 2020

Lauren Laub March 21, 2020

May Sams Ameen April 3, 2020

Barbara Murphy April 14, 2020

Curtis P. Laupheimer April 21, 2020

Carol “Cally” Wheeler May 1, 2020

Members of the Beaumont Community extend deepest sympathy to their families and friends. BEAUMONT NEWS The Beaumont News is published by the residents and staff of the Beaumont Retirement Community, 601 N. Ithan Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010 Executive Editor Lynn Ayres Managing Editor Irene Borgogno Deputy Executive Editor and Production Manager John Hall Graphic Designer TJ Walsh Photo Editor Louise Hughes Contributing Editor Linda Madara Quality Control Jennifer Frankel Index Manager Nancy Harris Consulting Assistant Editors Mary Schnabel, Jean Homeier, Peggy Wolcott, Wistie Miller

—Mary Schnabel, sent from my iPad


Life goes on during lockdown, a little different, but safe & comfortable (Left) HALT! We are in lockdown. State your business. Photo by Linda Madara

(Below) SOCIAL DISTANCING: Norma Fabian and Wistie Miller share Happy Hour outdoors. Photo by Charles Kurz II

RAG-TAG FOLK BAND: Dick Peterson, Helen Vinick and Vick Kelly perform in the Health Center’s garden. Photo by Linda Madara

STREET PART Y: In March, as COVID-19 restrictions were just getting started, social gatherings moved outdoors.

Photo by Joan Bromley

BUNNYMOBILE brought smiles as the Easter Bunny rode through campus waving to residents safe inside their villas and apartments.

Photo by Page Gowen

(Above, left) NEW NORMAL: Julie Williams and Joan Bromley bought and assembled new vacuum cleaners. Good job! (Above, right) SIGN OF THE TIMES: Sanna Steigerwalt spruces up her apartment between limited housekeeping visits.

Photo by Lynn Ayres

Can’t have vistors? Invite ‘virtual’ visitors to Zoom into your home

Marilyn (Lynn) Ayres, Irene Borgogno and I are members of a “games” group. We were getting together every few weeks to play various board, card and trivia games. Now we are getting together virtually to play these games, using Zoom. It will display the faces of the players and also display documents for all to see. Although there is audio for general conversations, Zoom also has a “chat” feature, which enables participants to communicate to all others or to privately chat with one other player. For example, in one game, the moderator will read a very brief

By Frank Kampas Usage of the video-conferencing software Zoom has increased enormously because of the COVID-19 virus. For example, people working at home are conferencing with the people they work with. It’s also being used for social connection.


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By Evelyn Isom

In this crisis, we are the lucky ones

I do not know what day it is of our COVID-19 isolation, but it is not like the beginning. Then, residents walked towards me and smiled. We chatted at the mailboxes and wondered about the progression of the virus. Now the corridors are ghostly. Residents pass with half smiles and quick waves. I take the stairs. If I don’t, I turn my body to the walls of the elevator when the door opens. Life is different now, but not so bad. Walking is coming back. As the magnolias shed their blossoms, we walk the avenues and woods of Beaumont. We walk in mist and rain and wind. We walk in twos and threes and fours, trying, but not always succeeding, to observe 6 feet distancing. I listen for birdsong, wishing I could distinguish the robin from the phoebe, Photo by Linda Madara the sparrow from STAR MAGNOLIA blooms before the cardinal. I bend other Magnolias toward the yellow and purple pansies, the daffodils and the forsythias, wishing I could name every flower that looks back at me. I welcome interruptions. The yapping doggies, the garbage trucks, the cell-phone talkers remind me I am not alone. I take to the phone. Friends are cleaning closets,

making order out of files, scrapbooking. A resident tells me she has found a Wendell Willkie button that her grandson now covets. Another says she has polished everything in her apartment but her silver picture frames. I hear of longings and sadness about graduations missed, birthdays, and hugs not given. But mostly I hear resilience. Residents are cooking and reading and binging on Photo by Lynn Ayres television series. DO DOGS NEED SOCIAL They are joining DISTANCING? Dan Walsh, Molly, long lost friends via Gadget and DeeDee Ballard go for Zoom. One tells me a walk. she is “having a blast.” She finally has time for herself. Of course, she does. She is at Beaumont where the staff is doing what it can to take care of our every need. Do you need dinner, lunch? Don’t worry; just make a call. Have you run out of food staples? Don’t worry; make a call. Do you feel as if you might have the virus? Don’t worry; make a call. The staff will answer. A friend telephones. She lives in a big house nearby. She is lonely. We talk. She says: “You are one of the lucky ones.” I say, “I know.”

Freedom is a walk through the woods

paralleling Old Gulph Road, I saw a hermit thrush in the path. Then there was another one, and I saw five in all. They were feeding all the time so I am guessing that they have just arrived or maybe are passing through. By the Nalle Gardens a Carolina wren was singing away and was joined by a downy woodpecker that basked in the sun. The species I saw or heard include starling, robin, hermit thrush, catbird, flicker, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, song sparrow, house finch, tufted titmouse, and Carolina wren.

Text and photos by Jane Ruffin

After two weeks of voluntary confinement in my apartment I am liberated! For those who might be concerned, I was in Alaska when the governor asked all visitors to leave. We did leave and I came home. I had not been near anyone with the virus. I walked to the new Scoutbuilt rest area in Wheeler Woods (see October 2019 Beaumont News) and sat on the bench in the hopes of seeing and hearing some birds. There was very little activity. I walked on, turning left and going up the hill past the magnolias.   At the highest point,

Hermit thrush


Downy woodpecker

Carolina wren

What I did during my *** vacation

The Good and Very Bad of COVID-19

By Joyce Randolph

What do Beaumonters do when Beaumont activities are curtailed and we are discouraged from leaving the campus? For instance, a few weeks ago I met two other persons when walking through Wheeler Woods. And of course this is when dogs come in handy to encourage outside exercise. Bird watching is probably on the upswing. Someone has suggested we share ideas about good movies available on Netflix and Prime Video (and of course Acorn). Here’s a list of what I did. • Donned rain boots daily and took walks through Wheeler Woods • Cleaned obsessively: phones, keyboards, remote controls, doorknobs, cupboard handles, toilets, towels, bed sheets, teeth • Ran the dishwasher every single day (actually used the kitchen every day— attention, Eta!) • Gave myself manicures and pedicures • Gave spouse manicures and pedicures • Would have given the dog manicures and pedicures if we had a dog • Watched British TV shows and German noir movies • Downloaded exercise videos and let them sit in my Prime Video watchlist • Read pounds and pounds of books and periodicals • Solved Sunday crossword puzzles (tried not to cheat by Googling) • Bought groceries at Giant at 6 a.m. (the seniors-only hour)

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Yesterday we felt some worry, But still the coffee, The Fitness Center, The Dining rooms open to serve, Friends to talk with at the bulletin board. Today we know differently Only two doors to enter Beaumont Then a questionnaire: “Where have you been?” And your temperature taken. No amenities but pick up dinner. Today we are truly “inmates”— No trips, talks, activities; To socialize within 6 feet is taboo.

Do the animals in the Philadelphia Zoo feel this way? Caged in and fed by handlers, Forced to walk up high on wire walkways. Today we know better. Hands are to wash, and wash, Hugs are for real, Fist kisses, elbows miss. Tomorrow we hunker down, Stay behind Purell doors. SOCIAL DISTANCING Is our duty, Not to save me, but you.

WE flatten the curve, Waylay the bomb. I am likely to get it, But better in months than days. Let it seep in slowly, So white-coat snipers Can pick each one off, Before they bury us In mucus and drown our lungs.

Photo by Lynn Ayres

ZOOM video-conferencing software sets up virtual social gatherings.

description of a movie but not name it. Participants make up plausible titles for the movie and submit them privately to the moderator, who displays the list of submissions on the screen. Then the players vote on the submitted titles, again privately, and the moderator displays results. Players get points for choosing the correct title and points when other players vote for their submission. The “chat” feature enables us to play our movie game since we can each communicate privately to the moderator. Zoom can be used on a computer, a tablet or even a smart phone. The only problem with a smart phone is the screen size. The players’ images are small, and the text may be hard to read.


Funny thing though: yesterday, I felt lonely— Disposable hugs, empty grins, I saw you up close, But couldn’t feel close to you.

Alone on my couch, I watch the news, See the world as us. I am in Iran or Italy; The Persian and Italian plight is mine. All in the boat: From the social regime Of SOCIAL DISTANCE, We approach the other Perhaps ever closer. —Bette Keck Peterson

Remember how it was before coronavirus restrictions? A night in Italy, Beaumont Style!

Volpaia Chianti Classico, a wine perfect for the rich and velvety entrée. To finish the evening, sweet limoncello cake was just what everyone needed. To complete the meal, an Italian French 75 cocktail was made with Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto. The food was superstar: a great meal and good vino. The Food and Beverage Team looks forward to having more Beaumont residents at future food and wine dinners. The next food and wine dinner will not be first come, first served, but based on a lottery system, since the popularity has grown so significantly.

Text and photos by Zachary Margolis

The wine dinners in the Bistro came to life when we realized movie night in the Bistro was losing attendance. We found the first Monday of the month as a perfect opportunity to offer a food and beverage tour of the world. We are eager to continue our journey through food and wine and offer these meals once a month. On February 3, the Food and Beverage Team hosted its third Food & Wine Dinner in the Bistro. The featured cuisine and beverages were from Italy. Chef John and his team put together a spectacular meal. The menu featured a trio plate of caprese flatbread with pesto cream, Italian wedding soup, and fiocchetti pasta with pears and bleu cheese, which were paired with Pieropan Soave Classico. The entrée was a delicate braised veal shank with pesto ricotta over cavatelli with a special treat of focaccia bread toasted with bone marrow. This was paired with Castello di

NIGHT IN ITALY: veal with pesto ricotta over cavatelli; appropriate wines for each course; sweet limoncello cake.

WINTER INVITATIONAL BRIDGE TOURNAMENT: (left to right) Mike Churchman, Jean Churchman, Lisa Twitmeyer (guest of Gay Gervin) and Gay Gervin. Mike and Jean won the North/South team award while Lisa and Gay won for the East/West Team. The Tournament was followed by a wonderful dinner in the Music Room. The organizers of the event were Nell Mecray and Gay Gervin. Photo by Linda Madara

What did you say?

These and more showed up on the colored cards awaiting the clever captions of Beaumont’s residents, staff, and guests. It’s not just fun; there is information about the birds included with the photos. Education can be great fun.

Text and photo by Linda Madara Featured on a magnetic whiteboard outside the Beaumont Room is the “Smile Board.” It presents not only a marvelous photograph (the first series taken by Jane Ruffin), but also the opportunity to write a caption for one of her nature shots. Imaginations run wild. Funny captions adorn the weekly-changing photos. Here, for example, are two great blue herons greeting each other at their nest. “When did we get a mirror? “I’m stuck on you, Cutie Pie.” “Ah! My twin!” “We are not from Siam.”

(Note: The bird board is on hiatus until the COVID-19 threat is over.)


Philadelphia Orchestra’s David Kim leads string quartet

On March 3, the Tuesday Afternoon Concert saw the return to Beaumont of Philadelphia Orchestra members, including Concertmaster David Kim. This time the performance was all strings—violin, viola, cello and bass—accompanied by piano. 4.


Photos by Linda Madara

1. DAVID KIM, violin, and JEFFREY DEVAULT, piano 2. BURCHARD TANG, viola 3. PRISCILLA LEE, cello 4. NATHANIEL WEST, bass 1.


Seventh annual yard sale: wildly successful! Text and photos by Linda Madara

The Brits call it a “Jumble Sale”; in the Midwest it’s a “Tag Sale”; in Philadelphia it’s a “Garage Sale” or “Yard Sale.” At Beaumont it’s “Louise’s Sale!” Bag after bag, box after box of donations arrived at the Arts and Crafts Room in the three-day period leading up to the sale. Glass doors covered with brown paper kept the items secret. Monday until Thursday morning suspense built. At 6:25 AM hopeful shoppers were in line for the 6:30 start. The doors opened to table after table groaning with donated treasures and clothing. The frenzy started. Check-out ladies were kept busy tallying purchases. The march of happy buyers continued throughout the morning. By 11:30, timed for the staff shift, Louise dropped the prices: “All the clothing you can stuff in a bag for $1.00!”

At 1:30 p.m. the event ended. What happened to the remainders? Sorted and bagged, they headed this year for three destinations: Purple Heart (a wounded veterans’ organization), Philadelphia’s Vaux School on Master Street, and a shipment to Liberia for children abused in the slave trade. Louise’s Sale was exciting, exhausting, and successful: Beaumont residents provided the foundation and support for its staff to make unbeatable purchases, three non-profits benefitted, and it was FUN all around! The final total, breaking last year’s record, was $2,210. The money is designated to the Employee Assistance Fund. Endless gratitude is due to donors as well as to worker bees, who sort and inspect every item for stains or dirt or breaks. Lastly, thanks go to Louise Hughes, the magician behind this undertaking.

YARD SALE: Residents and staffers shop, while producers, directors and “worker bees” set up, sell and clean up afterwards.


Valentine’s Day shouts the last hurrah All photos by Linda Madara

Valentine’s Day was the last large social gathering at Beaumont before COVID-19 erased virtually everything from the activity and events calendar. Plans for St. Patrick’s Day, Passover and Easter were packed up and stored away until next year. Louise Hughes and Linda Madara delivered 18 hand-made Valentines created in a Beaumont craft class to residents in Personal Care and the Health Care Center. The kangaroo cards with their candy-filled pouches delighted the recipients. One gentleman asked for a kiss as well. They were only too happy to grant his Valentine wish! The Valentine’s Day dinner drew a cheerful crowd to the Beaumont Room. Food and Beverage Director Zack Margolis offered drinks as guests arrived. Papiya Das and two friends dazzled residents with their flowing saris. Evelyn Isom led the guests in singing “Happy Birthday” to nonagenarian Curtis Laupheimer. At the end of dinner, guests applauded the chefs who prepared the delicious meal.


By Frank Kampas

Solar cells turn light into electricity; LEDs turn elecricity into light behavior of electrons in solids, which eventually led to the invention of transistors, solar panels, and LEDs (light emitting diodes). LEDs and solar panels both reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, as solar panels produce electricity, and LEDs require less electricity than incandescent lights to produce the same amount of visible light. In a way, one is the opposite of the other. Light falling on solar cells generates electricity. Electricity passing through an LED generates light. The first practical solar cell was developed at Bell Laboratories in 1954. LEDs producing enough light to be used in displays were developed around 1968 at Hewlett-Packard and Monsanto, but it wasn’t until 1993 that the development of blue-light LEDs made LEDs practical for lighting. Since that time, advances in technology have greatly reduced the cost of both technologies. There is some LED-SOLAR CYCLE for evidence that Planck’s work a solar-powered streetlight: was paid for by the German Daytime—solar panels genBureau of Standards, with erate elecricity that is stored the goal of producing more in batteries. Nighttime— efficient light sources. Stored electricity is used to However, this story may be power the bright LED light. too good to be true.

Before 1900 there was no accurate theory that explained the spectrum (color distribution) of light emitted by a hot object. As an object becomes hotter, the peak in the spectrum shifts from the infrared (heat radiation) into the visible, going from COLOR DISTRIBUTION: A burning candle illustrates how the color of light emitted dull red by a heated object shifts from infrared to yellow to blue as the temperature to blue as the object gets hotter. is increased. This explains why incandescent lights are not efficient, since most of the light they produce is in the (invisible) infrared. An accurate theory, developed by the German physicist Max Planck in 1900, postulated that light is only emitted in discrete units, whose energy depends on the color of the light. This was the beginning of the branch of physics known as quantum mechanics, from the Latin word for “how much.” Quantum mechanics was extended to explain the

Task-centered care evolves into person-centered care

The person-centered care philosophy can be seen in several ways throughout the entire interdisciplinary team at Beaumont. For example, Nursing contributes by involving the residents in their health care decisions, medication administration and preference of waking and sleeping hours. The Recreational Therapy Department provides purposeful engagement to support the residents to have a meaningful quality of life through various interventions. This is evidenced in the assessments that are completed upon admission, which ask the resident personalized questions about their daily and leisure preferences. This information is then assessed, implemented, planned and evaluated to best meet the needs of the individual on the programs that are offered. In addition to group programs, there are also opportunities for one-on-one sessions, as well. Lastly, the Dining Department is supportive in creating a Food Preference Form. The dining staff will meet with the resident and gather information on what their exact food preferences are. Overall, we want to continue to lead in the most personalized approach.

By Bernadette Bevilacqua, Recreational Therapy As healthcare continues to evolve, so does the vision of care. In previous years, the Medical Model was the guide that professionals followed. This type of model had a taskcentered approach that was institutional. In recent years, that focus has shifted to the Social Model, which emphasizes the importance of people’s relationships, values, lifestyle and environment. In other words, this means putting the residents and their families at the center of decisions and working together with professionals to get the best outcome. Some elements of this would involve providing a home-like atmosphere, building close relationships between residents, family members and staff, and quality improvement processes. Being compassionate, thinking about things from the person’s point of view, and being respectful are all-important factors as well.


Two’s company; three’s a crowd; four’s a miracle! A multiple surprise is welcomed

Four (not three) is the charm

Bernadette Bevilacqua, director of Recreational Therapy, was part of “a multiple surprise” for her family: Bernadette is a quadruplet! For several years her mother and father had hoped to start a family, but nothing was happening. They sought professional fertility advice to assist them and BINGO! She became pregnant at age 31 with quads. They were overjoyed! The only downside was having to spend three quarters of her pregnancy on bedrest. Later her mother joked, “We tried to have a child for four years and were gifted with a baby for each year—except it was all at once!”

Are you ready to read more about quadruplets that are in some way connected with Beaumont? Resident Dorothy Hawke is the grandmother of three girls (Alexandra Noel, Lindsay Blair, Whitney Ashton) and a boy (Gary Whitaker), who were born in Baltimore on December 18, 1990. Their mother took the in vitro fertilization route and became pregnant on the fourth try. (Was that a forecast of what was to come?) However, she had to spend the last month in the hospital because of going into premature labor. When the time was right, after 34 weeks, labor was induced and the quads were born within two and a half minutes of one another. In the delivery room, there were 35 people in attendance, including two doctors assigned to the birth—one for each pair of babies.

By Wistie Miller

By Wistie Miller

Photo by Kate McCarthy

The Bevilacqua quadruplets

The two girls came first, Christa and Bernadette, followed by the two boys, Robert and John. They were born by caesarian section at Jefferson Hospital, one minute apart. Four nurses stood by, each responsible for one baby. Their weights were 3 pounds 15 ounces; 3 pounds, 12 ounces; 3 pounds, 9 ounces; and 2 pounds, 3 ounces. They were kept in the hospital for an additional month. The youngest child remained there for an additional two weeks because of respiratory issues. Incidentally, he is perfectly fine now. Bernadette’s mother and father looked on this multiple birth as a great blessing. They are deeply involved in their church, and when the quads came home from the hospital, many of the parishioners volunteered for the night shifts as well as day feedings. They, along with a devoted grandmother, pitched in to keep the household running as smoothly as possible under extraordinary circumstances. Bernadette really appreciates the closeness of her family and states, “Being a quadruplet is all I know to be, so I don’t find it unusual. I’m thankful to have forever friends to go through life with.”

The Flavior quadruplets Collectively, the babies weighed 18 pounds. One weighed 5 pounds, 9 ounces; the other three were about 4 pounds each. All were blue-eyed and blond, but not identical. As an aside, one of the local diaper services underwrote their costs for a year. Currently, the four live all over the map. One is in England, one in Colorado, one outside Pittsburgh, and one in Texas. I can’t help but wonder how often they are able to get together. TOAD-IN-THE-HOLE: No, this is not a recipe from a British cookery book. This is a real toad in a real hole in my real lawn. Not a deep hole; just a tiny cavity large enough for him to hunker down and take a break from whatever it is that toads do.


Photo by Lynn Ayres

What are the limits of human understanding?

By David Balamuth

On a Friday afternoon a few months ago, as I found myself sitting in our stratospheric-level seats in Verizon Hall watching a young pianist execute a brilliant performance of Beethoven’s first piano concerto, I was awestruck not only by his ability to play all those notes, but simply to take a look at them! Given the limitations of my memory, not just at my current age but at any age, the task seemed simply impossible. Thoughts of the severe inadequacy of my brain to perform such a task triggered questions about what the outer limits of human performance might be. The piano-playing task, after all, could be performed by a machine, like an old-fashioned player piano, with the perforated roll replacing human memory, and the mechanical linkage replacing the human musculature. Turning to a more difficult problem, this one taken from my own field of physics, I tried to grasp the process by which Einstein used his pure intelligence plus a few experimental observations to overturn a view of space and time which had endured since the age of Isaac Newton over two hundred years earlier. Once again, I could not imagine the mental process involved; perhaps that’s why an Einstein or a Newton turns up only every couple of centuries or so. Thinking about this problem becomes even more interesting in an age in which some aspects of human performance are easily exceeded by machines. Deep Blue (IBM’s chess-playing computer) bests all human players, for example. Your smart phone gives you access to information far beyond the capacity of your memory. And so on. This leads naturally into wondering how, or whether, we will ever answer the fundamental questions that have puzzled humanity forever. How (or why) did the Universe begin? Why are the laws of

nature the way they are, and not some other way? How does human consciousness work? Is there a God? I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Readers expecting me to provide answers to these questions will miss the point of this essay, which is simply to suggest that there may be (and I think there certainly are) some questions which are simply too hard for our limited intelligence to fathom, let alone answer. To those optimists who believe in the unlimited powers of human reason I say: try to teach your dog to take a square root. (If you think Gadget Ballard might be up to the task, substitute a squirrel, or a worm.). The interesting question, to me at least, is whether the Professor Bassett difference between our mind and that of the squirrel is simply one of degree, or is something more profound involved? My inability to formulate this question more precisely is a good illustration of the point I am trying to make: these are the Unknown Unknowns. With apologies to those readers hoping for a definitive answer, I simply propose to go on using my demonstrably inadequate intelligence, or what’s left of it, to keep thinking about this fascinating problem. I recommend you do the same.

Safe, simple, and within budget; House Committee abides by simple rules

peting or other flooring materials must conform. There are regular inspections from outside officials, and failure to meet requirements can mean a fine and other penalties. Every year, the Committee creates a wish list of areas of concern, which are usually based on comments or requests from management or board members. The Committee identifies potential projects and prioritizes approximately five or six most urgent projects. With Brock Nichols’ help, the cost for each is estimated. Then the list is submitted to the Board, and the Committee learns which projects are approved for the coming year. When a project begins, there is a lot of discussion by committee members. Direct input from residents is not solicited, but ideas and suggestions do filter through via Committee members’ interactions with the community. The most recent project was sprucing up the Health Center Lobby, which included selection of new chairs, table and lamps. For this year, no large projects are planned because of budget restraints.

By Leslie Wheeler One of the advantages we have at Beaumont is the opportunity to customize our residences. Modify the ceiling, remove a wall, paint it pink and add shag carpet. Express yourself. Residents can and do personalize their space. It is a delightful marketing plus. Then there are the common areas. The House Committee is responsible for the common areas used by residents, guests and employees, and the Committee must operate in accordance with stringent ground rules. Aesthetics are important, but there are code requirements for everything: fire, health and safety, and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Committee members consider mobility, fitness level and ease of use. All materials used, such as furniture, fabrics and car-


Hawk Police patrol Beaumont airspace From Ann Reed to the Bird Notes email group

And then! There was a loud, commanding, “CAW, CAW, KECAW!” One member of the Hawk Police landed on a nearby leafless pin oak and let loose a string of curses too terrible to repeat Photo by Randy Conley in this gentle CROWS “mobbing” a hawk epistle. And then! Another policeman—and another. “CAW, CAW, KECAW!” they screamed. They swooped back and forth around the pine, firing off their crow curses. It didn’t take long. I never quite saw the Cooper’s hawk, but something large emerged from the Austrian pine and flew off towards the pond, with the black-feathered police in loud pursuit.

In normal times I postpone boring chores because I am “too busy.” These times—being anything but normal—I found myself crouched on a stool in the bed near my front door, weeding the onion grass in the vinca. If you break off one of the long stems, the onion grass likes it: a bigger, stronger stem grows back from the tiny bulb below. To prevent that, I was digging up the vinca, finding the tiny onions one by one, pulling them out from below, and replanting the vinca. (Hang on. I’m getting to the birds.) The progress was slow but at least it was something to do. And then I heard it: a couple of soft “keks,” like a gurgle and a sort of cough. I’ve come to recognize this as the Cooper hawk’s meditative or conversational mood, not to be confused with its usual loud “KEK, KEK, KEK.” It seemed to be coming from the large Austrian pine in the Mecrays’ back yard, a pine so dense there is no seeing into its branches. I didn’t have to stand up and go around the corner to know that a deathly stillness had descended on my bird feeders.

By Lynn Ayres

Clever corvids banish ‘birdbrain’ brand

What are the most intelligent birds? PARROTS come to mind. They are accomplished mimics, but that does not mean they understand the words they are parroting. In the Dr. Doolittle books, a veterinarian is taught how to talk to animals by his parrot Polynesia, who speaks fluent English. Entertaining but absurd. Fifty years later, animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg began a 30-year study with Alex, an African grey parrot that was truly remarkable. He could identify 50 different objects, recognize quantities up to six, distinguish seven colors and five shapes, and understand the concepts of “bigger,” “smaller,” “same” and “different.” CORVIDS (which are IN NO WAY CONNECTED to the regrettably similar-sounding COVID-19 virus) include ravens, crows and jays, which display remarkable intelligence for animals of their size. Members of the family have demonstrated tool-making ability and self-awareness in mirror tests. They recognize friends and foes, including humans, attacking those who have done them wrong! Birds are territorial, especially during mating season. Springtime birdsong tells rivals, “This space is mine; stay away.” Crows often serve as the Neighborhood Watch and vocalize loudly to warn neighbors of danger. If the threat is a hawk, they take flight and “mob” it, chasing and harassing until it is well out of their territory.


A few years ago, I heard a crow begin to caw much louder and more raucously than usual. Another crow joined in. I looked out the window and saw a fox pursuing a rodent. The crows kept harassing the fox, which abandoned its prey and fled—with a crow in hot pursuit overhead! Folklore RAVEN CREATOR, by James Madioften represents son, Coast Salish/Tlingit Nation. The red corvids as clever and Sun is in Raven's beak. even mystical. Tales of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest cast Raven as both a trickster and a hero. He was here from the beginning, when all was in darkness. He created the earth and humans. However, he grew tired of stumbling around in the dark. Through trickery, he located and stole the captive sun and placed it in the sky, giving light to the world.

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Beaumont News April 2020  

Beaumont News April 2020  

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