Winter can be tough. It’s cold, it’s slippery and it seems to go on
forever. Some people choose to hibernate. But others, like the
of Ottawa, Ontario, try to make the best of it. Ottawa is home to the
longest skating rink in the world. As the Great Lakes Radio
Karen Kelly found, it’s a place where young and old come to celebrate
From a distance a cordwood building looks deceptively like it’s made
stone. But if you take a closer look you’ll see that what you thought
were stones actually are the ends of short logs laid widthwise to form
wall. In Europe, cordwood homes, sometimes called "poor mans’
architecture", have existed for over a thousand years. In North
the technique arrived with the early pioneers. Today, in the United
States, cordwood masonry is experiencing a renewed interest as
affordable housing because it’s cheap, easy to build, and energy
efficient. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Linda Anderson has more:
On the far end of a pond, in upstate New York, a group of people are working away, busy as
beavers. The comparison works nicely here, because like beavers, these people are building with
logs and a mud-like mortar.
To one side, a group of men vigorously mix mortar in a wheelbarrow. When they get it just right,
it’s delivered to another group of people whoa re busy stacking 6-8 pound logs. Carefully and
methodically, men, women, and children take the mortar and slather it around each sixteen inch
log. It looks like they’re stacking a wall of firewood. Only this wall is designed to last more
than one season. It’s designed to last a lifetime.
Rob Roy has been building with cordwood for over twenty years. He says there are areas in northern
Greece and Siberia where one-thousand-year-old cordwood structures still stand. Roy and his wife
Jaki discovered cordwood masonry during the energy crisis in the 1970’s.
“My wife and I just needed low cost shelter. This was back in 1975. We had worked on a log
building of heavy pine logs in Arkansas, and we found we just couldn’t heft these large logs by
ourselves. About that time there was an article in National Geographic that showed two pictures,
one interior and one exterior, of a cordwood wall… and we said jeez that makes sense. We can do
that. You are not handling anything more than a six to eight pound log end.”
No literature was available, so Roy and Jaki did their own research. They build their house,
learned from their mistakes, and wrote a book about it: The Complete Book of Cordwood Masonry
Housebuilding. Now they teach workshops at their home near Plattsburgh, New York and speak at
conferences. They’ve become missionaries of cordwood masonry.
“Cordwood makes use of waste wood which is unsuitable for other building uses. Logs which, for
example, are not strait enough to take to the saw mill. perhaps dead wood that has been fire
killed or disease killed on your property. I have even heard of people using driftwood or peeler
cores left over from plywood plants. All sorts of sources of so-called junk wood is perfectly fine
when you cut it into sixteen inch pieces.”
Roy says depending on how resourceful you are, materials can cost between ten to twenty dollars
per square foot. Roughly half of the cost of a standard frame building. Roy says a properly made
cordwood home will be energy efficient. It’s easy to heat in the winter and stays cool in the
“It has this wonderful combination of insulation and thermal mass. The mortar joint between the
log ends does not pass through the wall. There is insulated space. That space can be filled with
loose insulation such as vermiculite or pearlite. We use sawdust treated with lime. It’s equal to
about R3 insulation value per inch of thickness, roughly the same as fiberglass.”
Not only is cordwood masonry easy on the environment, Roy says it’s easy on people as well.
Light-weight logs allow an ease of construction that invites everyone to participate, including
Grandma. Although it’s probably unlikely you’ve ever seen one, Rob Roy says cordwood construction
is on the rise. Today there are three times as many cordwood homes in the United States as there
were a decade ago. Most can be found in Wisconsin and New York.
Eight years ago, in Cambridge, New York, Scott Carrino built a cordwood home with his family. Like
many cordwood homes, his is round. Colored glass bottles have been placed in patterns in the
walls. When the sun shines, it looks like stained glass. Carrino became interested in cordwood
masonry after reading Rob Roy’s book.
“I had actually visited Rob Roy pretty quickly after seeing this book, and saw some of his
buildings and really connected with it, and just fell in love with this building technique.”
TO keep his costs down, Carrino used lots of recycled materials, scavenging old windows, tubs and
sinks. He says many people look at his house and think it was an enormous amount of work. But his
friend, Jon Carlson, says that’s relative.
“It is a lot of work, but all building of homes is a lot of work. When you lay up a cordwood wall
its finished. Don’t have to come back and paint it. Don’t have to come back and side it. So not
only are you finished, but also you are creating something that is pretty maintenance-free.”
Cordwood builders, like Carlson and Carrino, love living in a home made of strong, natural
materials built by their own hands. Rob Roy says with the right materials and friends, anyone can
have that experience. And just like beavers, they’ll be experts in no time.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Linda Anderson in Cambridge, New York.
Trapping is still a popular past time in the northern half of the
country. Mostly trappers are looking for beavers, raccoons and
But every year, a small number of household pets are caught as well.
As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, one pet
is fighting to change that:
Trapping is still a popular pastime in the northern half of the country. Mostly, trappers are
looking for beavers, raccoons, and muskrats. But every year, a small number fo household pets are
caught as well. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, one pet owner is
fighting to change that.
Valentine was Meg Massaro’s best friend. She was a black and brown boxer. And, at one time, a
mangy stray. Massaro found her on the side of the road and nursed her back to health. The two
became inseperable. Then, on a cold January morning, they went for a run on a local bike path.
“So I let her off the leash. She bounded happily in front of me for about thirty seconds. The next
thing I know I heard her screaming and I jumped in after her and she was sailing through the air
with a bucket over her head. I took the bucket off her head and there was a trap and I said to my
husband, ‘What is it?’ She kept looking at me, pleadingly her eyes were just getting bigger and
bigger. She couldn’t breathe. And animal control with the help of police were finally able to get
it off. It was about an hour and a half that she was in the trap. Of course, by that time, she was
long gone. It was gruesome, very grisly.”
The trap was about fifty feet from this bike path just outside of Albany, New York. Massaro
remembers thinking this had to be illegal. It’s an area with playgrounds and picnic benches. So,
she called New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and found out the trap was legally
“They were really like, ‘Well what do you want us to do, lady?’ And I said, ‘I want you to go out
and see if there are any more traps and if there are, I want you to remove them.’ And the guy
said, ‘We wouldn’t be able to do that.’ So I just said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and hung up the and
I thought, ‘This is war.'”
Massaro started calling newspapers. She circulated a petition with thousands of names. And she
began lobbying – full time – to get traps out of residential areas.
“I can’t imagine that anyone wants traps near their home, near where their kids play, near where
their dogs are walking; it doesn’t make any sense to allow that.”
Albany County legislator Paulette Barletti talked to Massaro over the phone after the incident.
But she wasn’t sure it was an issue she wanted to adopt. Then, she saw photographs the police took
after Valentine’s death.
“I was actually horrified. And the first thing that came to my mind was, good grief, this could be
Barletti introduced legislation to ban trapping on state or private land. That’s because New York,
like most states, regulates trapping on the state level. Traps can be set on most state land and
on private land with permission of the landowner.
Gordon Batcheller runs New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s trapping program. He
says trappers often serve as their eyes and ears in the field.
“Trapping is actually very hard, it’s hard work and it takes a lot of skills. Studies have shown
that trappers, of all outdoor users, have the highest level of all wildlife biology. They’re
extremely knowledgeable about animals. They can tell us what’s going on out there and we really
value what they tell us because they’re knowledgeable and they see things.”
Batcheller says the majority of trappers are extremely careful about where they set their traps.
And there aren’t too many pets being caught. but Batcheller says it’s clear that in those cases,
the trapper made a mistake.
“In the incidents that we’ve evaluated, the traps simply should not have been set where they were
set. Even though it was legal, poor judgement was used in those instances and experienced trappers
that look at these cases, they shake their heads and say why did they do that.”
Now, thanks in part to Meg Massaro’s campaign, Batcheller is trying to find a compromise. He’s
come up with new recommendations. They’d require trappers to move traps off the ground and onto
stands and trees where dogs can’t reach them. And, he’s proposing tougher restrictions near roads
and bike paths. Batcheller hopes the recommendations will be in place by next fall. But Meg
Massaro says it’s not enough. She’s lobbying for local control so counties can make their own
decisions about trapping. And she wants traps banned from recreational areas. But mostly, she
wants to make sure that this never happens to someone’s dog again.
“When I drover her home that first time, tears were running down my cheks that day because I
couldn’t believe how abused this dog had been. And i promised, I said it out loud to her, no one
will ever hurt you again. And I lied. I didn’t mean to, but i lied and i can’t live with that. I
have to do something to compensate for that. She deserved better, and other people and their pets
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly in Albany, New York.
In recent years, the double-crested cormorant population has
exploded. And commercial fishermen say their business has suffered as a
result. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports on a
new federal bill intended to reduce the population of this controversial
The numbers fo bass and perch in the Great Lakes have declined. And many say the cormorant is to
blame. Now New York congressman John McHugh and Minnesota representative Collin Peterson are
proposing a solution. McHugh says they want to give states the option of creating a hunting season
“The cormorant population is at an all-time high and I think most people who are even a
disppassionate, casual observer can understand that the cormorant population is having a
devastating effect on the fisheries and on the general environment.”
However, the National Audubon Society opposes the measure. They say the birds are protected under
the Migratory bird treaty act. The bill has been sent to the House committee on Resources. McHugh
hopes to have public hearings on the issue next spring.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.
The season for coughs and sniffles is upon us. But instead of
turning to decongestants or antihistamines for relief, a growing number
doctors say you might be better off trying some natural treatments. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports:
The bad news is, there’s still no cure for the common cold. The good news is, natural treatments
can provide some relief.
Doctor Jack Sheerer is a board-certified M.D. in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He’s also a member of the
American Holistic Medical Association. Sheerer says when you’ve got a cold, even chicken soup has
its merits. He also tells patients to try vitamin C and echinacea.
Sheerer says these natural treatments are catching within the medical community.
“People that I would have through would be the last people to wonder about vitamins and herbs and
supplements are asking for advice on this. And it’s becoming pretty mainstream now.”
But, Sheerer adds, no matter which approach they choose, most doctors agree on one thing: when
you’ve got a cold, get lots and lots of rest.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Wendy Nelson.
A new study from the University of Illinois finds that a surprising
number of the things we buy at the grocery store never get used. Brian
Wansink is a Professor of Marketing at the U-of-I. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham talked to him about why people spend
money on products they never get around to opening:
In the back of your cabinets you’ll likely find canned goods or other products you bought years
ago, but never opened. Brian Wansink found as much as twelve percent of the products they buy are
“In almost all these cases – er – in about three-quarters of the cases, the abandoned products, or
these castaway products that people have in their cupboards, end up being bought for
over-ambitious reasons. They’re essentially events that never happen or for recipes that we never
got around to making or things like that.”
Wansink says when they were asked how they planned to dispose of their abandoned products, more
than fifty percent of the homemakers surveyed said they would end up throwing the items away
rather than keeping them or donating them to a food pantry.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Small towns around the Great Lakes work hard to attract
businesses that will diversify their economies and thrive in a changing
world. This effort is especially important in northern Minnesota, where
iron mining has created a boom-and-bust economy with high
unemployment and low wage jobs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Stephanie Hemphill reports on how one small town is re-inventing itself
with the ultimate recycling project:
At the northern edge of the iron range, Tower, Minnesota is home to six hundred people.
(sound of cafe)
At the cafe, regulars stop by for coffee. Outside, in the four-block stretch of main street, no stoplights get in the way on the drive to work. People here workin the woods, cutting trees for the paper mill. Or they have summer jobs in nearby resorts, or they drive south, to the mines that are still working.
Just outside of town, the Soudan mine was teh first iron mine in Minnesota. The Soudan mine closed in 1962, and the town has been scraping by since then. Herb Lamppa helped dig the last shaft. Today, Lamppa is the Mayor of Tower.
“We had over three hundred people working there, in three shifts. Can you imagine what it was like when they had to go elsewhere to look for work? It was veyr devastating. And a lot of jobs we’ve got around here are low-income jobs.”
(sound of hoist)
This hoist was built at the turn of the century to drag high-grade iron ore from deep in the earth. Steel from here helped industrialize America and build the weapons that won two World Wars. The mine provided jobs – and a chance to become Americans – for two generations of immigrants.
Down a side corridor, the lights are brighter and the walls are lined with concrete. Here, the old mine is transforming itself, bringing new jobs to Tower and helping scientists learn about the nature of the universe. It’s a room the size of a football field, four stories high, packed with computers and other high-tech gear. The rock walls offer protection from the cosmic rays that bombard the surface of the earth. That makes it theoretically possible to detect proton decay – a very rare event in which a particle inside an atom releases most of its energy by breaking down into other particles.
Jim Beatty is a technician who’s keeping an eye on the equipment.
“There’s a theory that a proton will decay every ten to the thirty-second years or something to that effect, so we’ve got close to one thousand tons of protons stacked up here, and they’re watching it electronically to see if a proton does decay.”
So far in fifteen years they haven’t observed a proton decaying, but they’ve learned other interesting things about cosmic rays. A new experiment will team up two hundred researchers from around the world. They will beam streams of neutrinos from the Fermi National Accelerator near Chicago, through four hundred miles of rock to detectors in the mine. They’ll try to determine the mass of the neutrino, which can help them understand how the universe expands.
The projects are expected to pump nearly twenty million dollars into the local economy. Hardware stores, hotels, and restaurants have felt the impact. A new building is also being built. It will house the assembly plant for the neutrino detectors, and once they’re assembled, the building can be used to incubate other industries. Eighty people will be hired for the assembly work. Mayor Herb Lamppa says those jobs will help, but he’s looking even further into the future.
“I suspect it’s not just neutrinos they’re going to look at, there must be all kinds of other things the physicists will be looking at. I dont know what it’ll be, but there’s any number of subatomic particles that we don’t even know about.”
The researchers come for just a week or two, but Jim Beatty works here full time. He traded a seasonal construction job for a year-round employment with benefits, and he enjoys the contact with other cultures.
“We have members from Russia, China, Greece, the UK, Australia, New Zealand. My friends talk about seeing these strange guys speaking a strange language walking down the street. I tell them it’s not a strange language, it’s physics.”
That’s just the kind of talk that really excites Herb Lamppa. he’s hoping the researchers will contribute a new thread to the culture here.
“If we could get some of these people living here, their families here, it would be a real big advantage to the school system because they’d be children whose parents are interested in math and science. I think it would have a tremendous impact as far as the kids’ desire to learn.”
Lamppa and his friends used their brawn to put food on the table and build a nation. He’s hoping their grandchildren will be able to use their brains to make a living and help decode some of the mysteries of the universe.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill in Tower, Minnesota.
No matter where you travel around the region, you’ll find kids
playing all kinds of organized sports – from baseball to bowling. But a
growing number of young people around the Great Lakes are embracing a
sport that’s traditionally been practiced in the Western U-S. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports:
About a dozen boys and girls are gathered outside on a chilly, windy afternoon in Kent City,
Michigan dressed in jeans, cowboy boots and hats. They’ve gome to practice the sport of rodeo. The
athletes specialize in different events, including barrel racing, goat tying and steer wrestling.
Tonight, they’re at Sue and Andy Sharp’s house to practice. Most of the kids bring their own
horses, and the Sharps have a few steers for roping and wrestling.
SUE: “You would like to be able to practice once or twice a week at least, if possible. Not all
the kids can do that, though, because some don’t have a place near them, and they have to travel
quite a ways.”
The Sharps met when they were both competing on the Pro Rodeo Circuit. But now, they’re passing on
their skills to a new generation of riders.
“In 1974, when I first started, and before that, there were rodeos. But nowhere near as many are
there now. When they went through the phase of the urban cowboy, it really started to grow east of
the Mississippi and got more notoriety and people started to get involved, and that’s continued
Still, rodeo riders aren’t exactly commonplace in these parts, but their ranks are steadily
growing – fed by the increasing number of high school rodeo teams and 4-H programs. In fact,
several of the current youth rodeo champs come from the Great Lakes States. Wisconsin is home to
the world champion high school bareback rider. Indiana hosts the world champion in pole bending.
And Michigan is the home of the national champion bull rider.
With programs like the Little Britches Rodeo Association, kids as young as toddlers can get
involved in the sport. Tonight, Cody Schmitz has the distinction of being the youngest one at the
CODY: “I’m a bull rider.”
NELSON: “You’re a bull rider. How old are you?”
NELSON: “Ten. And you ride a bull.”
CODY: “But I don’t ride, like, big bulls. I ride, like, these steers and stuff.”
Cody says just like other athletes, he gets nervous before a ride.
CODY: “You get butterflies and stuff, but once you get on, then they just go away and you’re just
having fun and sitting there. But it’s not very good to hang up.
NELSON: “What does that mean, to hang up?”
CODY: “Hang up as in, your hand’s still stuck in the rope and then it’s pulling and stuff. Well,
it’s not very good.”
Cody weighs about ninety pounds and stands just under five feet. But the steers can weigh hundreds
of pounds, so it’s a kind of understatement to say that rodeo can be dangerous. Just ask Matt
Kostel. He used to compete, but now he just watches from the sidelines.
“Had a little accident with a bull. He caught me in the forehead right here with a horn and put me
in the hospital. And they put plates in my forehead and screws and had to do reconstructive
surgery on me.”
Even so, Kostel hopes to someday return to the sport. For many – like Cody Schmitz – the rewards
outweigh the risks. Riders can win cash and even college scholarships. Cody’s only been competing
for a couple of years, but he’s already set his sights on becoming a pro. At tonight’s practice,
he’s decked out in a protective vest and mouth guard – ready to ride a steer.
(sound of rosin rubbing on rope)
“All right! Come on, Cody!”
Cody’s fourteen-year-old brother, Eric, helps him get ready: rubbing rosin on the rope for a
better grip. Then Eric and some of the other boys gather ’round to give Cody some final bits of
ERIC: “No matter what he does, keep shuffling your feet. Feel comfortable – start kicking.”
GUY 2: “Get right up on your hands, don’t get off it.”
Then Cody gives the signal, and they’re off.
GUYS: “Look at ’em buck, Cody! Look at ’em buck!”
The steer almost immediately throws cody to the ground, and the whole thing’s over in a matter of
seconds. Cody’s hurting from a hard fall on his elbow. But after a pep talk from his brother Eric,
he’s soon up and ready to ride again.
ERIC: “How bad do you want it?”
ERIC: “Then you better try. Because without trying, you ain’t got nothing, right?”
This ride goes better for Cody. He’s able to hold on a little longer before getting bucked off.
It’s a close-knit group here tonight – not just the brothers, but all of the riders. And most say
they’ll continue riding, either as pros or just for fun, because, as Eric Schmitz says, rodeo is
as much a lifestyle as it is a sport.
“I mean, everybody’s together, everybody’s friends, you help each other out. I don’t know how to
explain it – it’s just kind of a cowboy deal, I guess. And I couldn’t imagine myself doing a thing
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Wendy Nelson in Kent City, Michigan.