LOCAL VIEW —Yellow Jackets—

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Of all the things that spoil the beauty of nature, I think hornets are the worst, especially when their nests aren’t up in a tree where you can see them, but down in some hole on the ground that a small child can step on without seeing.  Then they swarm out and attack the innocent.


This summer has been especially bad. In the first nine years of running a Childcare I didn’t have a single bee-sting on any hike, and there were only three other episodes where other members of the staff ever saw children stung. This summer? I’ve been through six separate episodes. I’m actually feeling a bit rattled by it all.

The first episode involved a girl reaching into a blueberry bush to pick a berry, and bumping a bald-faced hornet’s nest.


Fortunately the nest was still small, but three girls got stung, two three times and one twice. One moment the scene was idyllic, and the next one girl was screaming.  I moved her swiftly away, but the hornets followed, and then a second girl began screaming, and then a third. I slapped the bugs off their clothing, but two of the eight-year-old girls continued screaming, on and on and on, for some fifteen minutes, despite my attempting to treat them with an anti-sting ointment in the first-aid kit (which I will never again vouch-for in any advertisement).  That experience exhausted me, though we did return to pick berries in the same place a week later, as I had a sort of you-must-get-back-on-the-horse-that-threw-you attitude. The girls did learn that once a nest was located, it could be avoided, and one doesn’t need to quit picking blueberries forever.

One of the most annoying aspects of the experience was a total lack of compassion on the part of the young boys in the group, who took a sort of contemptuous and sneering attitude towards all the screaming, even laughing at the girls. That all changed a week later when they kicked a nest at ankle level, as we moved Indian-file through a swamp. Another member of the staff could hear the screaming a half mile away. Seven out of eight boys got stung.

I think the collective screaming was more frightening than the actual stings; (in fact I could find no actual sting on one of the boys who screamed loudest; I include him among the stung, out of courtesy.) The screaming was so bad I had to resist the impulse to scream myself, though what I would have screamed was, “Shut the f— up!”  It was a hysteria that fed upon itself, and seemed a sort of proof we are raising men who are sensitive, and who are not male, chauvinist pigs.

To be honest, I think I would have preferred pigs, though there are few animals that squeal louder at the slightest offence. The boys squealed louder than pigs, and I found myself comparing them to the boys I hung out with when young, who were stoic by age five, and took a definite pride in not whimpering when stung by a bee.

One of the boys complicated matters by simply running in place on the nest, blocking the route of escape on the narrow trail. I had to go back and pull him forward, as he seemed to lack the instinct which most have, to run like hell. Then I pulled the boys behind him ahead, shouting “Go! Go! Go!” like a sergeant sending soldiers into battle, but when I turned I realized they only ran a short distance and then turned to look back at me, all screaming, though the hornets were flying all around them. I rushed them away,  slapping the hornets from their hair and shoulders and legs, and somehow remaining un-stung myself.  One lone boy somehow calmly walked through the entire experience without a sting, and he was looking about owlishly at the others.

What to do? Especially when the boys, (aged five to nine), wouldn’t stop screaming? I simply spoke in a very calm voice, eventually pausing to dab wet baking soda on the stings, once we were away from the swarming hornets and I’d located the final few wasps that had crawled up their sleeves. I explained the stinging sensation would slowly fade, and that the worst was over, and the best thing was to be calm and head back for some ice-cubes. I attempted to get them interested in who got the most stings, as a sort of competition, and attempted to interested them in being “toughest” by being the first to stop screaming. (This only worked on one older boy, who immediately became stoic.) The boy who ran in place on the nest got ten stings, and he, (perhaps due to shock), was also quick to become silent, but that worried me a little. I feared he might be manifesting an allergy, though none had an official allergy on their medical forms.

Due to the wonder of cell-phones I was able to contact my wife who contacted parents, and I was impressed by how calmly the parents responded. (But then, they couldn’t hear all the screaming). They generally felt that stings were part of country living, and their children were not likely scarred for life. Two of the mothers of the younger boys said they’d drop by to reassure their sons, but no parent cursed my ineptitude as a trail-guide and protector. The parents seemed to take it in stride, but I found the experience unnerving.  Try spending twenty minutes with screaming children, doing your best but only gradually subduing the uproar to whimpering, and you will understand how I felt.

My ego was basically ruptured.  I like to think I introduce the children to the beauty of nature, but there is nothing very beautiful about angry hornets, unless you are watching from very far away and have no heart for children. Then, I suppose, if you are a rabid environmentalist, you can marvel over the wonder of insects. I did my best to muster some of that stouthearted (or is it stone-hearted) objectivity during the following week, stressing that it was not a survival-skill to run in place, and that the correct response to hornets was to run like hell the dickens. I also became positively neurotic when it came to scrutinizing paths for any sign of ground-hornet nests.

It did no good. Within a week my wife was watching a group of smaller children play by “Lightning Rock”, where they always played, when one child began screaming. Yellow Jackets had colonized a chipmunk burrow under an outcropping. If we then tended to stay back at the playground I think it is understandable, but then children were stung in the playground. In a sort of environmentally unfriendly mood I declared war on hornets, and sprayed the fuck dickens of the two nests I located. Unfortunately the spray was in fact environmentally friendly, (and so quick to biodegrade that it biodegrades in the can), so drenching both of the yellow jacket nests merely stunned them.

Also the children stung in the playground described baldfaced hornets, and the nest I sprayed was yellow jackets. I had the uneasy feeling a nest was lurking, undiscovered. I even walked around the entire playground, kicking the fence, but couldn’t rouse the bald-faced hornets. The way to rouse them was to shake a certain post.

And so it came to pass the children were playing a game of “Shark-Minnow” in the playground, running from side to side, from fence post to fence post, when a child rammed the  certain, hornet-triggering post, and the all-too-familiar screams began.

However, for all the failures of my Childcare this past summer, one thing the children have learned is to run like fucking hell the dickens. The only child stung initially was the poor boy who suffered ten stings in the swamp. He’s had a rough summer, and has a stilted idea of the beauty of nature.

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However one very good student, a five-year-old who suffered seven stings in the swamp, ran correctly to the far corner of the playground, which happened to be the location of the yellow jacket nest I had sprayed with the environmentally friendly spray, and the yellow jackets stung him there. He became understandably neurotic . So did I. I went and bought the most environmentally unfriendly stuff I could find, and sprayed both nests, and the nest out at Lightning Rock (which was also still alive).

Then I took the kids to the spayed nests, where the corpses of dead hornets littered the entrances, and we looked at our dead fellow creatures and rejoiced in a distinctly environmentally unfriendly matter. The kids seemed to like it that, concerning hornets, I was madder-than-a-hornet, and put them first.

I figure I can be environmentally friendly when the environment is friendly back, but there is a time to be environmentally unfriendly, and that is when the environment is unfriendly to innocent children.

Usually by October the first freeze puts the hornet problem to rest, but this year the yellow jackets won’t die. (Before you blame “Global Warming” I should remind you we had snow in the mountains and a slight touch of frost in late August, and I then quoted old-timers and said, “Squaw Winter will bring Indian Summer”, and it is one of my few weather forecasts that have proved correct. The tomatoes and peppers and summer squash still flourish in the garden (except a few nipped by August frost), but the down side is that yellow jackets also still flourish.

They are particularly annoying because for some reason they develop an appetite for fruit, and can annoy you when apple-picking. My youngest son was bringing an apple to his mouth for a second bite, when a yellow jacket zipped down and landed on the fruit even as he raised it to his mouth, and stung him on the lip even as he bit.

If that doesn’t make you hate them, like we hate the serpent in the Garden of Eden, then picture me with a small group of three-and-four-year-old children. We are merely enjoying the fact that when leaves thin on the trees enough light is allowed down to turn stone walls green, as a microscopic moss grows.

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We had no aim to bother yellow jackets, and left promptly when they said we were bothering them, but they would not accept “excuse me”. They pursued.  They were mean to the innocent.


Two little girls got three stings, one got two, and a little boy got one, however the only redeeming thing was that, after amazingly going through the entire summer without a single sting, I got twelve. I was simply too busy killing the yellow-jackets as they landed on the children, pinching them with both my left hand and my right, to bother protecting myself. I think I killed roughly fifty, as we hurried away. I got stung on the back of both hands and the back of my neck, and at a hole in my jeans.

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Oddly, the small children were far braver than their older peers, and were busily gathering beechnuts in thirty minutes, despite the traumatic experience they’d  just undergone.

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Another cool thing, (which seems a reward for my heroism, protecting these innocents), is that my wrinkled old hands didn’t have a single wrinkle this morning. (I’ve also been told my arthritis will be lessened, because stings are an antidote.)

However a more difficult-to-understand reward of getting out into the hornets, is a better understanding of “Nature”. The “beauty of nature” isn’t some prissy idea where there are no hornets. Nature is full of rough stuff. Besides wasps and hornets, there are mosquitoes and black flies and deer flies and horse flies and green-eyed flies. There are thistles and thorns and briers and burrs and nettles and poison ivy and oak and sumac. (Some feel this isn’t enough, and we should reintroduce wolves to New England.)

Even while wading in a pond, as you note the whirligigs atop the water, you notice another bug that rows about with legs like the oars of a boat. At first it seems this bug sometimes rows about on its belly and other times on its back. Actually it is two different bugs, the “Water-Boatsman” and the “Backswimmer.” The former eats algae and is harmless, and the latter eats the former and can give you a painful bit, like a horsefly.


Does knowing the creature to the right can bite decrease your wonder, or increase it?

In like manner, my Childcare advertises we will increase children’s wonder, but now parents are redefining wonder. “I wonder if I’ll be sting today?” And I confess my hikes do expose children to suffering. “Communing with nature” is, to a degree, a sort of child abuse. But what is the alternative? To bubble-wrap childhood?  Is that not an obstacle in the way of wonder?

I don’t know why God made nature the way He made it. To me, hornets seem a bad idea. However nature is what it is. It is best we include the bitter with the sweet. For one thing, it is more honest than some insipid fairy-tale concept of nature, and for another thing, children seem to understand it and appreciate it better than their elders.

Oh Lord, why’d you create stinging hornets?
I want to show children nature’s Your art.
My paper states You’re love, but you’ve torn it
With bees whose sharp tails make poor children smart.
How smart am I? When cruel hornets sting
And rattlesnakes hiss and thick mosquitoes
Spread malaria? Do I know anything
When nature’s all thorns, and never a rose?

I turn to children to see what they think
And it seems they don’t mind; they just accept
The outdoors as better than jail, and wink
At the pains. Like African springbok they’ve leapt
Over lions, accepting Your life’s gift
Which, after Eden’s fall, leads too uplift.


ARCTIC SEA ICE —The Drastic Laptev Majesty—

Of all the seas bordering the Arctic Ocean, the Laptev Sea is the most extreme, when it comes to the yearly ecological whiplash the arctic subjects its species and geology to. The water goes from nearly fresh to salty and the water temperatures swing from freezing to 60° F (16° C) near the shore. The tundra bordering it goes from sunbaked heat in the summer to one of the coldest places in the northern hemisphere in the winter.

Arctic rivers vary greatly in their flow, at a trickle in the frozen depths of winter and in a roaring flood during the height of the summer melt, and the Lena River is the tenth largest river in the world, though perhaps it is difficult to measure a river’s size when it freezes to the bottom in places, in February. The river rises sixty feet during its flood stage. Maximum discharge has exceeded 4.2 million cubic feet (120,000 cubic metres) per second, and the minimum has fallen to 39,300 cubic feet (1,100 cubic metres). In other words, a hundred times as much fresh water pours into the Laptev Sea in August as does in January.

The huge surge of fresh water into the Laptev Sea is one reason its shorelines freeze so swiftly. The ice has spread over much of the sea in only a week. (October 4 left, October 9 right.)

During calmer years the fresh water is able to stratify more, and a definite “lens”of fresh water forms at the surface, but on stormy years the mixing of the fresh water with the salty occurs more quickly. The sea is over the continental shelf and relatively shallow, so there is little exchange with the deeps, as occurs over much of the Antarctic coast. Winds tend to shift from summer sea-breezes, when the land is hotter and air rises over land, to winter land-breezes, when the sea is warmer and cold air sinks over Siberia. A dramatic change occurs during September, when days shrink shorter than nights, and the landscape shifts from sun-baked to snow-covered.

On his blog at Weatherbell, Joseph D’Aleo mentions the Siberian snows have been early this year.

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As soon as there is even a dusting of snow the tundra loses its ability to absorb heat from the shrinking daylight, and increases its ability to lose heat to the skies of the increasing nights. Although we are suppose to speak in terms of “heat-loss”, Siberia becomes a “cold-producer”.  The chilled air sinks, and builds high pressure as it presses down, and the Siberian high pressure (which I like to call “Igor”) can be the coldest and strongest in the northern hemisphere, with temperatures in the depth of winter down to -90° F.

The effect on the Laptev Sea is a quick freeze, as the winds start to flow off the land. It is all the quicker because the water is made brackish by the Lena River’s floods. However as the Lena River’s waters freeze, the flow swiftly shrinks. Also the winds start to pick up off the land, as the difference in temperature between the sea and the tundra increases. For a brief time there is a maritime airmass rubbing cheeks with an arctic high, and often this breeds storms that roll along the Siberian coast (with these storms having an oddity: Warmer winds from the north than from the south.) (Not so odd in Australia, I suppose.) These storms churn the water and can break up the ice, yet the freeze can be delayed but not denied. Eventually the Laptev is ice-covered.

However even when ice-covered, though less heat is lost, heat continues to radiate up through the ice. It may seem odd to call it “heat” when it is below freezing, but it is far “hotter” than the air pouring off Siberia. The air over the land is often below -50°F while the air over the sea-ice is “warmed” and seldom below -30°F. This difference can create “land-breezes” that in fact are roaring gales, and the gales are so strong they push the Laptiv Sea ice away from shore, creating a polynya of open water even in the depth of winter. This creates a difference in air temperature at the surface of +28°F over the water and -50°F over the land, which can only increase the gales, and the result is that large amounts of Laptev sea-ice are exported towards the North Pole. Most winters see the Laptev Sea as the largest creator and exporter of sea-ice, though the amounts vary a lot from year to year, depending on weather patterns.

Each time the polynya forms and the exposed water must be refrozen, an interesting process occurs wherein salt is exuded from the forming ice. Unlike Antarctica, where the super-cooled brine vanishes down to great depths, Laptev brine sinks in shallow water. In the delta of the Lena River the water becomes much saltier, as the summer flood turns to a winter trickle, and the “lens” of fresher water atop the Laptev Sea is constantly frozen and exported.

Just imagine a scientist trying to get his mind around all the variables we have discussed already. For a true scientist the challenge is a sheer joy, though for a person who wants a simple answer the Laptev Sea is a nightmare. Even if you could comprehend one year’s changes in temperature and salinity, the following year is likely to be completely different. One year the Lena basin may experience cold and drought as the following year sees mildness and rains, greatly altering the flow of fresh water into the Laptev Sea, and therefore altering the point at which water freezes, and changing all sorts of exchanges between water and air, all sorts of up-welling and down-welling influencing currents, and influencing evaporation rates and the formation of storms.

Just, (for the joy of it), consider this variable: In the case of fresh water, water at 32.1° F floats on top of water at 35°F, but in the case of salt water, water at 32.1°F sinks below water at 35°F. For your homework assignment, figure out the flow of fresh water from the Lena River, chilling as it flows into the Laptev Sea, and also becoming more saline, and determine the point at which it stops being more buoyant than the water it is entering, and starts to sink.

I think the true joy of a true scientist is not so much in figuring everything out, as it is in seeing how wonderful everything is. We might find some answers, but we will never comprehend the entirety of the sheer majesty and magnitude of what our Creator has achieved.


It is never much fun to be a victim of a stereotype, as I have discovered simply by pointing out the flaws in the theory of Global Warming. I found myself called a “denier” by people who knew about as much about arctic sea-ice as an elephant knows about scuba diving in coral reefs. So-called “liberals” proved themselves little more than nasty parrots, incapable of opening their minds more than an oyster’s shell at low tide. The very people most dead-set against stereotyping turned out to be the best at doing it.

This grotesque hypocrisy is on display once again, in Hollywood, as Harvey Weinstein finds himself under attack by the very yes-men and yes-women who were his bleating sycophants, up until recently. Not that people didn’t recognize his behavior was brash and oppressive and bullying and sleazy, but people put up with it as long as he had great power and influence. Only as his power recently lessened did he learn how deep people’s affection was. Now he learns what it is like to be a victim of a stereotype. He has been stereotyped, and the people attacking him are behaving like stereotypes.

One of the most crazy examples of outraged behavior I’ve heard about was one suggestion that Weinstein’s name be removed from the credits of every film and every TV drama he was ever involved with. The very man people fawned over, to get their names in credits, is apparently to be “disappeared”, or so is the mentality of some.

This mentality fits the Hollywood stereotype of supremely superficial shallowness, wherein fame trumps Truth, and the only moral guidelines are the ropes used to climb into the limelight. Fame is the end all and be all, the false idol worshiped by the crazed. Fame is worth selling your body for; it is outrageous hypocrisy for many in Hollywood to raise palms in pretended horror at Weinstein’s sleazy behavior, when they themselves know the art of sleaze so well.

The problem is that people have become so enamored of Fame that they have lost touch with Truth. They are so occupied with the “image” they want to project (as being perfectly fabulous) that they strive to be  “stars”, above being human. They are proof of Saint John’s statement, “If you say you have no sin then the Truth is not in you,” and Saint Paul’s warning that if they ignore the obvious Truth then they will be “given over to the sinful desires of their hearts.”

That word “given” is often used to excuse shortcomings, as in the statement “he is given to outbursts” or “he is given to drinking too much.” It excuses those parts ourselves we are most embarrassed by, as mere “foibles”,  but none of us wants to be “given” to lowness. We’d far rather see our better side mysteriously appear, as it does when we are inspired.  And because art is all about inspiration, and actors are supposedly artists, Hollywood should know better.

One of the most ambiguous aspects of spirituality involves what is called by Christians “the confession of sin and assurance of pardon.” Basically it involves escaping lowness by admitting it. Hollywood, in a sense, admits sin, but then they go too far, by welcoming it and justifying it. They are forever scorning the church-going public as “prudes”, however I doubt true Christians grow fangs and go after so-called “sinners” in the manner Hollywood is going after Weinstein.

What is attractive about a truly humble person is his or her ability to admit what they did was stupid. They don’t demand equal rights for their mistakes, but rather blush about them. “What a jackass I was,” they admit, “to cut in line in front of you.”  Somehow their admission makes the urge we had (to strangle them) abruptly evaporate.

Hollywood, on the other hand, seeks to repress. This is most obvious in their desire to “disappear” certain elements of human nature. They have no qualms about making apparent their distaste towards certain stereotypes, though they themselves are stereotypes.

For example, a strangely beautiful element of America involves the South, and the children and grandchildren of people who went through the experience of having slavery acceptable in 1864 and illegal in 1866. Hollywood has tended to degrade the whites as “racist pigs” and the blacks as “Uncle Toms”, and has tried to “disappear” the entire experience from American History.

An exception to this Hollywood bigotry was Walt Disney, who produced the movie “Song of the South” in 1946. This movie suggested there is much to love about the Old South, but Hollywood bigots now refuse to release it as a video to the American public, afraid “Uncle Remus” is a too much of a stereotype.

If he is a stereotype, I want to be one too. I often say my aim is to be a cantankerous anachronism,  and to be the epitome of an old Yankee. Uncle Remus was the southern equivalent, and I had the honor and privilege of meeting such a person, back when I was sixteen.

Back in better times I, at age 16, was allowed by my parents in Boston to hitchhike to my grandparents in Florida. I wanted to “see America”. It was 1969, and, though it was only April, the heady atmosphere of “the summer of love” made my journey an experience of Humanity At Its Best. Not that whites didn’t warn me to watch out for blacks, and not that blacks didn’t warn me to watch out for whites. Not that Northerners didn’t tell me to watch out for Southerners, and not that Southerners didn’t tell me to watch out for Damn Yankees.  And not that absolutely everyone didn’t tell me to watch out for Southern Cops, but the Southern Cops very kindly told me to watch out for absolutely everyone. Like I said, it was back in better times.

It occurred to me, even at that tender age, that Hollywood was misinforming me. (My idea of southern policemen was from the movie “Easy Rider.”) (I thought southern officers would automatically assume I should be shot, for being northern and naive.)

In those days I-90 came to a halt in South Carolina. (They were struggling to engineer a passage through the mires of the Great Pee Dee River.)  Therefore I had to find my way through the rural south to where I-90 was again complete, towards a very smelly paper mill in Savannah, Georgia.

Southern people, back then, had a very hard time understanding my accent, whether they were white or black. Even so, everyone was kind.  I was a stereotype to them, and they were all stereotypes to me, but we had wonderful conversations. I think people liked the simple fact I was wide-eyed about things that were new to me but which they took for granted, such as festoons of Spanish moss hanging from oaks that didn’t shed their leaves in the winter.

At one point I was hichhiking down a road through fields where sharecroppers still used hand-held plows behind mules, and an old black man stopped his ancient Ford pickup. I was a little surprised, because he had a small boy, who I assumed was a grandson, with him. The old man asked me all sorts of questions, such as whether I had ever seen a hand-held plow before (no) and I had the odd sense he was doing it to educate his grandson, who regarded me with wide eyes. I wish I’d had the guts to ask him some questions of my own. Even so it was good talk, and I am very grateful to the fellow for his kindness.

However Hollywood would likely typecast the fellow as an “Uncle Tom.” He wasn’t militant. He didn’t lecture me. Instead he was kind, and caring.

He is one reason I too want to be a stereotype. I want to be as beautiful as that old man was, as I get old.

Hollywood? I fear they are increasingly ugly, even as they think they are of, “The Beautiful People.”

If you want to read a short story, full of love, about the stereotypes of the “old South”, as it existed in 1903, read the O Henry tale called “The Duplicity Of Hargraves“.

Even though the hero is an actor, I doubt the current mindset of Hollywood could ever, ever touch such a plot with a ten foot pole.

Why? Because being human, in a manner called a “stereotype”, is treated with Love, rather than despised.


LOCAL VIEW –Pondering Puckerbrush–

Week follows week, and I never seem to have time to write. Last week I was harassed by overdue taxes, and this week, $10,000 poorer, I look ahead to my younger daughter getting married, next Saturday.

My life will be in turmoil this coming week. I have not been advised much about the preparations, but there is a good reason, for I am something of an old grouch, and don’t see why people can’t just get married and be done with it. Yet I also know such sentiments are blasphemy to females who like to fuss, and I have no desire to be beheaded. So I’m merely keeping my head down, doing what I’m told, and counting the days until next Sunday.

The problem is that the preparations are complete chaos. I can see the potential for a hilarious debacle, but I won’t be allowed to laugh. For example, the groom’s parent’s are flying up from Brazil, don’t speak a word of English, and I don’t speak a word of Portuguese.  His mother wants to cook elaborate dishes, and the oven in the kitchen is broken. You better not dare allow the corners of your mouth to twitch up.  This situation is serious, I tell you, serious!

Beyond all the agony is a simple fact: A wedding is a beautiful thing. All our efforts to ruin it cannot hide that fact. In like manner, life creates all sorts of clouds of dust which can be used as an excuse for not-writing, but the poetry is always there.

In ancient Persia poets were pampered
And given palaces to ponder in,
But modern men are constantly hampered
When their mind’s in the mood for wandering.
Still, the mind cannot always be denied.
As widgets hurry down assembly lines
Mistakes occur, for eyes wander aside
To beauty in a blond, for the High Devine
Does not shun low places. No disgrace’s
In doggeral. Christ had his dusty feet
Washed by a whore’s tears, as fussy faces
Lifted noses and sniffed. That which is most sweet
Is not buried by life’s bustle and noise.
God’s everywhere, and so are His joys.

To keep a semblance of sanity during this crazy week I will  post pictures of hikes I took the children of my Childcare on last summer. Those hikes tended to get crazy, but with twenty-twenty hindsight I can see the poetry, even if I didn’t see it at the time.

One hike was down an abandoned road called “Whirlpool Road”. In 1750 it led down to an elbow in the Soughegan River where the water swirled in a whirlpool. By the year 1800 the whirlpool was gone, as the river had been dammed for a textile mill downstream. By 1900 many mills had moved south to escape northern labor unions, (and be closer to southern cotton), and wool prices were crashing, so the farmland began to be abandoned.   As the land began to grow over, the locals described the underbrush as “puckerbrush”.  (Because it made your face pucker as you walked through it.) Then, as a century passed, trees grew tall, and Whirlpool Road passed through shaded glades. By 2000 the trees were worth harvesting, and the logs were dragged out by growling machines called “skidders”,  which would have awed the farmers of old, who hauled logs with a team of two horses.  Skidders also tended to knock down the stone walls the farmers had labored so hard to raise. Lastly, though trees were left behind to reseed the forest, the skidders drove too close to the roots of some, and the roots died on that side, and the trees were vulnerable to gales.

This brings us to last summer, when we were drawn down that road. I was drawn by history. The children sought a different attraction.


Less attractive were the ticks, which were especially abundant, due to the fact whitetail deer like such over-gown lands.

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Then, of course, it rained. The youth made it quite clear they were not having much fun, but then we came to a fallen tree. I never know what will redeem a hike, and change me from a child-abuser to a hero.

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Blueberries were forgotten. The children delighted in the tree for over an hour. All I needed to do was referee king-of-the-mountain fights, and keep them from breaking each others necks. (I like this sort of fallen tree for it lets me study the subsoil of old pastures, and also there is the slight chance of finding an ancient artifact.)

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Eventually we moved on to the blueberries, and ran into our next adventure. But that’s another story and another sonnet.

(Photo credits; blueberry pictures; Marlowe Gauteau)


ARCTIC SEA ICE —Awaiting La Nina Del Norte—

There is always a lag between the time an event occurs in the tropics and the time the effects of that event reach the Pole. But there is no lag, when it comes to the effect of the sunshine actually striking the Pole. Therefore the effects of the “Quiet Sun” at the Pole are immediate, in terms of sunshine, but lagged, in terms of the complex manner the Quiet Sun effects the temperature of the oceans at the equator.

I think we have seen this in the temperatures at the Pole. From the moment the sun started to get high and bright in arctic skies in May, the temperatures were below normal. Then, from the moment winter darkness begins to spread south from the Pole in September (and the sun can have very little effect at the Pole because it doesn’t shine) temperatures have been above normal.

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It is common sense that the sun only effects the Pole directly when it is shining, (though certain people will make it more complex than it needs to be.) It is also common sense that as soon as the sun sets at the Pole something besides the sun must be involved, when it comes to transporting heat to the Pole.

The transport occurs via air masses.  The planet is constantly attempting to achieve a balance, though arriving at a point where the entire planet is the same temperature is impossible. Just as we will always have our poor, we will always have our Poles. As the planet attempts to move all the equator’s heat to the Pole, it is attempting the impossible, and is in some ways like a socialist attempting to move the wealth of the rich to the poor. It even gets nasty, with hurricanes and gales, like socialists do with taxes. Unlike socialists, the result is a beautiful planet.

(In case you are wondering, I’m currently doing my taxes.)

The transport also occurs via ocean currents, but much more slowly. The heat we currently notice at the Pole largely comes from a meridional flow, where the jet stream develops loops that hurry the mixing of arctic air with tropical air. When the difference between the Pole and the Tropics is less pronounced there seems to be less need of mixing, and the jet stream gets less loopy, and that flow is called “zonal.”

I have been working on the idea, the past year, that there is a third flow, that creates an area of low pressure at the Pole which, for my amusement, I have dubbed “Ralph.” I suppose this third flow is actually an “extremely meridional” flow, but I’ve decided to call it a “Ralphal” flow, because I’ve always wanted to contribute something to science, and coining words is fun.

My assumption was that the Ralphal flow was prompted by a larger-than-nornal difference between the tropics and Pole, brought about by the very big El Nino in 2015. I further assumed that the sway in the direction of El Nino conditions would be followed by an equal-and-opposite sway in the direction of a La Nina, as that usually happens. But it didn’t. We had a feeble La Nina, not equal-and-opposite at all, and then the Pacific looked like it was heading right back to El Nino conditions.  So all forecasts could get thrown right into the dumpster.

But then, even as I busily wiped the egg off my face and adjusted all my forecasts to expectations of an El Nino, that fickle Pacific flipped right back towards La Nina conditions. This is why so many quit attempting to forecast the weather. They don’t like having their sanity messed with. (Fortunately sanity is never anything I’ve had to worry about losing, being blessed with madness to begin with).

Nino 20171003 nino34Sea(58)

The long term effect of this La Nina will likely be to generate cooler air masses, which in a lagged way will make their way up to the Pole, but likely this change will take its sweet time to manifest. When we check to see if sea temperatures are below normal, we notice the southern hemisphere may be surprisingly cool but the northern hemisphere remains surprisingly warm.

SST anomaly 20171002 anomnight.10.2.2017

With all that extra heat to the north, the planet had the urge to lose, and that tends to encourage the development of hurricanes  and typhoons. The set up was one which made the Atlantic the place for them to develop this year, and the above map actually shows their effect on the Atlantic’s waters. The heat was sucked out of the water off the east coast of the USA. (To the north the water is warmer because the hurricanes prevented the up-welling of cold water south of Labrador and Nova Scotia.)

On a whole all the heat coming from the northern ocean made the planet milder, but that mildness was hurried to the Pole, to be lost to the growing dark of winter night. The favorite route was up through the North Atlantic past Norway, over Svalbard, which was well above normal in September, as Roy Spencer’s September air temperature map demonstrates.

Temperatures september_2017_map (1)

The above map averages out some of the loopy shifting of the jet. For example, at the start of September it was very cold in the east of the USA, with unusually early snows on peaks not far north of where I live, and even a few spots of late August frost, but by the end of September we were midst a heat wave, and the unusually early snows had shifted to the west of the USA. Result? The map averages the extremes out, and most of the USA looks “normal”.

However Svalbard, at the top of the map, was the most “above-average” place on earth. (Not that anyone went swimming in the icewater.) This is a definate sign of a Ralphal flow, and we did see Ralph incarnating up over the Pole, even as a decent gale for a time. (September 21 map below)

DMI4 0921B mslp_latest.big

This flow continues to fascinate me, but I continue to think it must be at its end. Eventually the effects of the new La Nina will work north, and we’ll see what I imagine will be an abrupt shift to a more zonal flow. When?  (Wait while I flip a coin.) My guess is February 13 at 6:00 PM, EST.

I’ve been saving maps since late August, and hope to go through what we’ve been seeing the past month in more detail. But first I have to face my blasted taxes. (I got an “extension” back when they were due on April 15, but it runs out on October 15. Even a great procrastinator like myself must someday face the music.)

For people interested in the sea-ice itself, it is growing back swiftly now.

DMI5 1003 osisaf_nh_iceextent_daily_5years_en

As an interesting side-note, the mild air pushing north past Svalbard has pushed the ice away from its north coast, but this may actually be also preventing ice from being flushed south through Fram Strait and the east coast of Greenland. Though this reduces the sea-ice in the short term, in the long-term it keeps the ice up in the Arctic Sea, and increases “volume” if not “area” and “extent”.

Svalbard FullSizeRender

Here’s a comparison with last year. (2016 to left; 2017 to right.)

One topic I hope to talk about in the future is the interesting way the sea-ice was jammed south last summer into the channels in the Canadian Archipelago. Some thick, multi-year ice flowed south to the east of Melville Island and across Parry Channel. This may enter the calculations of people attempting the Northwest Passage  next summer. We can only cross our fingers and hope our poor, odd, battered O-buoy 14 camera survives another winter, in that area. Obuoy 14 1003 webcam

Stay tuned.

LOCAL VIEW —Damocles Hurricanes—

One sad side-effect of the Global Warming nonsense has been the promotion of people who think it is a sign of their cleverness to abuse the trust of others. They think stepping on others is uplifting. In the long run this is never true, both for the individual and for the society they belong to, but humanity owns a bad habit of learning the Truth the hard way: Mankind has a long tradition of thinking it is wise to lie. The process of learning that this dishonesty is the mother of much misery is the climax of many an ancient tale and tragedy.

For example, consider the snake in the Garden of Eden. The tale doesn’t go into what the snake’s motives were, but the result of misleading Adam and Eve was that, when the snake stood before Judgment, after he presented his case he discovered he didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Serpent with Legs Serpent JS papyri

So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.”

Eden was a state of naked Truth, but outside of Eden Truth becomes problematic because humans are afflicted by the subjectivity of their desires. For example, once one leaves the oasis one discovers a thing called “thirst”, and when thirst becomes extreme in a blazing desert one can quite honestly state “Water is the most important thing there is.” Then, after their thirst is quenched, they can with equal honesty state, “Many things are far more important than water.”

The same phenomenon is embarrassing when it involves human sexual thirsts. One reads a beautiful poem one once wrote about their spouse basically stating, “I only have eyes for you,” and then one looks across the room at an aging form who, perhaps, weighs 300 pounds, and then compares that form to a beautiful temptation that is smiling adoringly from another part of their life, and one no longer has eyes that don’t wander. One becomes an honest hypocrite, for one was truthful when they stated, “I want only you”, and one is equally truthful when one later states, “I hanker for another.”

In order to attempt to make some sort of sense out of sways of fickle desires people developed various moral codes, wherein one was expected to be “true” to their word. Rather than being swayed this way or that, one chose to take a stand. Some foundations are better than others, as every engineer learns.

But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand.

Of course the typical con artist is certain that he is well founded; he is the wise person, and the trusting people he is fooling are “chumps.” This idea, that people who trust are chumps, actually represents the slow corruption of the wisdom of Solomon, which initially stated, “There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.

This idea, which basically states a spendthrift winds up broke, devolved over the course of time, and 1587 entered the English language in Dr. John Bridges’ work, “Defense of the Government of the Church of England,” as, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” Eventually this further mutated into “A sucker is born every minute.”

There is interesting dispute about who said this first.


Confidence Trickster Hungry-Joe-04

But there is some part of the human psyche that knows “what goes around comes around,” and that a day of reckoning will arrive for every confidence trickster. Yet often we can’t help but smile at the doomed trickster, when he is only exposing the foolishness of others. (Or we smile unless we are the fool being tricked.)

An example of such trickery-we-smile-at is seen in the two swindlers who fool all but a child in Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Emperors New Clothes”, an amazingly short story which has entertained people all over the world, and is well worth reading and rereading, as it is brief yet profound.


Another (American) example of trickery-we-smile-at involves Mark Twain describing Tom Sawyer getting his disagreeable job of whitewashing a fence done, by others, who actually pay him to do the job for him. In like manner the American master of short stories O. Henry devoted a small book called “The Gentle Grafter” to the doings of confidence tricksters, and as one reads one often tends to have as much, if not more, sympathy for the criminal as for his victims. (And before my English friends tell me Americans have always tended to be rebels with no respect for the law, I remind them they don’t mind a notorious outlaw of their own, remembered as “Robin Hood.”)

I think we are only fond of confidence tricksters because they are exposing some sort of vainglorious snobbery that afflicts their victims, (unless we ourselves happen to be the vainglorious chump.) We may all be egotistical in some way, but some egotists step over a threshold into to landscape of inhumanity towards others, and we do not at all mind seeing such people taken to the cleaners and humbled. We know life could be better than such pompous victims make it, and that they are in some way guilty of an indefinite crime. Even though they may have done nothing that can be prosecuted, and even may be kind to those closest to them, those less near and dear perceive an aura of unkindness, of exploitation which leaves the poor poorer, and widows and orphan worse off (despite public shows of vainglorious philanthropy).

In other words, both the confidence trickster and his victim neatly fit into the category of “deserving punishment”, if what we value is both honesty and kindness. In many ways one cannot be the victim of a con unless wants to get something “valuable” for a price so low that slang describes it as “a steal.” Meanwhile a person disinclined towards such greed and “stealing” is more difficult to con. A true saint is impossible to con, (though he or she likely did not become a saint without downfalls in their past.)

In our innocent youth, the distinction between what was right and what was wrong seemed clearer, and the bad guy was recognizable because, after he stated what he plotted, he tended to go, “Nyah ha ha!”


As I watched old Westerns or Cartoons as a boy there was always an expectation that, in the end, the “bad guys” would “get what they deserved.” “Dishonest John” would mutter, “Curses! Foiled again!” In the end honesty and kindness would triumph.

I can’t claim I have seen this process prove true, as I have watched the world over the past fifty years. To the contrary, Dishonest Johns who call themselves wise have, in one way or another, stated that dishonesty is not merely legal, but the way to get ahead. Even the most moralistic tale on TV is punctuated by ads that are often outrageously deceitful, and politicians have become notorious for making meaningless promises, and being a sort of antithesis to a person who is “true to their word.” Therefore capitalist democracies cannot claim to stand for honesty, nor look down their noses at communism, despite communism’s clearly stated dogma that dishonesty is proper and wise and part of effective propaganda. Islamic theocracies also apparently state it is acceptable to lie to an infidel, which begs the question, how can the infidel learn the Truth if they are lied to? Yet Christian authorities have disgraced their religion as well. When it comes to “bad guys getting what they deserve”, it seems the dishonest have escaped punishment and done very well, so far. But I also feel the public has a growing sense of a Sword of Damocles hanging over their collective heads.

Sword of Damocles-WestallPC20080120-8842A

I think the public is not only aware when they are being lied to, but is aware that such dishonesty has its consequences. However the rich and powerful of the world are unable to extract themselves from the various sorts of deceit that brought them to power, and are trapped in a dishonesty that makes the public increasingly nervous.

To the powerful a jittery public seems one more thing they can exploit, by putting themselves forward as prophets and saviors, but often they are too obviously more interested in power and wealth, and therefore their self-promotion is merely further con-artistry, and only makes the situation worse.

In many ways I think the entire Global Warming absurdity is but a manifestation of a vast guilty conscience, afflicting the entire world. There is a general sense that humanity on a whole has been misbehaving, and must reap what it has sown, in some way, shape or form. Even when people themselves don’t identify with being the “bad guys”, they know their leaders are short on sainthood, (or, if they idolize certain leaders, then some other power the leader can’t control, such as “Big Oil”, is short on sainthood), and therefore the nation as a whole will “get what it deserves”, and the comeuppance won’t be pretty.

It is for this reason there are so many movies in the theaters based on an apocalypse or on post-apocalyptic themes. Many people have the general sense they are aboard a runaway train, or riding a raft above a thundering waterfall. The very people who caused fret in the first place then further exploit this sense of anxiety and hopelessness, but increasingly they can see people aren’t buying the snake oil. The con artists have created a monster, and like snake oil salesmen they need to leave town in a hurry, or face public rage, but in the case of Global Warming there is no place to run, for the scam has been worldwide.

The cure for this downward spiral is quite old and simple. It called, “the Truth.” Truth has a wonderful, refreshing quality, because you don’t need to make it up. It simply exists, involving neither policy nor strategy, neither trickery nor treasure nor trammeling. It is free for the taking, but dreadful to behold or even consider by confidence tricksters, for they not only need to confess, but fear they will have to give up ill-gotten goods. Therefore they are in the position of someone riding a bubble, which all know must someday burst.

Riding a bubble produces anxiety in both leaders and the people led by them. Some try to reassure, and some yearn to be placated, and some become restless and just wish the damn bubble would just burst, even if they must become the ones who do it, through drastic and violent actions. Few turn to the obvious answer, which is the Truth. Many succumb to the blame-game, jabbing pointing fingers at others, and few understand Truth belongs to no one, yet is available to all.

Hardest of all to grasp is that Truth requires an admission of ignorance. As ambiguous as it sounds, to know It we have to admit we don’t know It. This does not occur merely within an old fashioned Catholic confessional booth, but publicly and generally. “If we say we have no sin than the Truth is not in us.”

A confession of ignorance is actually an attribute of good scientist. It indicates an inquisitive mind. A person wearing a white coat, claiming authoritively to have all the answers, is all too often a pretender, and even an enemy of science. The Global Warming Alarmist’s arguments that a “consensus” prevents all further discussion is a sure sign of con-artistry, and of having something they don’t want exposed. A true lover of Truth welcomes questions, and what they doubt is pronouncements.

There can be little doubt we are facing a time of Climate Change, not only because the climate always changes, but because some major indicators of change are changing. The AMO, PDO, and Sunspot cycle are all undergoing profound changes, and an inquisitive mind wonders what changes they may prompt, and postulates various causes and effects, curious to see if such postulates will prove true, partially true, or be completely disproven.

It is no sin to forecast such changes, but it is sheer arrogance to claim absolute certainty, and especially to claim that CO2 is the cause of every change. Either that or such claims are a sign of great insecurity, and that the claimant is clinging to a straw in the hopes it will support them.

One thing to use, when making a forecast, is the past. One looks for similar situations, and wonders if history will repeat itself. One aspect of ignorance is to avoid looking at the past. One attribute of certain Alarmists is that they insist that what is occurring has never happened before, and is “unprecedented”, and they become quite angry with you if you point out “the only new thing under the sun is the history you haven’t read.

For example, in 1798 the sun went “quiet” in a manner similar to today’s sun, and there were enormous volcano eruptions in 1810 and 1815. Therefore one might wonder if history might repeat itself, and, if so, why. This is simple inquisitiveness, but to some Alarmists to even consider the sun and not CO2 might influence climate is not curiosity but “denial”, and a few even think the inquisitive should be hauled before a tribunal and punished. When it comes to inquisitiveness they prefer the horrors of The Inquisition, and place the inquisitive in the position of Galileo.

Inquisition Galileo_before_the_Holy_Office

In conclusion, these days any weather or geological event tends to involve a chorus of claimants clouding the issue. On one hand there are con artists who insist that, whatever the event may be, it had to be caused by CO2. On the other hand there is a public afflicted by a general sense of guilt and dread, fearing mankind will “get what it deserves.”

I heard this dual chorus when I looked into the volcanoes that have recently been rumbling in Bali and elsewhere, and I noticed it again when I observed recent hurricanes. The hype and sensationalism clouds the issue.

There are now two ex-hurricanes crossing the Atlantic towards England:

Twin Hurricanes two_atl_0d0

As these hurricanes arrive in Britain, as remnants, they will influence the development of a typical autumnal gale to the north. I personally am curious to see whether they will weaken or strengthen the gale. As big blobs of tropical moisture they might be expected to fuel the gale, but, because they have already spent so much of their energy, they might actually hold less “fuel” than tropical air that was pure and “unused” would hold. Which will it be? I think this sort of curiosity on my part is scientific, although, by confessing my ignorance, my curiosity certainly doesn’t put me forward as an authority.

However I confess I am also curious about the hoopla the two storms might generate, especially if the autumnal gale turns out to grow large. Join me as I study my fellow man. Though the storm has yet to develop, I have already come across the usual madmen in white coats, raging CO2 is to blame, and the usual doom-and-gloomers moaning and sighing it is a sign of End Times. Stay tuned, for in some ways such people are more fascinating than the weather (though you might not want to invite them to dinner.)

BALI VOLCANO –Unease in Paradise–

Bali 1 4896

Magma is moving under mount Agung, as shown by constant small seismic tremors, and monkeys and even snakes are fleeing down the slopes. 50,000 people have been moved away to safer parts of Bali.

Bali 2 5184

I’m keeping my eye out for very large eruptions, especially as one element of the last period of “Quiet Sun” was two super-huge volcano eruptions.