Monthly Archives: December 2021
ARCTIC SEA-ICE –The Man-Eating Walrus–
I confess the title of this piece is intended to be click-bait. Not that there is not such a thing as a man-eating walrus, but I am primarily aiming at undoing the damage done to me by censors in control of Google search engines, and sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Somebody somewhere has decided that there must be no questioning of the theory of Global Warming, and I apparently have been deemed such a questioner.
Not that I am able to adhere to the discipline of strictest science. Mostly, often in an intentionally silly way, I merely point out stupidities. The media makes little attempt to fact-check, when it comes to such politically correct narratives such as the theory of Global Warming, and it is quite easy for even a rank amateur such as myself to point out glaring inconsistencies between their narrative and recorded history. So, I have done so, often in a spirit of good-natured fun, and apparently made enough people chuckle so that even my silly posts might get 500 views, and one post even got 5000. But then the censorship hit, and now I’m lucky to get 50.
This seems unfair to me, and to violate Free Speech, and so on and so forth until I have worked myself into such a tizzy that I decide to fight fire with fire, and to utilize the irresistible click-bait of man-eating walruses. I figure this will overwhelm the capacity of analog censors to silence me, and I may reach a few people actually interested in sea-ice, besides the many who will be drawn by man-eating walruses.
I happen to know a thing or two about walruses because my mind has a strange capacity to absorb trivia, and trivia about trivia, and even trivia about trivia about trivia. Originally my interest was Greenland Vikings.
Greenland Vikings were able to raise several thousand cattle, and over a hundred thousand sheep and goats, on Greenland during the first decades after the year 1000. We can’t do that any more. This tidbit of history is a historical fact that the media failed to recognize, while touting the narrative that it is warmer now than it was in the Medieval Warm Period. It may indeed be the fact that got me censored.
But my further investigation of Greenland Vikings noticed they survived even when their cattle, sheep and goats didn’t do so well, as the climate slumped towards the Little Ice Age. They turned to trading, and one thing they had which Europe thirsted for was walrus ivory. This led to many delightful sidetracks involving walrus ivory, which of course led on to further trivia about the actual walruses the ivory came from.
(If you are interested in sculpted walrus ivory from the twelfth century, run “Lewis Chesspieces” through your search engine.)
One bit of trivia that delighted me was how the Europeans envisioned that the creature the tusks came from appeared. Many of us know the legend of the unicorn sprang from tusks of narwhales, but what sprang from the tusks of walruses?
One legend was the legend of the “morse”, which apparently slept while hanging by its tusks from cliffs. (Of course, I came across this because the Alarmist media was stating Global Warming was causing large numbers of walruses to fall from cliffs in Russia.) In any case, here is a somewhat skeptical discussion of the “morse”, as seen in the fifteenth century:
One thing I noticed about the ancient descriptions about walruses was that they were described as meat-eaters, who might even chow down on a man. This seemed very different from the modern view, which sees them as practically vegan in their tastes. But I knew they did eat clams, and clams are meat. So, I decided to dig deeper. Did, perchance, they dine on other meats? A crab, perhaps? Or a lobster?
That was when my sidetracking got a bit of a surprise. I discovered certain walruses will eat seals. After all, a walrus weighs two tons, and a small seal is only a hundred pounds. It is easy to see who would win that battle. However, did they only scavenge dead seals, when at the point of starvation? Or did they go out of their way to hunt living seals? And here I got another surprise. Some of the biggest male walruses, with the broadest shoulders, seem to say “to hell with clams”, and prefer seals.
Of course, my skeptical side rears his head, but here is a summary of a paper by two scientists, published back in 1984:
One sentence from the article intreagued me. It was this:
“Our findings from the stomachs indicated that seal eating was 10 to 100 times more common during the 1970’s and early 1980’s (0.6–3.0%, N=645) than it had been in the previous three decades (0.07–0.20%, N=4015).”
This may demonstrate how far trivia leads me afield, and you may ask, “What does that have to do with sea-ice?
The answer is that sea-ice expanded to a high point in 1979. The media was producing sensationist articles about a “Coming Ice Age”, rather than “Global Warming.” And the expansion of sea-ice meant there was less open water for walrus to hunt clams in. It also meant that seals and walrus were crowded together. So what was a poor walrus to do?
Now we come to the crux of the matter. Could a walrus mistake a human for a seal, and attempt to chow down on a man? And, because walrus were equally stressed back when the Medieval Warm Period’s open waters were giving way to the Little Ice Age’s thick ice, (ice which led to Iceland being icebound and ice fairs on the Thames in London), could not the poor walruses become so ferocious that they resembled the “morse” of lore?
Sadly, I couldn’t find a single example of a man-eating walrus on the web. And if you can’t even find it on the web, where you can find many unlikely things, then it likely isn’t worth thinking further about. So I stopped looking, although, as I have explained, trivia has an odd habit of persisting and lurking about in the dimmer recesses of my mind. But I gave it no further thought, until……TODAY!!!
Today I was just lurking around during my spare time (which I have too little of) looking for sanity on sea-ice sites (which there is also too little of) and I visited the zoologist Susan Crawford’s “Polar Bear Science”, to see what the polar bears were up to. It just so happened that she recommended an old video from 1986, “back when science hadn’t become so political.” I thought that might be a refreshing change and sat back to watch.
This video, called “Edge Of Ice” by William Hansen, is about the wildlife of Lancaster Sound, well north of Hudson Bay. Like many nature-documentaries it includes long spells of music where the narrator seems to have fallen asleep, but I didn’t mind because I happen to like views of sea-ice, especially underwater views. But what was especially unique was that it was not merely the narrator talking (where often one feels the narrator has never visited the arctic) but it also included the voice of an actual Inuit, describing how he hunted on the edge of the ice. And this Inuit, in a most offhand manner, casually mentions that one needs to be wary of walrus, for they can eat a man. It is amazing how casual it is; the music doesn’t even pause or become more dramatic; it is as casual as it would have been if he stated “Water freezes when it gets cold.”
If you want to see it for yourself, watch the wonderful video. (Hint: it is towards the end of the first half; and the video is 55 minutes long.)
To conclude, yes, it may be possible Walruses indeed do eat people. Not that I say this with any scientific certainty, but I say it in my mischievous manner, hoping to stimulate discussion. Science is all about discussion, as imagination wages its ceaseless battle with reality. Is such a thing possible? Well, let’s talk about it. Why not? Why censor?
I likely should end with a disclaimer, just in case any walruses are reading this. I am not saying that walruses want to eat us. After all, Great White Sharks don’t want to eat us; it just so happens that a surfer in a black wet suit resembles the seals the Great White Shark wants; apparently we don’t taste all that good, and the shark swiftly spits us out, but alas, by then it is too late. The damage has been done. And perhaps the same is true for walruses. Further research is needed. Please send funding.
HAPPY CORONAVIRUS GHOST STORY
I heard a good ghost story recently; not a creepy one but a happy one, and I’d like to share it with you, in my longwinded way.
Back in the 1940’s a farmer could make a modest living in these parts simply by raising a hundred chickens, and selling the eggs to a middleman who sold them in Boston. Some farmers expanded to having several hundred hens, but the eggs were produced on a small scale, compared to how they are produced nowadays.
The farm where I now run my Childcare was a chicken farm back in those days, and the farmer’s sons included two who stayed in town and also had chicken farms of their own. Even after the farm my Childcare is on was sold, the sons remained in town.
By the time I first visited “my” farm in 1968 its henhouses were in ruins, merely fieldstone foundations, plus a concrete slab where the incubator had been. The chicken farms were becoming less common, but a few of the larger ones still survived, and teenagers my age still made some spending money working in the reek, gathering eggs and shoveling chickenshit and sometimes carrying hens upside-down by their legs to move them from one pen to another, or to be turned into soup when they stopped producing.
I’m friends with a couple of old men who worked on such farms, and neither is all that fond of eggs to this day. But “my” farm (actually my father’s) had no chickens, and my stepmother swore she would die before she ever raised any, (because she had raised them as a girl and one rainy day had slipped on wet plywood into an oozy lake of poop). So I was spared such trauma as a teen, (and instead developed a deep distaste towards digging fenceposts in stony soil.) Then I hit the road in 1972, and, after traveling the world, only returned in 1988, (supposedly only for two weeks, but I met my wife).
By 1988 the last chicken farm was gone, as people had found construction was far more profitable. Some of the builders in my town gained international reputations or came up with inventions that made them quite rich, while others lived modest lives not much different from the lives the chicken farmers lived, raising children in a country town where people knew their neighbors. As I’d been gone for sixteen years, I had a lot of catching up to do, (and I’ll never match my wife’s ability to chart who is related to whom), but I soon learned that the two sons of the original chicken farmer who owned “my” farm were still around. They’d started families at a young age, and their children were older than me, and some children even had children, who were still around town. (So you can see why you need a chart).
Many old farms had dumps, as there wasn’t much trash in the old days, beyond bottles and cans which were often reused. (Paper was burned.) Around 1991 I was cleaning up the broken glass in the dump behind the ruins of the chicken house at “my” farm, when I discovered a silver spoon. It was a baby spoon which likely had been thrown out by accident. It had an initial on it that matched the family that had owned the farm in the 1940’s. I thought it would be a good joke to return the spoon and say, “I found something you lost.” So I did, but I got the generations mixed up, and the fellow I returned the spoon to laughed, “No, this was likely my Dad’s spoon, or one of his siblings. He grew up on your farm; I grew up on a different farm.” But my reputation was enhanced because I cared more for returning the spoon than for keeping silver. We became friends; not close friends, but friends in the way that knits small towns together.
Then thirty years passed. We got old. Unfortunately, the fellow I returned the spoon to had a hereditary ailment which made his life rough. Not long ago he said to his son, “I don’t much like being lame. Do you know what the first thing I’ll do will be, after I die? I’m going to jump and click my heels.” This was spoken in private, only to the son.
Then he caught the coronavirus, and after a battle in a ventilator, the good man passed away. Shortly afterwards, as the family gathered to mourn, a young granddaughter said, “I saw grandpa in a sort of dream, only I was awake. I saw him walking down a summer road, and, as I watched him, he jumped and clicked his heels.”
It’s hard to feel bad for a fellow clicking his heels. We grieve for ourselves, and because we miss people.
My wry sense of humor wants to let slip Some joke about how Christmas's feasting And napping doesn't seem like true worship. Gluttony and sloth seem more like a bee's sting Than like honey, and yet, all the same, They drop the hardship, and just celebrate: I dream by the fire, and see in each flame The passage of sixty years, and await Whatever is next completely assured Light is our leader. Death has no bee sting When death will see all age's aches be cured. The bent will straighten, will walk whistling, And will click their heels. Age is just a mask We will some day drop. What more could you ask?
ARCTIC SEA-ICE –Hudson Bay Freezes–
Hudson Bay is a relatively landlocked extension of the Atlantic Ocean in northeastern Canada of considerable size. It amounts to nearly a half million square miles, and has a definite influence on surrounding land masses, having a “maritime influence” when it is unfrozen, and a chilling influence when it is ice-covered. I am sensitive to this difference because autumnal gales often park over Labrador, wheeling winds over Hudson Bay and then down to where I live in New Hampshire. Our first arctic blasts cross over Hudson’s Bay’s waters, and while the waters are open the winds are warmed quite dramatically. Through the wonders of satellite technology, the air temperatures can be mapped, and it can be seen how air as cold as minus forty is warmed to freezing by the passage over liquid water. However as soon as Hudson Bay becomes ice-covered the air is not warmed so dramatically, and in fact once the ice thickens to several feet thick air can even chill over the bay, due to radiational cooling during long, starry nights. In essence Hudson Bay turns from an angel to a devil, in terms of New Hampshire, as its winds turn from being gentled to being bitterly cold.
The change can occur as early as November, but usually occurs in early December. It always amazes me how swiftly a half million square miles of open water turns to an ice-covered sea. This year it was a little late (and I am a bit surprised no Alarmists noticed the lateness, nor produced sensationalist headlines about how the lateness proved the world was warming, and we are all doomed.) Susan Crockford announced polar bears were moving out onto the new ice on November 26, and that this was 3 1/2 weeks later than 2020, when Hudson Bay was more than half frozen over by November 26.
One thing I try to adhere to is the avoidance of “cherry picking” while observing the sea ice. There is always variety, and it becomes silly if you only pick the places which support your view (less ice, if you are Alarmist, and less open water, if you are Skeptic.) Susan pointed out a perfect example of this in a prior post, where she compared the years 2020 and 2021, on November 23. Here is 2020:
And here is 2021:
Now, if you are an Alarmist, you can point out how much less sea-ice there is in Huson Bay in 2021 than in 2020, but if you are a Skeptic you counter by pointing out how much more sea-ice there is north and south of Bering Strait (or east of Svalbard.) All in all, it matters little, unless you live in New Hampshire and hope Hudson Bay stays open and continues to moderate the arctic blasts from the north.
At first the ice tends to form a skim at the very edges, especially on the west side where offshore winds are most bitterly cold. This thin ice tends to be piled up along the shoreline when winds swing around and become onshore. This year the growth was very slow until around December 3:
This “shorefast” ice cannot extend very far out to sea as long as the water temperatures are above freezing, and a sunny summer had the waters of Hudson Bay especially warm (the summer storm track was dented south.) However the onset of very long nights and very short days, with shallow sunshine, swiftly chills the waters, until a sort of flash freeze occurs, and the entire Bay ices over in roughly 14-21 days. Here is the ice cover on Christmas:
The darker lilac hues represent ice more than a foot thick, and the dark patch in the center of Hudson Bay is a bit of a mystery to me. Usually, the thicker ice is shorefast ice which was pushed away from shore (for example, in northwest Hudson Bay,) but this thicker sea-ice was home grown. More mysterious is that it lies in the same area which resisted freezing longest, open water which even paused the expansion of sea-ice for several days, roughly ten days ago. I assume the resistance allowed the ice to be piled up more, as waves had more time to do their stuff. But that is only a guess. (This is just an example of how, if you keep your eyes open, and don’t close your mind with preconceptions, the daily doings of the sea-ice can be filled with wonders to wonder about.)
One thing I like to wonder about is the astounding amount of heat released by these flash freezes. After all, what is the difference between water at thirty-two degrees and ice at thirty-two degrees? The difference is that the water molecule holds heat, as latent heat, and in order to freeze that molecule into a crystal that heat must be removed. When you are watching a half million square miles freeze in 21 days you are seeing latent heat released at a rate of roughly a thousand square miles an hour. Don’t ask me for a number in terms of calories, but it has got to be a lot, and is a last gasp of warming for New Hampshire. There is no noticable uptick in temperatures, except for the winds sweeping south across Hudson Bay. And then?
And then the tundra, (which truly isn’t barren), most deserves to be called “the barrens”, because it sucks the heat of life up at an amazing rate, especially north of the arctic circle where the sun never shines. You can witness the fierce chilling by tracking a milder mass of Atlantic or Pacific air when it has the misfortune to be drawn north into the deep freeze. The airmass chills swiftly, at a rate of five to ten degrees a day (depending on cloud cover), until, within a week, you can’t differentiate it from the deep blue air of the Pole on the isotherm maps, (deep blue meaning the air is down near thirty to forty below.)
Once Hudson Bay is frozen there are no truly enclosed areas of water left to freeze, and all further increases in sea-ice occurs along battlelines between ice and water, between the frozen Arctic Sea and the open Atlantic, or between the open Pacific and ice attempting to extend south from Being Strait and east from the east coast of Siberia into the Sea of Oshkosh. In such battles the ice sometimes advances miles when the winds are north, and then retreats miles as winds swing around and ice is crushed. For this reason the “extent” graph is slower to rise, and in fact there even seems to be a pause in the “extent” graph, every year, marking when the freeze of Hudson Bay is complete.
This year the increase in extent shows a slight slowdown as Hudson Bay completes its freeze, but otherwise continues to merrily rise and stay ahead of prior years. Not that “extent’ truly means all that much at this time of year. For example, one only needs to look at the 2020 line in the above graph, (yellow-green), and one can see 2020 had the highest extent of the past six years, in March, yet by early September it was lowest.
The problem with “extent” this time of year is that it involves the aforementioned battlelines between open sea and the arctic icepack, and this ice-edge depends greatly on weather patterns. Also, it battles over areas which will be open water as summer sets in. Although the “extent” will increase by more than two million km2 by March, it will all be along a southern periphery which the cold will retreat from, as warmer days arise. All the sea-ice in the Sea of Oshkosh will vanish, and even much of the ice in Hudson Bay will be gone.
The summer thawing of Hudson Bay is no new thing. After all, Henry Hudson “discovered” it by sailing it in the summer of 1609 (and the poor fellow was marooned there when his crew mutinied.) In the more than four centuries since, I can find a few summers when the Hudson Bay Company could not be resupplied, but that seemed to be because sea-ice clotted Hudson Strait to the north, and not the Bay itself. For the most part winter sea-ice is a “here today, gone tomorrow” proposition. Nearly two thirds of the sea-ice “extent” vanishes every year. So why do we bother with it?
Partly it is because, as I mentioned earlier, it seems to matter here in New Hampshire. We’ve had a relatively mild December, and I’ve been able to wear sneakers rather than boots, and I don’t think it is sheer coincidence that Hudson Bay was late to freeze. However now it has frozen, and I will not be at all surprised if it grows abruptly colder, and I don boots.
Also, the patterns that shift ice about do have an effect on the long-term growth and shrinkage of sea-ice in the arctic. Often the relationship between causes and effects are more complex than you would initially suspect. For example, temperatures up north of 80 degrees latitude have been colder this year than last year. Here is the graph for last year:
And here is the graph from this year:
Now, my initial response is to assume that though both years are above normal, (the green line represents normal), the past autumn got colder faster and remained colder overall, and with the blue line in the above graphs representing freezing, it can be seen the past autumn saw temperatures dip to thirty below freezing, (Celsius), and therefore there must have been more sea-ice created.
But at that point a voice in my head states, “Not so fast, Buckaroo.” There is another way to look at the above graphs. It is to add up the area between the green line and red line,and understand that also represents the amount of heat the arctic lost to outer space. And, in those terms, it can be seen that 2020 lost more heat than 2021 did.
There were two reasons. First 2020 began with far more open water, so the Arctic Sea itself lost more heat. Second, 2020 saw more intrusions of sub polar air, which means the sub polar regions lost more heat.
In the end I have to decide which year is more likely to increase sea-ice. With the authority vested unto me I declare I haven’t really got a clue. I simply watch, wonder, and wait.
A very good measure should be the “volume” of sea-ice, but, as I explained in an aggrieved manner last post, DMI “adjusted” its volume graph, and 2021 went from having the highest volume in recent years (and being above the gray line of “normal”) to being third highest. In any case, it is far above last year’s.
As I watch, wonder and wait, I look for situations which can result in an increase in volume, at least in the short term. Hopefully I’ll find time to delve more deeply into this subject in a future post. But, for the time being, I keenly watch to see if a lot of sea-ice is being flushed south through Fram Strait (which can have fascinating consequences I hope to address in a third post.) If this ice is not flushed south, it is retained, and simple logic states the volume of the sea-ice in the Central Arctic, (which is the ice that matters, after the edges melt away next summer), will increase.
One feature I am watching is a slender crescent of thicker ice north of Svalbard, about halfway between the Pole and Franz Josef Land:
If this feature heads towards the Pole (as occurred last winter) volume is more likely to increase than if it is flushed south through Fram Strait. And what is it doing? It is hithering and dithering, first moving one way and then the other. Today it was nudged towards the Pole by a flow up from the Kara Sea.
DARKEST DAYS SONNET
In these darkest days, when an orange sun Limps through southern trees, dragging shadows And never lifting his head, I need someone To add to the light; someone sweet who knows How to lighten my load; some light-hearted Soul who remembers how to skip, how to Lift my chin from considering departed Summers, how to lift my eyes to the blue And have hope. But what makes darker days Be darker days is that person is not Around, not to be found; low noon dismays For too soon it sags. The little we've got Is not enough to warm us through the long night So we look up in darkness for Christmas time's light.
Note: For a triumph over darkness see old post from 2015 about Longfellow:
ARCTIC SEA ICE —400 CUBIC KILOMETERS MELT IN ONE DAY!—
(Note: some major mistakes were corrected from the original post, which were caused by my mixing up an “extent” graph with a “volume” graph.)
Forgive me for being facetious, but I was minding my own business, preparing a post about how sea-ice “volume” was above-normal in December for the first time in many years, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a miniature elf called “Santa Adjustment.”
Here is a DMI graph I saved from back at the time of the sea-ice minimum.
And here is the current DMI graph.
Please notice the old minimum volume was bouncing around 6.2 thousand cubic km, while the new minimum is smoothly cruising through a bottoming-out of around 5.8 thousand cubic km. In other words, an astounding 4 hundred cubic km of sea-ice vanished in a single day’s adjustment. Also the volume fell from the highest total in the past five years to third place, in the middle of the pack.
That is not a small error. A cubic kilometer is no small ice cube. What some person at DMI is stating is that the data they gave earlier wasn’t worth a rat’s ass. I imagine someone else at DMI is seething at having their data “adjusted,” and at being told all their hard work is not worth a rat’s ass. But that is their problem, not mine.
This business of “adjusting” data has gotten to be wearisome. Years ago, it could cause me to go up like a sheet of flame. But one grows jaded. I was just starting to get jaded, way back in 2007, when Steave McIntyre at “Climate Audit” pointed out James Hansen’s “adjustments” to the NOAA adjusted temperature record had flaws, forcing Hansen to readjust his adjusting. Here is that historical episode, if you are interested in a trip in the Way-back Machine.
That is nearly fifteen years ago. No one should say they had no advance warning. Evidence of scientific fraud has been evident for a long time. But it used to only involve stuff geeks cared about, such as arctic sea-ice. And me? I was the geek going up like a sheet of flame about stuff no one cared about.
One thing about going up like a sheet of flame is that you tend to wind up burned out. I got jaded. No one would listen. I tried to warn them Truth was being crucified, but people just shrugged and dismissed it as the foibles of idiots in Washington D.C.
Now the idiots are ruling, and schools and churches and small businesses are being closed, basically due to false science and “adjusted” data. No longer is the fraud a “foible”, nor is it only relegated to far-away sea-ice. The chickens have come home to roost.
Please allow me a brief moment of snideness.
I told you so, but you never would listen.
Ok. That felt good, but doesn’t face the problem, which is: What are we to do now? How are we to confront these idiots?
One thing we need to recognize is that Truth doesn’t need our help. Truth is true even if the whole world calls It false. Truth has absolute power, and nothing can make It false.
For example, this latest “adjustment” of the DMI “volume” graph may very well be because it is embarrassing for Alarmists to have “volume” become above normal, when they’ve long insisted and continue to insist the sea-ice is vanishing. But can adjusting a graph, or misreporting the state of sea-ice, make any real difference to the actual Arctic Ocean, and the actual sea-ice? No. The sea will do what the sea will do, and there is no way for Facebook or Twitter or Google to control it. They may avoid embarrassment in the short term by refusing to report their failed forecasts, but in some ways this merely postpones a far greater embarrassment in their future. (It is better to blush today than to be totally humiliated tomorrow.)
In any case, it will not be me, or my shrill lectures, that will cow the falsifiers of data. It will be the Data itself.
Basically, I have given up on many people. For whatever reason, they are immune to the Truth. Therefore, I just turn to the sea-ice and use it as a form of escape. Like a schoolboy turning from a nonsensical blackboard to a classroom window, I seek the Beauty in and of Itself. That was what attracted me to sea-ice in the first place.
And, even using the new “volume” graph, the sea-ice is increasing. In many places it is much thicker than seemed likly two summers ago. Where two summers ago the seas were ice-free many miles north of Wrangle Island, sea-ice never left the north shore of that island last summer. Where Russia’s northeastern passage was amazingly ice-free two summers ago, sea-ice never completely freed the waters around Severnaya Zemyla last summer. And all that ice, which refused to melt in the manner it melted the summer before, is now “multiyear” sea-ice, creating a sort of backbone to this year’s “baby ice”, which will make it thicker and harder to melt next summer.
The increase in sea-ice north of Bering Strait is to be expected, as the PDO has shifted to its “cold” phase. For whatever reason a cold PDO always increases ice north of Bering Strait. I haven’t figured out the engineering. It just is to be expected.
One shift I did notice involved the sea-ice ejected from the Laptev Sea not taking its usual route towards Fram Strait, (The route followed by Fram between 1893 and1896, and the MOSAiC expedition the winter of 2019-2020). Instead the ice headed towards the Canadian Archipelago, crossing over the Pole.
This route is not usual but not all that uncommon, for various Russian sea-ice bases noted it in the 1950’s and 1960’s, for they were carried away from resupply and towards their Cold-War enemies in North America.
In any case, less sea-ice left the arctic via Fram Strait, and was instead added to the Beaufort Gyre. What this meant was that the Beaufort Gyre had more ice to melt than usual, last summer. A great deal of ice was melted, but to some degree normalcy was overwhelmed. Even where ice was melted it took until September, and the waters had no chance to warm when the sun was high in July. Other places that appeared “ice free” on maps were still dotted by a 5% ice-cover of scattered bergs, and remained basically ice-water, and refroze easily in the fall.
Another shift involved a failure of a warm current to melt sea-ice on the west side of Svalbard. For whatever reason the current shut down and sea-ice came down into Fram Strait where it usually is melted. (My pet theory involves an undersea volcano causing waters to rise where they usually sink, which negated the reason for southern waters to come north to replace sinking waters.) In any case, for around four months less warm water seemed to enter the Arctic Sea, which seemed likely to create the consequence of colder seas and less melting.
As I watch these “shifts” I have no political agenda. I am merely a witness of the Truth. I do attempt flimsy forecasts but am not surprised if I’m wrong. And the Truth is that sea-ice is currently increasing, not decreasing, at the Pole.
At this point in the winter I tend to ignore the “extent” graph, for the much of the sea-ice now forming is of the here-today-gone-tomorrow variety, in places like Hudson Bay or the Sea of Oshkosh. It will be gone by July. Instead, I like to focus on the movement of the sea-ice in the Arctic Sea. Is it being flushed south through Fram Strait? Or is it being retained?
Another variable I like to look at is: Are things calm, or stormy? This makes a difference because calm, as a general rule, results in less ice, and even more melting. A thin layer if ice and snow insulates water beneath, and allows warm and salty water to stratify just below cold and brackish water. But when a storm rips the sea-ice apart water is uninsulated, and warm and salty water is churned to the surface and loses its heat to the arctic night.
One wonderful discovery of the MOSAiC expedition was that that the supposedly still waters under the ice could be unexpectedly turbulent, when storms above the sea-ice caused the sea-ice to move. Though the winds never touched the water, down deep the sea-ice’s bottom was not flat, and certain parts stuck down so far they were like the blade of a spoon. After all, 9 tenths of an iceberg is underwater, and a pressure ridge that sticks up 20 feet has a keel sticking down 180 feet. That is a big blade-of-a-spoon, espicially when you understand a pressure ridge may be a hundred miles long. Where I once thought waters under the ice were still and calm, beyond the touch of gales, I now know churning can occur, when howling gales shift the sea-ice above.
Furthermore, the gales can pile the sea-ice up into pressure ridges, while exposing areas of open water called “leads”. These areas lose huge amounts of the sea’s heat to the arctic night, while swiftly freezing over and creating much more ice than calm seas would create.
Back in the day Alarmists would get very excited when storms created midwinter breakups of sea-ice, assuming it was a sign ice was thinning even in the winter. Some of the leads could be hundreds of miles wide, and even though the water swiftly iced over it was assumed the ice would be thinner the following summer and melt faster. But time showed things weren’t so simple. The ice that was shifted to create the open water only was “gone” if it was shifted south through Fram Strait (where, though it did melt in the North Atlantic, it had the effect of chilling the North Atlantic.) Ice that remained in the Beaufort Gyre tended to pile up and create thicker masses of ice, which often survived the summer and became multiyear ice, as the exposed water swiftly formed “baby ice” which became thicker than the ice which would have been added to the bottom of old ice if the ice hadn’t fractured and the water had remained insulated from the bitter cold. (In terms of increasing the total volume, it was best to crush all old ice to one side and freeze open water.) Lastly, the water itself was chilled more, and the added freezing added more brine to the thermohaline circulation.
In conclusion, storms tended to add to the volume of the sea-ice created in the winter, not decrease it.
Perhaps there could be some decrease in volume if the water was layered and some slightly warmer and saltier water had slid north like a card into a deck; some painstaking studies have tracked such inflows north through Fram Strait and clear around the Pole until they exit Fram Strait again. But such currents are not permanent and fixed features, as was originally imagined (and perhaps hoped.) They can meander and mess up the maps. Also their identity is challenged by mixing, and simple diffusion, so at times they are barely different from the waters they pass through. Near the mouth of a river or by a mass of melting ice a “freshwater lens” may indeed be nearly fresh, but as time passes the fresh water becomes increasingly brackish until people are speaking of a “freshwater lens” which has only two or three fewer molecules of salt per thousand than seawater. In like manner a “warm layer” may only be a tenth of a degree warmer than the “cold layer” it is next to. In any case the churning of storms may stir up warmer water and result in melting in August, as occurred in 2012, but it also uses up the warmth that facilitates the melting, creating a colder sea, so a similar gale in August 2013 surprised people by melting nowhere near as much ice.
The Arctic Ocean is constantly changing, and its ebbs and flows are no more fixed than the jet stream is. Many Alarmist ideas have proven far too simplistic. Just as we have become aware the jet stream is complex, (and speak of “low level jets” we didn’t even know were different from the winds higher up, sixty years ago), our understanding of the Arctic Ocean is growing deeper, or it would be growing deeper if people allowed Truth to be spoken. Unfortunately, some are threatened by Truth.
Not all adjustments are made to preserve some political narrative. When Truth challanges our preconceptions, adjustments are necessary. For example, one beautiful and elegant idea which required adjustment was the concept of atmospheric circulation involving neat and tidy “cells”,
The problem with this theory is that it assumes air is decending at the Pole, which would create high pressure, yet I have often remarked about storms at the Pole I call “Ralphs” which are quite the opposite. A sort of feeder band of subarctic warmth and moisture spirals north and creates an updraft where theory states air should be sinking. In fact we just saw such a “Ralph”.
Here is the isotherm map showing the feeder band spiraling to the Pole
And here is the map showing the “Ralph” of low pressure spinning a updraft right where the Polar Cell theory suggests there should be sinking air.
In December 2015 a similar feeder band surged towards the Pole in December, and though the buoy closest to the Pole remained below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, another buoy closer to Fram Strait and near the core of the feeder band just barely exceeded the freezing point, touching 33 degrees Fahrenheit for a single hour. The Alarmist response was wonderfully hyperbolic. I recall supposedly witty headlines involving the dire prospect of Santa Claus drowning because the North Pole was melting. To me this seemed a sort of child abuse. But the sheer magnitude of this hyperbolae has gone on so long, (with absurdities like bizarre commercials of polar bears falling from the sky and splatting on sidewalks), that one grows numb to it all. There may be no lengths some will not go to promote their political agenda, but some lengths are too far for me. I prefer to ignore the hyperbolae, and simply admire the Truth. And the simple truth is that feeder bands do surge to the Pole, and feed storms I dub “Ralphs”.
One good way to study the movement of sea-ice in these dark days, when visual satellite views are not available, is through the NRL (Naval Research Laboratory) Sea-ice maps. These maps show things such as concentration, thickness and motion, and have 30-day and 365-day animations, and records going back years. They can be accessed here:
One map I like is the NRL “speed and drift” maps. For example, roughly a week ago high pressure was parked over the East Siberian Sea as a low plowed east in the Kara Sea, creating strong southerly winds in the Laptev Sea between them. Such south winds are not warm, when they are from Central Siberia in December, and they are not uncommon, and often produce a “speed and drift” map like this one:
Two things are immediately obvious. First, if sea-ice is moving away from shore that swiftly, it must create open water by the shore (called a “polynya”). Second, if sea-ice moves that fast and comes against sea-ice moving very slowly in the Central Arctic, a crashing is occurring, and sea-ice is piling up. And indeed, this is what occurs and is one reason that usually the Laptev Sea is the greatest exporter of sea-ice of all the marginal seas. Yet here is an odd anomaly. Last winter the Laptev Sea held much of its sea-ice by its shores.
The next question is, what becomes of the sea-ice exported into the Central Arctic? Does it take a left turn and take the Route the Fram took in 1893 towards Svalbard and the Atlantic? Or does it head straight for the Pole, like certain Russian ice-bases in the 1950’s, or the sea-ice last winter?
The simple fact uncertainty is involved makes a mess of nice, neat maps like this one:
If such currents were written-on-stone then sea-ice would always take the route the Fram took, following what is called the “Transpolar Drift”. At worst the ice might go into Nares Strait and down the west coast of Greenland through Baffin Bay, but its end would be in the Atlantic. However last winter showed the map messed up:
In essence the Transpolar Drift quit, and the Beaufort Gyre expanded, (perhaps explaining the decrease in exported ice from the Laptev Sea). Hmm. The Transpolar Drift quits the same time as the West Spitzbergen Current quit importing warm water up the west side of Svalbard. Hmm. And right at this time a suspicious hole appears in the sea-ice between Severnyla Zemyla and the Pole. Hmm.
Of course, I am hinting at my pet theory about the undersea volcano, but that could just be my wild surmising. My main point is that Truth is showing us something. Something is being revealed, displayed.
How foolish it is to be so lost in a political narrative that you are not even allowed to wonder about wonders right before your eyes.
THE UNDER STORY
The news has been so generally depressing that I have felt a strong desire to escape it, especially when news broadcasts seem designed to be divisive rather than unifying, and to promote hate rather than love.
Such divisive hate seems especially true of communists, who seem to hate large sections of society, and to see millions (and sometimes billions) of people as being worthy of being “purged” as mere weeds, which must be eradicated to promote their supposed “Garden of Eden.”
However, this divisive hate is also seen, to a lesser extent, in other political parties, and even Christians are guilty at times of forgetting they are supposed to love their enemies, and, instead, of hoping that their foes rot in hell. I myself am guilty of being dragged down in this manner, which is precisely why I want to escape the news.
Recently I listened to a beautiful sermon spoken by an unlikely person. The speaker was a gruff young man covered with tattoos, who described what it was like to walk into a typical New England church, as a boozing, womanizing addict who had just been touched by Divine Love. Sadly, he was not welcomed with open arms. Fortunately, the young man was not entirely repelled by the experience, and found a better church, which saw the spark that Love had ignited in his heart, and fanned the flames to such a degree the formerly angry outlaw was uplifted. Ugly became beautiful, and the scary thug became a person who positively glowed with kindness. Therefore, he was just the person to preach about what Love feels like and can do. He gently scolded the prim and proper Christians (who prefer a church to be like an exclusive country club) who had once spurned him, and suggested what “loving your enemies” really looks like. But this presented me with a problem.
My problem is that I have been very “downwardly mobile” in my life. I began born with a silver spoon in my mouth, enjoying the benefits of so-called “white privilege”, but the country club experience left me cold. I then spurned advantages a wiser youth might have exploited, became a rebel, and wound up sleeping in my car. Therefore, although I still remember how to chit-chat with the country club set, I also have actual experience with the down-and-out. I am not horrified by young thugs covered with tattoos, for they were once the sort I worked and lived and drank and laughed with. When I listen to a sermon telling me to love my enemies, I do not immediately think of “enemies” as being the rough and tough youths who scare many church-goers. Rather I think of Nancy Pelosi.
Nancy Pelosi makes it hard for me to obey Jesus. When she tore up Trump’s State-Of-The-Union speech even as he spoke, my blood boiled. She was promising that all the good things he spoke of would be destroyed, and she has kept her promise. Now she is like Lady MacBeth after MacBeth murdered her houseguest, King Duncan. Blood is on her hands, and she wanders about saying, “Out! Out, damn spot!” She apparently wants to run away and retire to some place far from the scene of her crimes, a place which is far from the blue-state craziness she helped create, and instead is in about the most red-state place there could be, Jupiter, in Florida. She thinks she can escape consequences; escape Karma, and she may indeed briefly succeed, if she is able to retire to one of the few safe places left. Meanwhile the rest of us are left with the mess she made and left behind. And…. I am suppose to love this woman?
This is why I have to run away from the news. News makes my blood boil, and news makes it hard to be a Christian. But I cannot run away to a gated community like Nancy Pelosi can. Where then can I run?
Basically I flee the jurisdiction of the media, of the video, of the computer screen, and seek the jurisdiction of the sky, of the outdoors. In this manner I’m not that different from a schoolboy. When bored to near-insanity by the classroom’s blackboard, a boy’s eyes flee to the window, and out, and up to the birds and the cumulus in the beautiful sky.
Running-away is perhaps easier for me, for I live in the country. Also I run a Childcare whose sales-pitch is that video is banned. It is illegal, at my Childcare, to have a TV be a babysitter. Instead children, with non-video babysitters, run about outside, play with sticks, build forts, and seemingly benefit. In other words, my workday is an escape from the video-reality most are stuck within.
Also I run away because I tend to heat with wood, which draws you outdoors. Not that I don’t have propane heat and electric heat as a “Back-up”. I recognized the fact I’m getting old and can’t chop wood as well as I once did, and I figured it would be wise to have a way of keeping my house and business warm besides my own efforts. However Biden’s insane “Global Warming” policy could make propane and electric heat too expensive for elders to pay for, which makes me totter out and peck at big, fat logs with a nine-pound maul.
In greedy materialistic terms, it is worth it, for although I’m much slower, we have not had to use propane or electricity at all this autumn, at home.( It doesn’t matter if electricity or propane costs double, if you never use them.) But that is mere money. Running-away from the news also involves something more important.
Getting outside and splitting your own wood, grown on your own land, enters you into a jurisdiction the media is blind to, deaf to, and apparently utterly ignorant of. It is a landscape of stunning beauty, which they cannot see for they think heat is a matter of turning up a thermostat.
What is so beautiful? It is the fact you are in contact with the Power that keeps you warm.
It amazes me how ignorant some people are of what keeps them warm. They just tweak their thermostat, oblivious of the coal miner, the oil rigger, or the third-world laborers slaving to produce the metals necessary for solar panels and windmills. There is beauty among coal miners, oil riggers, and third world laborers, which is missed by the ignorant, but I think it is best to see beauty at its most simple and most obvious. And this is seen when you cut your own wood.
When you cut your own wood you are brought into a relationship with what keeps you warm which demands you understand trees. In a weird way it is like a marriage. You are forced to understand what you wish to exploit. You can’t just use your spouse; you must give understanding. And the same is true with trees. In a way (which I now will try to explain), you cannot just use trees. You are forced to attempt to understand them.
Swiftly you become aware there is a lot more to see than initially meets the eye. Right off the bat any know-it-all attitude you have is shamed, which makes some angry and bitter, but thrills others with wonder. Why wonder?
Well, let me just speak of a single tree, called the Sugar Maple, and hopefully you will be a bit amazed about the tree, and will not see it merely as a log you put in a fire.
The Sugar Maple is uniquely designed to fit a particular environment, and actually requires frost and snow to thrive. It cannot survive in the tropics, and mild winters can damage them and lead to early death. For this reason the southern edge of its range is at a higher and higher altitude as you progress further south, until it only grows on the highest mountains in Georgia. Also this means the southerly extent of Sugar Maples retreated north during the Medieval Warm Period, and then expanded south again during the Little Ice Age.
This resulted in a couple of fascinating situations in New England. One was that the Indians to the north, such as the Abenaki, were familiar with the maples and knew how to tap trees for the sugar, whereas the Indians further south had a scorn of sugar, and refused to trade for it when the English attempted to seduce them with cane sugar from the Caribbean. Tribes such as the Narragansett and Mohegan actually mocked the apparent addiction which the English had to sugar, (and consequently they had white teeth with little decay, as the English had rotten teeth.) In fact one Monhegan reportedly laughed when another tribe tortured him, saying they didn’t know how to torture and suggesting better ways, and during the course of this outlandish conversation he reportedly stated, “I lick up your torture like Englishmen lick up sugar.” The fact southern Indians had such a disdain towards sugar while Indians only sixty miles to the north made and traded cakes of maple sugar clearly shows where the range of the Sugar Maple ended in the early 1600’s. However, the English colonists, hard-pressed to show England a profit from anything other than codfish and pine trees in New England, hit upon the idea of growing Sugar Maples further south and harvesting the sugar. This idea succeeded, because the climate had grown so much colder due to the Little Ice Age the range was naturally expanding southward. The English were only speeding the process up. Where the whirling maple seeds might have moved trees south a mile or two a year, the English transplanted seedling clear down to Cape Cod.
In the early 1800’s, in one of his letters, Henry Thoreau mentions coming across a Sugar Maple to the south that wasn’t in a plantation, as he walked in the woods. The simple fact he paused in his walk and took note of the old tree shows how unusual it was. It likely was a survivor of the Dark Age’s cold-period, before the Medieval Warm Period drove the trees north, living on the north slope of a hill in the Weston Woods, where cold air tended to pool.
In any case, when the Little Ice Age faded and things began to warm up again, the plantation maples did not do so well, especially along the coast. If a January thaw was too warm the sap would begin to flow too early, and then when a cold wave hit in February the trees would make cracking noises, (at times nearly explosive and amazing to hear, first hand,) and fissures were opened in the maple’s bark. Not only did this cause trees to bleed, but it attracted all sorts of life which likes sugar, from fungi, to the wood-boring grubs of beetles, to fantastic wasps that somehow find and lay eggs in beetle grubs living down in the wood.
Also woodpeckers are attracted to buggy trees, including a kind of woodpecker that drills rows of holes to fill with sap and attract even more bugs (birds incorrectly called “sapsuckers”). So, a damaged maple has to fight for its life. Not that a healthy tree can’t heal over a wound, but if the damage occurs every winter the tree can’t heal faster than it is wounded, and dies. Often the death is a slow process, with the tree losing major limbs but hanging on with the limbs that survive. However the falling limbs take down wires and damage roofs and parked cars, so a sick maple by a street is often removed while still alive. Also, once road-salt began to be commonly used in New England, maples grew sicker than ever, so Sugar Maples are now far less common than they once were, along shady streets.
As the Sugar Maples began to die back it of course attracted the attention of the old Yankees. Yankees were notorious for pinching pennies and making use of every scrap of wood. Many heated with wood, and many were carpenters or worked in small mills that lathe-made wooden things such as spools, banisters, bats, ladder rungs, tool handles and clothespins of wood. Power tools were rare, and working with hand tools seemed to bring those old-timers into an intimate relationship with wood. So intimate was their relationship that it was safer to steer away from the subject of wood with such geezers, because once the topic was broached you might be stuck in a conversation about wood which would continue on and on and on until your eyes were crossed.
When young I seldom was a student, sitting at the feet of an old-timer as they talked about wood. They tended to see me as a useless, long-haired, pothead. I was judged (I think) as being not much good for anything but carrying stuff. Therefore I tended to be standing in the background, like a coolie burdened with toolboxes or bundles or pails or perhaps a ladder, as a couple of old-timers crossed paths, and their chit-chat digressed into wood lore. Mostly I disdained their wisdom as nothing but the garrulous yammering of tiresome old men, but at times I did accidentally listen and learn a thing or two.
One topic I heard discussed was furniture made of maple wood. I learned there were different types of wood, some beautiful and some disdained, sometimes from different limbs of the same tree. Wood from northern forests seemed to be preferred because the grain was tighter, while wood from the south might be used for counters or a table top, with its wide and straight grain. It was deemed too soft for floors, which puzzled me, for pine was “softer” but often used. I didn’t dare ask the obvious question, and instead wondered what they knew that I didn’t know.
The northern trees had interesting swirls, wiggles and even burls in the wood’s grain, which were deemed beautiful and valued, and sometimes preferred for things such as musical instruments, while the southern and coastal trees often were stained by a gray marbling caused by stress and sickness, and such wood was only valued because it was very cheap. (Now it is called “spalted maple” and can be very expensive, which (to me) shows how crafty those old Yankee could be, when it came to selling cheap wood for high prices.)
Often such maple wood was cut to boards by small sawmills which were portable. A man would arrive and set his saw up by a lumber pile a farmer had harvested from his land, and the lumber would be sliced into beams and boards. I tended to be the young brawn hired to carry the beams and boards away from the sawmill after they were sliced, but I always found it fascinating to watch what the slicing would reveal.
Sometimes a log that looked straight and healthy would have a rotton core infested by carpenter ants, while other times a crooked and gnarled and ugly-looking log would hold the most beautiful boards. I found that my skill at forecasting what a log would reveal was much like my skill forecasting the weather: Often I was wrong. But the old-timers were good at it, though even they were surprised at times by what a log revealed.
The old-timers were always on the look-out for the rare tree with an unusual grain, and had a jargon for special woods from the same species of tree. Besides “spalted maple” there was “checkered maple” and “birdseye maple” and “ambrosia maple” and “quilted maple”, where a botonist might only see a single species and call them all Sugar Maple. However, besides these good surprises (which were like finding a pot of gold), there were bad surprises that made the old-timers curse blue blazes. Sometimes, swallowed up by the growing wood, a log would hold a nail, or strand of barbed wire, or clothing-line-hook, or bullet, or electric fence insulator, or metal maple-sugar-tap, which destroyed the saw’s blade, halted work, and erased profits.
One thing I remember was that nothing was wasted. Boards which were of wood too punky to be lumber became firewood or kindling. Even the first slabs cut from a log, basically boards 50% made of bark, were coveted by various people for various purposes; I recall hauling slabs of bark into a swamp, where a man was turning a muddy path into a sort of corduroy-road paved with slabs of bark. I don’t suppose that path lasted all that long before it rotted, but for a year or two a person could cross that swamp and not get their feet muddy.
Lots of maple wound up as firewood. I remember the woods as being far cleaner back then, and if a tree fell in your woods and you didn’t bother to saw it up, there was such a thing as a “wood-poacher”, and while you were away at work that tree might vanish from your woods, leaving nothing but the chips from a lot of chainsawing behind. That doesn’t seem to happen any more, in this age of pellet stoves, and the woods seem far more cluttered by deadwood, (and I suppose the forest-fire danger has increased).
I never settled down until I was thirty-seven, and, though I wandered far from New England at times, I also spent many years as a “grunt” and “go-for” laborer in Massachusetts, Coastal Maine and southern New Hampshire. This meant I often crossed a sort of invisible boundary which marked the southern “natural” range of Sugar Maples, (which was likely advancing south in the 1970’s but retreating north after that). Even doing a somewhat brainless job, such as operate a wood-splitter turning round logs into split firewood, I had ample opportunities to compare sound maple wood with punky wood, and to note where trees were thriving and where they were not.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a die-back of roadside elms due to the Dutch Elm Disease. I was primarily aware of this because if you were not careful you might be sold a bunch of round elm logs, thinking you were getting firewood at a cheap price, but elm was nearly impossible to split by hand, and could even tax a mechanical wood-splitter. (Tough blocks of elm were once used for the hubs of old-fashioned wagon wheels, where all the spokes came together, and the stress was greatest.) But also I became aware towns were looking for a replacement for elms, along shady streets, and this involved Norway Maples, which handled road salt, air pollution and southern temperatures better than Sugar Maples did.
I knew more than you’d think a bum might know about non-native trees in New England, due to what makes a good aside within this talk about Sugar Maples, (and also demonstrates how I can make editors wild by failing to stick to the subject).
Shortly after we became free of England but before the Civil War, the people of New England sought to supplement the meager incomes they could make from our stony soil by going to sea and harvesting whales. This may now be used as proof of how barbaric we were, and it may well be true whales would have become extinct had not petroleum been discovered in the ground, but the simple fact of the matter was that for a time many made a good living hunting whales, many winter homes were brighter because of whale oil in lamps, and many men died at sea. But some became fabulously wealthy, and one was James Arnold. In his old age James had to decide who to will his fortune to, and he willed a chunk of it, bizarrely, to trees. (It is ironic yet typical of Yankees, who owe their life to the sea, to betray a fondness for land.) James willed that an arboretum be founded, in his name, “The Arnold Arboretum.”
James died in 1868, and if you skip ahead ninety years you come across me, as a little boy growing up in a yard full of exotic trees. In my entire 3 acre, shady yard there was only one cluster of enormous hemlocks, and a single Sugar Maple, which were native trees, and all the other trees were wonderful exotics from far away. They were a result of a friendship between the rich man who built my home in the 1860’s and a fellow who had to find a suburb where he could grow seedlings for the Arnold Arboretum, which was turning into a wonderful Olmsted extravaganza like Central Park, across the Charles River from Boston, and in the suburbs of Cambridge, (where botanists studied trees at Harvard). There wasn’t enough room for all the Harvard experiments in the Arnold Arboretum, and a satellite nursery was created in my town, and spare seedlings from that nursery were given to the man who built my house. The seedlings they put in my yard in the 1870’s were impressive trees by the 1950’s. But I need to pull on the reins here, before I wander off into the subject of exotic trees.
What matters at this point is the difference between Norway Maple and Sugar Maple, and the fact my dad, in his impulsive and often inadequately-researched manner, tapped both trees during one spring, and discovered Norway Maple produced very little sugar while Sugar Maple produced lots.
I noticed another difference, as an observant boy. The Sugar Maple on our property had gorgeous foliage in the fall, while the Norway Maple was at best a dull yellow, and at worst was like a lilac, and shed leaves that were still green. (We also had a Norway Maple with purple leaves, but never mind that.)
Now switch ahead forty years, when I find myself a father of four with a pregnant wife, and need to make money even though I in Truth am a useless hippy poet.
Desperation is the mother of ingenuity, and I found a way to make a small profit on being more backwards than most. When the leaves fell in the fall, and the professional landscapers had to spend two hundred or so on a screaming leaf-blower, I spent ten dollars on a rake. Where they had to spend hundreds on a howling vacuum that sucked leaves into the back of a pick-up truck with high, plywood sides, I bought a ten dollar tarp. And where they had to drive heaps of leaves away, I convinced landowners that a leaf-pile was good compost, and that the composted leaves fertilized the trees that made them. In the end the Truth was I took longer to rake their lawn, but I was cheaper, and was preferred, and I like to think one reason I was preferred was that I made less noise.
In the end, looking at the bottom dollar, the professional landscapers likely did ten lawns for every one I did, and suffered migraine headaches from all the noise they made and all the carbon monoxide they inhaled, and made less money than I did, once they subtracted the cost of all their equipment and all the expenses of fuel. I used no fuel. What fuel runs a rake? What fuel runs a tarp full of leaves, hauled over your shoulder to a compost pile fifty yards away? The fuel was my brawn, fueled by my wife’s cooking.
Raking leaves only amounted to between three and five weeks of a year, but I cannot tell you the vanity and egotistical joy I got from being preferred by some of the most frugal and penny-pinching, (and wealthy) landowners in town. I was cheaper than the professionals, yet I made more money on each job. Besides raking leaves, I was raking in profits that helped my family survive.
At this point I should be honest, and confess that the day I put my rake and tarp away I needed to go look for work in a factory. The landscaping season was over. What had seemed profitable was no longer worthwhile. But we are off topic. The topic, if you can remember, was the difference between the Norway Maple and the Sugar Maple.
As I spent the brief, glorious time in my year when I made more money than the professionals, I had plenty of time in the quiet of a scuffing rake, (so much more poetic than the howl of a leaf blower), to note the extravagant beauty of Sugar Maples, compared to the drabness of Norway Maples. And later on I discovered something odd. It was illegal, in New Hampshire, to sell a Norway Maple at a tree nursery.
New Hampshire taps roughly five million gallons of sap from maple trees each year, which boils down to roughly 125,000 gallons of maple syrup which sells for around $60.00 a gallon, for a gross income of $7,500,000. Net income is less due to the costs of bottles and all the boiling, but the old farmers fired their boilers with wood from their own land. Besides the syrup sales, a fair amount of tourists travel north to inhale the ambrosia of air by the sugar shacks, and to eat butter-and-syrup-drenched pancakes and waffles at small restaurants by the sugar shacks. Yet that springtime tourism is nothing compared to the traffic jams of leaf-peepers that come north to see the spectacular foliage in the fall. People come from all over the world, and one fond memory I have is of raking leaves far off the beaten path and seeing a bus full of Asians come lurching down the road with all the tourists pressed to one side of the bus, snapping pictures of the quaint Yankee with his rake, who was me. I did my best to look rustic, and like to think I was later in a photo which perhaps won a contest in Japan, but I also confess I am not so amused when caught behind a vehicle moving at a snail’s pace as tourists admire our foliage. The local folk breathe a collective sigh of relief when roads empty as the final leaves are shed, and they can sit back and count all the dollars the tourists have shed.
In any case, when you add up all the money Sugar Maples brings in, it can be seen why Norway Maple would be unwelcome. Norway Maples produce neither sugar nor spectacular foliage, and are deemed an “invasive species” all the way to Minnesota. It turned out Norway Maple even became unwelcome as a roadside tree in cities, as they have a shallow root system which has a bad habit of buckling pavements. Fortunately, it is an invasive species which is not all that good at invading. Unlike European Bittersweet, a lone seedling of Norway Maple sprouting miles away from its parent seldom survives. I have never seen a Norway Maple standing alone in our woods. I’m not sure, but I think the tree’s strategy of expansion involves a large gang of seedlings springing up all at once, and, with shade and a web of shallow roots, monopolizing that patch of earth as the seedlings become a cluster or small grove.
But here is where wonder begins. Once you speak of a tree’s “strategy”, you are giving a life-form with no apparent brain credit for some form of thought. It may not be thought as you and I experience thought, but as one deals with trees one is drawn to seek some sort of understanding. One is drawn towards appreciating another’s life. Yet one is slightly shocked by the concept. Understand a tree? Yes. While I’ll admit is does seem a bit absurd to have a relationship with a witless vegetable, how else is one to “commune with nature”?
Not that I think it is wise to wander around talking to trees. You can do it if you enjoy it, but perhaps it is unwise to do so with others watching (especially psychiatrists.)
Some like to point out a study that suggested houseplants grow better when the plant is talked-to by the person caring for it. However another study demonstrated that when you talk-to your plants you are exposing them to a draft of CO2 in your breath, and owners of greenhouses know increasing levels of CO2 increases growth. That is a bit of a letdown for people who felt the plant was responding to their heart. (However, plants do respond to care, as every gardener knows.)
One way to care for a plant is to understand what that plant likes. And a Norway Maple has different likes than a Sugar Maple has. As an invasive species, Norway Maple has a “natural” range in the United States just as Sugar Maple does. Like Sugar Maple, it does not do well in the south, though it does better further south than Sugar Maple does. But Norway Maples likes long summer days, and as you move south the summer days get shorter and shorter, and at some point you reach a point where the days are too short. The soil can be perfect, the watering can be perfect, even the temperature can be perfect, and the tree simple does not thrive. In like manner, to the north, beyond a certain latitude the Norway Maple does not thrive. Interestingly, it can thrive much farther north in Europe. What determines the northward extent of the tree’s range is apparently winter temperatures. Norway Maples are damaged by temperatures below minus twenty Fahrenheit. (-29 Celsius). Due to the Gulf Stream, even southern Sweden seldom sees the cold temperatures which southern New Hampshire sees.
Interestingly, this places where I live at a point which is at the northern “natural” extent of Norway Maples, and at the same time close to the southern “natural” extent of Sugar Maples. (Politicians can pass all the laws they want, but the trees have a say in where they will grow.) Sugar Maples simply will not thrive by the sea in southeast New Hampshire, which is one reason New Hampshire, the same size as Vermont, only produces a sixth as much maple syrup as Vermont does. And Canada? Canada produces so much maple syrup it makes the United States look like a dwarf (which is good for Canada’s ego.)
And Sweden? There are some hints that the Swedes once did boil down sap, in the old days, but it apparently was birch sap, for some sort of beer. The Finns? They were driven to eating conifer bark during a horrible famine that killed a quarter of their population, so they would surely know if a source of sugar was easily tapped from trees, but there is no evidence I can find Norway Maple was ever tapped. And Sweden even imports Canadian maple syrup, albeit in small amounts. Therefore, if politicians must write laws, they should write a law forbidding the export of Sugar Maples to Sweden, where it might become an invasive species producing gallons of sugar and an autumnal tourist trade of European leaf-peepers.
All of this points me to wondering about what it is about Sugar Maples that makes them like cold so much. How are they designed? I seek to understand them better, yet the more I learn the more complex they seem.
In my last post I dabbled a bit into the complexity surrounding the beauty of Sugar Maple’s (and also Swamp Maple’s) foliage in the fall. The leaves in fact are not dying, as the color’s change, and in fact are very much alive, enacting a Sugar Maple’s “strategy” which allows it to gain an advantage over other trees.
To grossly simplify, summer leaves are green due to a complex process where the tree creates various enzymes which allow reactions which create several stages of molecular combinations resulting in very complex and amazing molecules, the most obvious of which is green chlorophyll. Chlorophyll takes water, CO2 and sunlight and makes sugar and oxygen. Do not try that at home; you’ll fail, unless a plant is helping you. Perhaps some chemist has figured out how to combine water with CO2 and sunlight to make sugar and oxygen, but I doubt that process will be replacing plants any time soon; it likely is a costly process, while plants are dirt cheap.
Chlorophyll alone is worthy of further study. It turns out there are two types. Don’t ask me why. But its production is dependent on sunlight, and as the sun sinks lower in the fall the production lessens until it no longer is efficient for the plant to make it. Then the plant “thinks”. Some plants, such as the Lilac (and on some years the Norway Maple) “think” that it is time to get rid of chloropyll’s drain to the plant’s economy, and shed the leaf while it is still green. Other plants, such as the Sugar Maple, “think” that they should save the chlorophyll, or its components, for the next year. So they keep the leaf for as long as a month after the chlorophyll stops working, doing all sorts of amazing stuff.
As the chlorophyll, or its components, drain from the leaf, the green goes away, and we see other colors which represent other molecules likely as important as chlorophyll, but which I have no idea about. For example, xanthophyll. What the heck is that for? Don’t ask me. I have more learning to do. But it gives leaves their yellow color, and also is valued by maples, and to some degree is also broken down and sucked from the leaf.
Orange? Apparently that is due to carotene and lycopene. Don’t ask me what they do, for I have more learning to do, but these too are to some degree valued by the maple, and broken down for salvage.
Red? Well this did not exist in the summer leaf, and shows you how alive a so-called “dying” leaf is, for red is indicative of anthocyanin, created within the leaf in the fall. It is a preserver and protector.
I know a little about anthocyanine because it is a sure sign I have been stupid and transplanted my tomatoes into the garden too early, in the spring. Rather than my mistake killing my plants with cold, anthocyanin steps in and turns the green plants purple. The plants do survive, but grow little until they turn green again, at which point they are dwarfed by plants I transplanted later. Consequently, although I know little about what anthocyanin actually does, I know it has more to do with survival than with growth.
My conclusion? It is this: When a maple turns especially red, it is to keep the leaves alive longer.
All this molecular stuff is going on in a maple’s leaves, and is so important to maples that they refuse to shed bright red, orange and yellow leaves even in a howling gale, but once they have completed their task they devise a sort of tourniquet to stop the bleeding when they finally shed the leaf. All sorts of stuff has been going up and especially down the leaf’s stem as long as molecular stuff was occurring, but when that stuff is done, a sort of cork is created where the leaf joins the twig, and when that scab is complete it can be perfectly calm morning, and the leaves fall like rain. It is a beautiful wonder to behold, even if you don’t wonder like me. If you are like me you wonder why the heck the tree clung to its leaves in a gale, but now sheds them in a calm. What was the tree thinking?
And the answer is? Well, for some, the immediate answer is, “Trees don’t think”.
I’m not so sure. Maybe they don’t think, but maybe a Higher Power does their thinking for them, in some way I can no better understand than I understand what xanthophyll does. It just seems obvious that Sugar Maples do wondrous things I should wonder about, and seek to understand, if I truly care.
As I marveled at the “strategy” of Sugar Maples, it seemed to me that the reason they spent so much time breaking down stuff in their leaves into sugars (which Yankees exploit the next spring) is because having such sugar available gives them a head-start in the spring, and an advantage over other plants. And sure enough, maples leaf-out ahead of most other trees in the spring.
But this led my eyes to consider the young maples in the under-story of a forest, in the shade of their parents. They seem to barely survive in such shade, and to barely grow. However I have noticed they have an odd trait which may barely keep them alive. A: In the spring, they Ieaf out a week before their parents. B: in the fall, they stay green a week longer than their parents. This gives them two weeks of growth they would otherwise lack, and seemingly tips their balance towards survival.
Of course my brain must dream up reasons. I imagine they leaf out faster because they are shorter and closer to their roots. And they keep their leaves longer because their daylight becomes longer as their parents above them shed leaves. But I have noticed a detail which I can’t explain and which increases my wonder. It is this: Even as their parents turn the most beautiful shades of orange and crimson above them, the small maples in the under-story, when they get around to changing the color of their leaves, remain yellow.
How can the same species of tree, in the same location, behave so differently from its parent? I am trying to scientifically explain what trees have done since they were created. Who is smarter? Them or me?
I also recently learned another thing about such under-story trees. They barely survive when young, and consequently their growth rings are very close together, but when their parents finally die their growth rings expand, as they leap up towards the sunshine their parents used to own. What does this mean in terms of the worth of their wood?
Well, at age eighty they are the same size as a tree that was grown in a plantation is, at age thirty-five. So it seems obvious that it is wiser to grow maples in a plantation, until a thunderstorm downburst howls with winds of hurricane force. Then, what trees snap like matchsticks? What trees withstand the blast? Is it the trees that grew fast, with only thirty-five rings in their trunks? Or is it the trees with swift growth in the outer rings, and heartwood holding fifty or sixty rings?
Apparently the trees which grew in the understory stand, as the plantation trees snap. Slow is better than fast.
This made me stop and think. It occurred to me vegetables might sometimes be smarter than both communists and most capitalists. Communists and most capitalists are always in a hurry, and think faster is better. However some artisans are capitalists who know slower is better. For example, Antonio Stradivari made his violins from slow-growth, finely grained maple, and avoided the fast-growth, widely grained wood. (And also wine and whisky are not at their best when swiftly produced, and instead improve with age.)
I find this good to meditate upon, now that I am old and slow. It is nice to know that old and slow is not necessarily a reason to be benched, as younger players take the field. At times it means you are what people like Antonio Stradivari look for. You may have grown at a retarded rate for the first sixty years of your life, like a maple in the under-story, but that has made your heartwood superior.
Not that I wasn’t glad to see my sons come home for Thanksgiving. They can split more logs in ten minutes than I can in an entire morning. After about five swings of the eight-pound maul I have to stop and catch my breath. My sons can flail away and swing at a rate of a blow every five seconds, or twenty blows a minute, for five minutes, and only then do they stop to catch their breath. And they actually seem less out of breath than I get. And they break a sweat more easily, and they actually seem to enjoy the experience as a break from their jobs at computer screens. Of course, my blows are delivered more wisely. (I have to be economical with my energy and make every blows count.)
For example, certain logs are called “rock maple” because hidden in the log are twists and turns of the grain that make it resist splitting, so that when you bring the maul down on such a log with all your might and main the maul fails to even start to split the log, and instead bounces away like you hit a block of hard rubber. When I hit such a log I immediately quit, and carefully study the log to spot its weaknesses. But my sons? When my sons meet such a stubborn log they just hit it harder, over and over, until finally the log splits. I watch in awe, wistfully recalling the days when I too had such energy. However once in a while I can awe them back. When they have hit a log fifteen times, and had the maul bounce fifteen times, they sometimes pause to shake the sweaty hair from their eyes, which allows me time to say, “Hit the log right there”, and then, when they follow my advice, the log sometimes splits easily,(and they briefly look at me with the respect I feel I deserve far more of).
The Old-timers of my youth deserved the real respect, for they understood wood in ways we can’t even imagine. For example, when they built ships they sometimes would seek far and wide for trees with branches that naturally curved in a manner that would supply them with the curved ribs of a ship’s hull. They knew such wood possessed an inherent strength steam-bent ribs lacked. Furthermore, when it came to building the few American ships which sought to take on England’s massive navy, they sought the toughest wood, and basically denuded the landscape of New England of White Oak, which they knew might split when you attacked it with the grain, but barely even splintered when you attacked it across the grain. Sailors claimed they saw English cannonballs bouncing off the White Oak side of the American frigate “Constitution”, which earned it the nickname “Old Ironside”, but I only bring this up because it demonstrates how well those Old-timers knew their wood.
Now I am the Old-timer, and although not as smart as the Old-timers of my youth I do spend more time thinking about trees than many men my age think about football. And this was especially true because the Sugar Maple I have recently been splitting up for firewood was a very special tree. It was enormous, but a picture will save me words. Here is a picture of my granddaughter standing on the enormous stump, with my daughter-in-law.
You likely have every right to wonder why on earth I would cut down such a huge and beautiful tree. It was because the huge Sugar Maple was getting old and starting to drop branches. It had not yet dropped one of the five huge forks that split from the enormous trunk about ten feet up, with each fork the size of a mature tree. However it had shed big branches, (mere twigs compared to the enormity of the tree), and three times these falling branches had ripped the electrical wires from my neighbor’s house. The public utilities had been good about coming out to restore power, and never blaming me, but I wondered if people would be so patient if “my” tree, (as it was on my property), dropped one of it’s five major trunks, and it bisected my patient neighbor’s house.
For thirty years I had procrastinated. I figured that tree had outlived many former owners, and hoped it would outlive me. But finally I could wait no more, and was left with logs so big I wondered if my peavey could budge it. (A peavey is a sort of crowbar used by lumberjacks to move big logs.)
Of course my whippersnapper son felt such old-fashioned tools were outdated, (and might roll his eyes if I argued hand tools allowed one to become more intimate with wood.) He came rattling up the old tannery road in a small excavator, and did a log-shifting job that might have taken me days in about fifteen minutes. (The picture below is also helpful for it shows how close the neighbor’s house is.)
In any case, after being humbled by the efficiency of modern equipment, I had time to just sit and “read the rings”, which is like reading the autobiography of a tree, in the tree-rings of a stump.
Apparently the maple barely survived in the shady under-story for forty years before the first settlers came to create a town, in 1749. Then it just happened to be perfectly placed to be a roadside tree, by a path to where colonists were creating a tannery by rolling huge stones to dam a brook and make a little millpond. The colonialists were good at rolling stones, and I think their young men got as much pleasure from rolling huge rocks (seen in the walls of the above pictures) as modern youth get from playing video games.
This was when the town still obeyed King George, and a sort of elitist, wealthy semi-royal squire semi-ruled the town, in a sort of uneasy truce with the local preacher. But the squire wisely switched loyalties (a story in itself). The tree then watched as the United States was born, and the town thrived, and then saw the town nearly become a ghost town as people abandoned stony soil and headed for deep, stone-less soils out west, and water wheels were no longer the best form of energy. It saw the tannery abandoned and the millpond’s rock dam collapse in a spring flood. Then it saw new people arrive, string electrical wires, as the town become a semi-suburb, with roughly half the people commuting to far-away jobs, and half the people serving the commuters. Then a punk like me arrived, and said, “Tree, you must go.”
The huge tree, roughly three hundred years old, was entering a period of decline. I have heard it called “ruinous old age.” Trees can take fifty or even a hundred years before they finally are dead, and the entire time they produce excessive amounts of seeds, far more than healthy trees do, to ensure their species is perpetuated. (At times, watching silly old men buy Viagra, I think humans are wired the same way.)
I wished this old maple could have enjoyed perhaps as many as a hundred more years of “decline”, of “ruinous old age”. I wished it stood far out in the woods, like the Sugar Maple Thoreau saw in the Weston Woods. But it stood right by my neighbor’s house. I had to step in and take drastic action. I had to kill a beautiful tree.
It cost me $1500.00 to have a crew come in and take the tree down in sections, with a gigantic cherry-picker that amounted to a small crane. I hoped to make some money back by burning the thicker limbs as firewood, and asked the crew to leave me the thicker limbs. Little did I know the crew made money on the side with the limbs of trees they cut down. They ran the wood through a wood-chipper and sold the chips to the local fellow who makes wood-pellets for pellet stoves. So much money is made in this manner that the wood-chipper they had recently purchased as an “update” was gargantuan. No longer did they merely chip twigs and small branches, but instead ground up limbs thick as a fat woman’s thigh. I was amazed by how little they left me to use as firewood. They left me nothing but enormous logs, impossible to move, and difficult to chainsaw into sections one can split with a maul.
Next time I will know better. When I ask a crew to leave me the “thicker limbs” for firewood, I will define what “thicker” means with more care. (Not that there is likely to be a “next time.”)
Oh well. You win some and you lose some, and what was left to me still represented a colossal amount of “free” heat. I may need to spend a lot of time, but it is time well spent. It is good fun to saw such huge trunks with a tiny chainsaw, making huge logs. And it is fun to split huge logs into firewood, when a single log can make 25 split pieces to put in your wood stove. And it is fun when the propane-delivery-man arrives in early December, expecting you have used propane for heat, and discovers you have only used it to cook with. It is fun because his face has such an odd look, as he hands you the minuscule bill.
Yet most fun of all is the way I am getting to know the life which, in fact, I have shortened. Each of the five forks of this giant maple are different. I am even toying with the idea of selling some section of the trunk to people who value maple wood, and who might saw them into boards, rather than heating my home with them.
And most fun of all is that I am in a jurisdiction far, far from the depressing news. I am off in the hinterland, in the eyes of some News-addicts. What me worry? I am absorbed in the wonder of the Creator’s creation, and of His amazing attention to detail. The more I learn the more I am amazed. Learning some scientific trivia, such as that xanthophyl makes leaves yellow, doesn’t make me feel I now can be a Know-It-All, but rather that there is so much more to learn that the wonder and mystery is fabulous and overwhelming.
Yet at some point running-away must stop. If you look back to the start of this post, you will see that the whole reason for running-away into this long epistle about the beauty of Sugar Maples was that running-way was better than foaming at the mouth, and perhaps strangling Nancy Pelosi (or some poor person who likes her). And so it is I have hopefully enchanted you too, taking you into an escape from politics. But escapism isn’t enough. At some point we need to stop escaping and instead to face other facts.
But here is the most fun thing of all: Some may fear that, when I say we must face things, I am saying we must go back and face Nancy Pelosi. Not at all. What we must face, when seeing trivia about Sugar Maples is fabulous and wonderful, is not merely that creation is amazing, but that the One who created it is amazing. It is high time we praise the Creator. Who praises artwork without praising the artist?
That seems a good point to end this post on, this being a Sunday. Picture me as an old man, huffing and puffing and leaning on his maul, because to me splitting wood on a Sunday seems better than watching football on a Sunday, and then I raise my eyes. The wonders of creation are amazing, (whether they be Sugar Maples or linebackers), but at some point, you should reflect on the Creator who made all.
This Creator not only attended to details such as xanthophyll, but also to the creation of every enzyme involved in the multi-step molecular creation of xanthophyll. And if the Creator attended to minuscule details such as that, why should the Creator not attend to minuscule details such as you and I?
Attend to the Truth, and you will see the Truth is already attending to you.