Local View —Popple—

Tonight I’m going to talk about Popple, because the map and radar-view below show that nothing is happening, weather-wise. I figure nothing happening is a good thing. It frees up time, and one can “make hay while the sun shines.” It wasn’t stormy, so I cut some wood with my chainsaw, including some Popple.

Of course, if you are a true weather geek, you have no hayfield, and can’t make hay while the sun shines. Your life is devoid of meaning, and therefore you have to seek the maps below for storms, even before they exist. Why?  I suppose it is because storms cancel school and work, which are situations that may give one the sense one doesn’t mean much, and instead places one in a situation where every helper counts and every man has meaning. (Or, even if you can’t be helpful with the shoveling, at least the humiliations of the classrooms and workplaces cease.)

In other words, storms give life meaning.

Looking at the map below you can see a very weak northern branch low over the Great Lakes with a very weak southern branch low to its south. A week ago computer models saw those two inconsequential features “phasing” into a big storm off the east coast. It gave weather geeks hope. Maybe school and work would be cancelled.

20141218B satsfc 20141218B rad_nat_640x480

That storm-cancelling, work-cancelling storm isn’t going to happen. Weather geeks are hurting, smarting from disappointment, and they express their rage by sneering at those models that disappointed them. In fact it feels good to sneer at someone else, after getting sneered at by bullies at schools and workplaces.

(And don’t think I am fooled for an instant by the efforts of the politically-correct to “end bullying” in schools. All it does is replace one sort of bullying with another. As long as a form of behavior is deemed “incorrect,” noses will wrinkle as if sniffing a stench when faced with that incorrect behavior, and that nose-wrinkling is a sneer, and the sneered-at will feel bullied.)

In any case, the sneered-at weather geeks, if not sneering at the failure of the current storm to develop, are looking ahead with hope to the next storm, a possible “Santabomb” on Christmas day. They refuse to become stagnant. They keep their minds ever-active.

I know all about this, because I was a wimp for a time in school, and, because no one would listen to me talk, I learned about the withdrawn world of writing. However after a while that got old, because no one would read my writing, either. I had to get the hell out, or become one of those fellows who slowly goes mad, living in their mother’s basement.

As a teenager I wrote a poem that began,

No policeman came and told me
I had harmed society
But every poem became an oldie,
Echoing a tragedy.
Hiding down in my bomb shelter
Words once bloomed like spring for me
But now words fall flat, helter skelter:
I have lost the harmony.
I have never fed the poor
Or helped the helpless live a day
So then what do I do it for?
Unless it’s an escapist’s play:
Working midnights without pay…

It was obviously becoming obvious, even back then, that I had to get out into the sunshine and make some hay, but that is more easily said than done, especially if you are determined to be a writer, (which gives you an excuse to withdraw). However, thank God, I did get out into the sunshine. (And discovered it didn’t stop my writing.)

Because I was forced (against my will) out into the sunshine, I was forced to spend time with old Yankee men who seemingly spent all their time making hay, and had no use for poetry. I found them incredibly dull, because they had no use for Shakespeare or Keats or Shelley or even Robert Frost, and had no interest in sonnets or alliteration or iambic pentameter or assonance. All they wanted to talk about was wood, wood, wood, wood, all the live-long day, it seemed. If they ever ventured away from the subject of wood it was to talk about saws, but that led to axes, and then back to the best wood for an ax handle. The only reason I paid attention to them at all was to create a sort of sneering parody of the way they talked. Fortunately I worked hard on my parody, and accidentally learned a thing or two about wood in the process.

Today, as I took advantage of the briefly open winter to chainsaw some wood, I got to thinking about those old guys, now long dead and gone and largely forgotten. I was feeling a bit sad I didn’t listen, as I cut some popple. I wished they were still around, as I had all sorts of questions.

“Popple” is a wonderful, but pretty much extinct, verb. (Notice how I, as a writer, veer away from the actual subject of the wood?) It comes from an old, forgotten word “popul” which may come from the Roman “populus”, and which, when combined with a somewhat mysterious Dutch root that created “poplen,” created a hybrid-word that specifically described choppy water when the chop was small, more of a pointed lapping than waves.

Of course we never spend enough time in small, open boats to need such a word in our modern world. However it is a rather neat word, nonetheless.

How did it shift from describing water to trees? Actually it is rather obvious, if you have ever been outside and watched cottonwood, aspen or poplar in the sunshine. Quaking aspen are called “quaking” for a reason. The leaves are designed to flutter in even a slight breeze, (perhaps to shake dust from their surfaces), and, because the upper surface of the leaves are shiny, the fluttering makes them flash and twinkle in a manner reminiscent of water. What’s more, they make a noise like water sometimes does, which is a little reminiscent of many clapping hands, and applause.

In any case, the tree was called “popple” in New England, by the old-timers. I knew enough to deem it a trash tree. Of course the old-timers didn’t call any wood “trash”, and would go on and on and on at great length about the uses for popple. The fact they could call a trash tree useful seemed worth sneering at, when I was young, and the only reason I know of popple’s uses is because I learned how to parody their learnedness.

It is a trash tree because it decays swiftly, if it stays wet. It would not make a good fence post, as the part in the ground would rot in a couple years. Also, perhaps because it grows so swiftly, the branches are not as deeply embedded in the trunks as other trees are, and can snap off with ease. Where an oak branch joins a tree with a strength boat-builders once coveted and used for ribs of ships, popple has no such structural integrity, and in fact they are a dangerous tree to climb, as I learned as a boy, when branches kept breaking off beneath me when I was far up a tree, to my great alarm.

Actually branches may break off easily for a reason, as they can easily re-root and form a new tree. Some old farmers actually used popple as fenceposts, because, if one took care, they would re-root and be living posts. (Willow was even better for such living posts.)

Under the right conditions popple can send up shoots from its roots, and grow an entire grove of trees from what began as a lone seedling. This is often seen out west, where an entire mountainside may be covered by what looks like hundreds of aspen, but is actually a single organism. In this respect some popple might be bigger than sequoia and older than bristle-cone pines.

Here in the east popple is most often spread by their seeds. The trees bloom like pussy willows in the spring, but the blooms get as long as big caterpillars and then produce huge amounts of pollen that can make a black car yellow, if the car is parked beneath. Then popple free seeds that float like dandelion seeds do, but in such enormous amounts that it can look like it is snowing.  The drifting of such fluff ensures that popple are the first tree to sprout in any abandoned field, or in the meadow that appears when an abandoned beaver dam breaks, and the old pond vanishes. Within five years, the beavers can move back, and repair their dam, because popple is one of their favorite foods.

Because the trees grow so swiftly, (most don’t survive fifty years, and a hundred-year-old popple is rare,) the wood is very light when dry. It has little flavor, and was once used to box cheese and for kitchen implements, but its light weight meant that it was used a lot for the wooden chassis of old time wagons, because horses preferred lighter wagons. Despite the fact branches break easily from trunks, the wood (when straight grained and knot-free) is surprisingly flexible and bouncy, and difficult to break.

I don’t really understand how the same wood can first snap easily and later refuse to break, but have seen the toughness of the soft wood cause me trouble. One time I was stuffing popple into a wood chipper, thinking the chipper would grind up the soft wood with ease, but instead the chipper ground to a halt. The popple had turned into long, flat strings which were so flexible they utterly bound up the guts of the machine. I had to spend an hour laboriously cutting away the strands with a knife, and pulling them out, before I could restart the chipper and get back to work.

Having described how surprising tough the wood is, whether as a kitchen spoon or a wagon chassis, I hasten to add it has to be to be dried swiftly, because if given half a chance popple reabsorbs water like a sponge, and then is swift to rot.

Robert Frost wrote a poem about a farmer who buried his young son in a casket of popple wood. The farmer was so insensitive that he was surprised when his wife got upset, because he remarked, (about the wood, not the son), that it was swift to grow and swift to rot.

All these thoughts were passing through my head as I chainsawed up a popple to use in the pasture campfire, at the Childcare today. Old facts wandered through my head, such as: Popple only makes good firewood if you can keep it out of the rain. Even bone dry wood can swiftly become so sodden it is nearly unburnable, if it is left in the rain.

I was cutting the lower half of a tree that lost a large part of its top in an ice-storm six years ago. The lower half lived on in a hopeless sort of way, and finally died last year.  The upper half, sprawled at the edge of the pasture,  was a favorite playground toy of the children, which they called “the monkey tree.” I have been told I can’t cut up the “monkey tree” for firewood, but the lower half was mine. It thudded to earth, and I was busily cutting the trunk into 18-inch-sections, but stopped sawing as the children came out to play.  As they clambered all over the new trunk and played with the sawdust (and informed me I wasn’t allowed to use the new trunk for firewood,) I looked over at the nearby “monkey tree,”  thinking how it had proved me wrong.

I figured the “monkey tree” would swiftly rot,  and therefore have quite regularly put the entire weight of my body on its barkless branches, testing them, (preferring them to break under my weight than to snap beneath an unsuspecting child.) Much to my amazement the tree hasn’t rotted a bit. Likely it is because it has stayed dry enough.

However there is another thing about popple I probably should mention. It may explain why the “monkey tree” is not rotting the way I expect a trash tree to rot.

The word “popple” actually is used to describe three different species of tree, here in New England. The old-timers, talking on and on and on about wood, likely knew which one they were talking about when they used the word “popple,” and likely would state this popple is a popple that rots more slowly than other popple.

I, however, didn’t listen. I can only wonder how much they knew has been lost by fellows like me.


Our Creator created a Creation full of beautiful nuance we take for granted. Only when we try to paint it on canvas, or describe it with writing, or portray it with a computer model, do we become aware how wonderfully complex quite ordinary events are.

Seeing the following glitch is made possible by two men. The first is Dr. Ryan Maue, who takes computer read-outs that would be unintelligible to me, and turns them into maps that even a bumpkin like myself can understand. The second is the meteorologist Joe Bastardi, who has been studying weather maps since he was knee high to a grasshopper, (his father was a meteorologist), and who, while apparently unable to read code and build computer models, can scan the maps produced by models and spot “model error” immediately. He is able to do so because he has scanned decades of maps, amounting to what must be a total of over a million maps, and therefore has an understanding of what ordinarily and logically follows what. When a computer model produces something illogical, it leaps out at him from the map, like a cat with the head of an elephant would to a child playing “what is wrong with this picture.”

For example, what is wrong with this picture? It shows the “anomaly” of surface temperatures, (whether they are above or below normal), as very cold air pours down over North America. (Click to enlarge.)

Great Lakes 20141115 cfs_anom_t2m_conus_2014111500_31

If you look up to Hudson Bay at the top of the map, you can see what a bumpkin like myself often sees, which is that, when very cold air moves over warmer water, the air at the surface is swiftly raised to the temperature of the water. You can see that at the west side of Hudson Bay, where sea-ice is starting to form, the air is slightly milder, as to the east side of the bay the air is above normal, even though surrounded by below normal air.  The open water has warmed the air mass.

Now look down at Lake Michigan, at the center of the map. Again very cold air is moving over open water that is milder, but in this case the air is mysteriously cooled. How can that be? Something is wrong with this picture.

It can’t happen. What Joe Bastardi assumed is that the computer model “knows” that the lake water itself is below normal, and therefore cooled the air a predetermined amount downwards, irrespective of the fact the air was colder than the water, and it is physically impossible for warmer objects to cool colder objects.

Mr. Bastardi doesn’t know for sure that this is actually the glitch in the model, however when a computer model produces something that even a bumpkin like myself can see is incorrect, one assumes the person who created the model is quite smart, but simply ran into one of the nuances the Creator wove into Creation. In this case it is the fact that, while colder-than-normal lake water will cool summer air, as it passes over, it will not do so in the winter,  when winter air passes over.

I can’t even begin to imagine how a modeler weaves all variables involved in Creation into a model. There must be countless cases of, “If A, then B, unless C, in which case D.” I also can’t imagine how frustrating it must be when reality taps your shoulder, and sends you back into the world of code, to fix a glitch.

There must be countless cases where a model produces a virtual reality that differs greatly from reality.  In these cases a trained meteorologist is invaluable, due to his ability to spot “what is wrong with the this picture.”

A glitch like the one in the above map will have consequences in the forecast a model produces. If the air over Lake Michigan actually was colder than the surrounding air, then it would be descending, and producing clear skies and a “sea breeze” (or lake breeze) at the shore. It would not be rising and producing “lake-effect snows.”

And that is only a glitch that likely would be produced in the local  forecast. Chaos Theory often talks about about the “Butterfly Effect,” where a small change in the initial conditions produces a difference that is magnified, by the process of time passing. So this glitch will be magnified downstream, and appear as errors in the non-local forecasts, over a thousand miles away on the east coast.

In conclusion, it is dangerous to rely on models alone. It is also a bit lazy. It is far harder to do all the work and studying in that went into becoming a meteorologist of the old school. However it is well worth it, because it allows one to discern between a computer’s virtual reality, and the wonderful, real reality called “Creation”.

POET’S PLAN: Two party system; The EPA is “NEITHER.”


If God had wanted me to learn about computers, He would have arranged my life differently. I was all ready to start work at a computer place in Scott’s Valley, California, back in 1984, and back then I was the sort of worker who is not only avid to learn, but capable of learning. I was “a quick study,” (and what old Yankees called “thefty,” which is a word that has pretty much faded from use, but meant you could figure out how to get a job done even if you lacked the proper training and tools; a word a bit like the politically-incorrect phrase, “nigger rigging,” but “thefty” had more positive associations.)

I was so quick to catch on to what a job entailed, and so eager to figure out ways to solve problems, that I often was swiftly promoted. Often such promotions involved doing twice the work for a five-cent-per-hour-raise. Also it tended to make other workers hostile, (and when a Union was involved, it was actually forbidden.) Lastly, such promotion often was a dead-end, and then, as soon as my job became repetitive, and involved no challenges or learning, I tended to find some excuse to leave. In which case I should not blame God, because the simple fact was that, by 1984, I was well on my way to working well over a hundred jobs. My vagrancy was my own doing. The only way to blame God, (or to give God credit,) is because he shaped me the way I am; IE: I can’t stand repetitive jobs that don’t involve learning.

However the job I was about to start in Scott’s Valley might have been different. For one thing, the starting wage was well over minimum wage, and that can make a man like me put up with boredom a little longer. Second, it offered training, and a whole universe of classes pertaining to computers. To learn about computers in 1984 would have put me well ahead-of-the-curve.

Instead I swiftly found myself in Window Rock, Arizona, in the bureaucratic offices of the Navajo Tribe, somewhat illegally indirectly leeching a bit of money Congress intended to be used to train Navajo youth to be modern. And what was the so-called “modern” thing I was learning? It was how to repair an IBM electric typewriter.

Talk about a totally useless skill to learn! Within a decade it was hard to even find an IBM typewriter in an office building.

How did I come to move from Scotts Valley to Window Rock? Well, “some people claim there’s a woman to blame,” and I‘ll admit a little of that was involved. However even before the woman appeared the job in Scott‘s Valley vanished. The place closed its doors on the very day I was suppose to start work.

Apparently the management of that place decided to tell Microsoft and Apple where to get off. They were tired of having to design stuff to fit Microsoft and Apple hardware, and told Microsoft and Apple to design hardware to fit their stuff. (Why do I have the sneaky suspicion cocaine was involved?) They promptly lost huge contracts and had to close their doors.

If I‘d been working there you might be able to blame me. You could suggest I had caught management‘s ear, and poisoned their business-sense with bad advice. However, as I hadn’t even walked through the door for my first day of work, this is not an occasion where I can be blamed.

Unless you believe in God, and can imagine God was horrified at the prospect of a poet like me becoming a computer geek.

Usually God is patient, and leaves us in our messes to figure things out for ourselves, with our flimsy and meager “Free Will,” but perhaps, in dire circumstances, when a poet like me is about to become a computer geek, (well “ahead of his time”, and likely also relatively wealthy and corrupted by all the bad things filthy lucre does,) God will intervene. He will plant the idea in the skulls of management that it is a wise business move to challenge Microsoft and Apple.

If you believe God can intervene in that manner, then it probably is my fault that a little start-up operation in Scott’s Valley went bankrupt.

In any case I spent the next four years about as far away from computers as you could get, in the lower 48 states of the USA. Not that I stopped learning. But my study involved very different things.

One thing I happened to study was bureaucracy. I couldn’t help it, in that area, especially during the time I spent fixing electric typewriters. (I only worked that job part time, and at times it was a very small part of my time.)

To be honest, few things seemed more out of place in that Navajo landscape than modern gizmos, whether they were out-of-date electric typewriters or more-modern computers. However bureaucracy was invading the wild west big time. Not only was there the Cowboy bureaucracy, (State, County and City,) and the Indian bureaucracy, (Tribe and Chapter Houses,) effecting the roads, hospitals, colleges and libraries, but there was The Bureau of Land Management, The Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Veteren’s Administration, which were neither Cowboy nor Indian. I learned a lot about the strange world of the “Neither”, repairing typewriters.

“Neither” is the brainless bureaucracy that thought it was helpful to teach Navajo youth how to repair electric typewriters, when that was a skill that would make the teenager obsolete before age twenty-nine.

“Neither” is also the out-of-touch logic of the EPA, all these years later, as they deem it wise to shut down coal mines and coal power plants, which will impoverish, if not actually freeze, the poor.

Even though I didn’t study computers, I did study the stupidity of “Neither,” as it effected really classy Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, Hispanics and wise-but-nearly-illiterate Cowboys. Though I missed my chance to be ahead-of-the-curve, in Scott’s Valley, in terms of computers, I was ahead-of-the-curve, in terms of what it feels like to be a Navajo, or any other ordinary people, facing the bureaucratic “Neither.”

It used to be we could feel pity for Navajo, but now we need to feel pity for ourselves. It is all Americans who are now the Native Americans, facing the monstrosity of the “Neither.”

(Past my bedtime. From here on this is just notes for a follow-up essay.)

Coming to grips with this monster is no easy task. It is hydra-headed, and while some heads are obvious, others are not. I’ve spent years thinking about the problem, and I’m not helped when my computer crashes, my notes are lost, and I haven’t learned enough about fixing computers to fix the problem.

However, though I can’t fix a crashed computer, covered in dust and cobwebs in my attic, a guy from Puerto Rico salvaged the memory in the hulk, which I assumed was as lost as papers in a house fire.

The fellow did not gain his computer skills through being educated by a Federal grant of any sort. In fact he learned much the same way I have learned: He was given certain gifts by God, and life has a way of bringing out our gifts, because they are what survives the hammering life puts us through.

Such gifts are best developed in a free society. Attempts by the “Neither” to nourish such gifts seldom help and often hinder, because the only person who understands the gift is the person with the gift.  Outsiders cannot be insiders. In the end, the attempts of the “Neither” to legislate spirituality are bound to fail, for they fail to recognize the worth of the individual spirit, and instead attempt to deal with individuals as clumsy groupings of people who are sort-of-alike..

Then the “Neither” attempts to organize those “groupings” into an organized system, and often sees unintended consequences be the result.   When you limit the freedom of individuals you limit individual’s ability to demonstrate their gifts, and in the end you lose.

Fortunately I didn’t need to deal with licences or forms or bureaucracy of any sort to rescue the memory of my crashed computer. I, as a free individual, found another free individual who had developed the gifts I haven’t developed.  That is how things work best.

Among the slew of lost documents, I found the following profound-but-silly poem, which I can’t remember writing. Although irreverent, and a bit embarrassing, I think the poem does a good job of describing the difficulty a person who loves to learn goes through, and furthermore hints at an eventual escape from duality and the false-thought of “Neither.”

I offer it hoping it will encourage those who think they are alone, and are the only ones who see the falsity of “Neither,” and pray the poem may even inspire them to resist the bureaucratic buffoonery we are enduring,


Some teachers say, “Stop slugging,
And learn to coo and sigh
Over Shakespeare’s sonnets
And how skylarks kiss the sky,”
But soon as class is over
It is time for Rugby’s slugging.
Then teacher’s do not like it much
If students coo of hugging,

Unless, of course, the hug is like
A wrestler’s embrace,
The sort of hug which grinds the green
Of sod upon your face,
But if you truly crouch and clout
Opponents in the nose
You learn it’s nearly naughty as
Handing them a rose.

Teachers have to channel you;
Contain you and restrain you.
Although you’re not a horse, they’ve got
To spur you and to rein you,
But when they tried to saddle me
I said, “Get off my back!
My freedom’s my virginity;
I have a thing you lack.”

Still they felt they had to start me
And they felt they had to stop me.
“Emulate! Imitate!
But, never, never copy!
Fifty footnotes earns an ‘A!’
A plagiarist’s a sneak!
Talk when you are spoken to
But never, never speak!”

They said, “Both in sports and poems
Comes times to bow to rules.
Obey, and be submissive,
As cowed as Hitler’s fools;
For both in sports and poetry
Comes times to set all free
And race along the sidelines
Like a spirit soaring free!”

What a tricky task they faced
Teaching, “Don’t, but do.”
I was like a Juliet
And teachers, Montigue.
Knowledge has the sweetest lips.
I knew I was unkissed.
The teachers urged that I lie still
And then, “Resist! Resist!”

But when I was a student
I couldn’t stand be goosed.
I’d slap away the teacher’s leer
And wouldn’t be seduced.
I wouldn’t take the ball and run
Down sidelines like I should.
I streaked across the sidelines
And I headed for the wood.

I heard the voices hollering
That I had lost my mind.
I listened as the voices
Finally faded, far behind,
But I felt not a bit of shame
For being out of bounds
And broke the school’s commandment
About staying on its grounds.

Then I learned that schools protect.
The world is not so nice.
Though schools can seem too squishy
The world’s as hard as ice.
Where schools seduce with blandishments,
“Please don’t be an escapist,”
The world does not seduce at all.
The world’s a clumsy rapist.

What a rugby game it is
When business holds the ball!
The greedy build their mansions up
But greed then covets all
‘Til greed tears lovely mansions down
And revolution’s red
Is all that’s left of rainbows
That were promised to the dead.

The poor go limping down a field
With sidelines creeping near
Until they’re in an alley
Ruled by slumlord’s fisted fear.
Finally there’s a riot
And the scrum’s a savage game:
The balls are rolling human heads
But sidelines are the same.

But when I was a worker
I couldn’t stand be goosed.
When Left and Right spoke promises
I wouldn’t be seduced.
They were just opposing sides
Which form an alley’s hall,
And thinking back to days in school
I smiled and took the ball.

I’d learned that if you scale the walls
You stay in states you’re in:
East to west, or west to east,
You stay within Berlin.
Though you may clamber eastwards
Over scrums to dawning day
You’ll find you’re soon in shadow
And can’t see the sunset’s ray.

Wherever there’s a standing wall
There shadows will persist.
The morning that you fall in love
Makes you an anarchist.
We cannot love a thing of fear
That pushes us apart.
Something about every wall’s
Offensive to the heart.

The wall remains as long as rules
Are bricked to build them up.
I took the ball I held and gave
It to a passing pup.
To heck with rules. To heck with scrums.
To heck with hugs and slugs.
To heck with rolled-out carpets
And to heck with pulled-out rugs.

The dog I gave the ball to
Made the answer plain as day:
It wagged its tail and with its eyes
Said, “Come on! Let us play!”
And that is the seduction
Which every student faces,
And that’s what the predicament
Of the human race is.