LOCAL VIEW –Thunder Panic–



I think the poor weathermen may be feeling slighted, with everyone ignoring their warnings due to concerns about the Wu-flu. I’ve got a little weather-radio in my study, and it has an alarm that goes off when the weather office feels the ordinary public should be alerted to some danger. Lately they’ve been setting that alarm off for silly fears, or so it seems to me. For example, if I hear it go off, and feel compelled to drop what I am doing, and to hobble hurriedly into my study, and then only learn that overpasses may be frosty and slippery in the morning, or there may be patches of fog down in the hollows after dark, or that a late freeze may nip delicate indoor plants, if you have left any out on your porch, it hardly seems worth all the hoop-la.

In some ways the people on the other side of that squawking weather-radio remind me of a small child who hasn’t been receiving enough attention, and who therefore prances and dances about disturbing adult conversations. I try to be patient and see they mean well, but at times I get the feeling they must think the general public consists of complete morons. It wouldn’t surprise me if they set off a blaring warning to tell people it was suppertime, and hunger might happen.

I get a bit irked when I’m treated like a moron, especially when I need to do some task that involves risk. Some people just can’t stand risk. Fifty years ago I never would cut down a tree with my grandmother watching, because the anxiety she’d be subjected to would have been cruel. In like manner, I try not to burn brush with town officials watching, because they don’t trust me, even though the only time I burned up a backyard was fifty-five years ago, in 1965, when I was twelve. That experience taught me well, and I’ve been very careful with fire when its windy ever since.

The best time to burn is in the spring, before lush green weeds spring up and before trees create an emerald canopy which casts the shade that keeps the ground damp. Between the spring sun being as high as it is in August, and the dry air coming down from snow-covered lands to the north, (which, when warmed, achieves a parched humidity of Death Valley dryness), conditions are perfect for seeing the “duff” (the top inch or two of dead leaves on a forest floor) dry within hours of a rain. Sometimes I would miss these prime conditions, and might fail to burn, were it not for the fact my weather radio blares out a warning, telling me it’s dreadfully dangerous.

Often the radio alerts me to stuff I already know. I am sixty miles from the sea, but when the moon is full and the wind swings to the east I have a sort of instinct that kicks in, dating from years I spent by the sea, My old bones know the tides will be high, and even though I don’t have a rowboat any more I remember to draw it up farther on the beach, and not to park my car in the low lot by the salt marsh. It is only after these obsolete considerations have gone drifting through the back of my mind that the weather-radio goes off with shrill warnings about high surf and spill-over, sixty miles away.

After a while the weather-radio becomes a bit like the little boy who cried wolf. I tend to ignore the alarm. Or, if I go to listen, it is only because I’m puzzled about what on earth they could be in a frenzy about this time. This eventually puts the meteorological Alarmists in the position of the little boy, when the wolf actually comes.

I do glance over the written forecasts, and therefore I was well aware a front was coming through, likely with thunder, to end the workweek. I planned accordingly, keeping an eye to the sky, and also checking the weather radar on my cellphone. The forecast was a bit too hasty, regarding when the thunder would arrive, and this actually helped me, because I hurried to get things planted before a deluge, and then the deluge was delayed, so I could keep working, and I was done earlier than I would have been if I worked in my ordinary, dawdling, old-man manner. Of course, at my age working fast did hobble me a mite, yet it was nice to go home early and sit with my wife on the screen-porch, watching the skies darken, sipping a beer, and ignoring the silly weather-radio going completely berserk, off in the distance, in my study.

The weather-radio becomes basically useless when actual storms approach, for besides pertinent information they need to legally cover their butts by adding a string of extra advise, such as not to stand by open windows and not to drive into flooded roadways and not to do ten other things. It’s a bit like the tag that warns you not to use your electric toaster in the shower, and is delivered in an animated computer voice, with the emotion never quite right. This robot-voice might be bearable if they went through the inane list only once, but the computer automatically adds the warnings to each specific alert about each storm cell, and when there is a whole line of storms with many separate alerts the redundancy becomes ridiculous.

If I want actual information beyond what I can see with my own eyes I turn to my wife, who is good at multitasking, and even while chatting with me can text on her cellphone with numerous others. I am not as good at multitasking, and can only attend to stretching out my legs and my beer.

It was downright cozy, just sitting on the porch watching the western skies darken and flash, and hearing the first soft purring of distant thunder, when suddenly both my wife’s cellphone and my cellphone let out a piercing whistle, and the screen yelled, “Tornado Warning”.

I sighed. A “warning” is different from a “watch”, for it means an actual tornado has been sighted, but it was obvious the tornado wasn’t nearby. However my wife was texting like crazy, dealing with other women who were also texting like crazy. I used my cellphone to check the radar, looking for what is called a “hook echo” that a tornado tends to be associated with. I took the screenshot I pasted at the start of this post, which shows a typical line of thunderstorms, with what might be “hooks” well to our north, and some big cells approaching but likely passing to our south. (I would not like to be in the shoes of the fellow who has to look at such maps and issue actual warnings.)

By this point my wife had already determined one daughter was in a house with no cellar, and a granddaughter was serving ice-cream from a tiny shed-like stand. She asked if they should run for cover. I shrugged, and said it didn’t look that bad, but that they should listen for sirens. Then I sauntered outside the screen porch to scan the sky.

Now, at this point I suppose you could scold me. One is not suppose to saunter, when a tornado warning has been issued. One is not suppose to go outside, but rather down to the cellar. In fact a nosy neighbor could, I suppose, have tattled on me, but that would have involved confessing they too were looking out their window, rather than rushing to their cellar.

The fact is, I am not very good at panicking. I have spent a good part of my life “in harms way”, in one way or another. Panic has never seemed as wise as “assessing the risk”. Only occasionally have such assessments resulted in the appropriate response being, “Run like hell”.

The approaching flashes of lightning to the west were numerous, but I’ve seen worse. Most meaningful to me was the thunder. It was all the soft, sky-to-sky sort. There wasn’t a single thumping, ground-shaking, sky-to-ground bolt, even off in the distance. To me this is an indication of storms past their prime, and of storm cells with little updraft and on their way to becoming merely downdrafts of thunderless rain. I told my wife I wasn’t all that impressed, and she immediately texted my opinion far and wide. She also was getting other opinions from other old coots from far and wide. The worst we heard of was some hail. There wasn’t even much talk of winds. We saw no need to hurry to the cellar, and settled back onto our cozy porch.

It took about ten minutes for the storm to pass. There was heavy rain, a brief smattering of hail, some vivid lightning more than a mile overhead (counting the time between flashes and rumbles) and surprisingly little wind. Usually a storm gives you at least one blast that makes the trees thrash their branches, and blows the rain in through the screens, but this storm was meek.

So it looks like we failed at storm-panic, the same way we’ve failed at virus-panic. But at least the storm watered my plants. The virus, on the other hand, seems a complete nothing-burger, in these parts.

LOCAL VIEW –Warm Blooded Plants–

In southern New Hampshire, on the border with Massachusetts, it snowed fitfully all day today (Saturday, May 9), with the wind blasting from the north. Temperatures were hard pressed to top forty. (4.4° Celsius). The sun, as high as it is in August, kept blazing out between hurtling clouds, and the snow never really stuck, though all the tree branches were white, first thing in the morning.

One does not think of plants as being “warm blooded”, but they do put out heat. Perhaps the best example is skunk cabbage, which can melt its way up through ice in March the way a dandelion pushes up through asphalt. Though other plants do not put out as much heat, I don’t imagine early-budding northern trees have so much sugar in their sap without reason. (Sweetest is sugar maple, but swamp maple also can be tapped, and I’ve heard of people experimentally tapping birches and cherries and managing to boil down a syrup, although it apparently isn’t as tasty as maple. Oak, on the other hand, is not so sweet, but waits a fortnight longer than maples, before budding.) (The old-timers advised, “Don’t plant your corn until the oak leaves are as big as a squirrel’s ear”).

Once it’s May, it is likely the trees “know” they can’t delay any longer, and in a sense they wage war on cold winds. Despite our miserable Saturday the maples slowly unfurled leaves and the lilacs cautiously expanded the buds for their blooms. The world grew greener despite the bitter winds.

Tonight the war will be fierce. Temperatures are forecast to dip below freezing, in which case a lot of tender shoots and leaves will be blackened. But the plants will battle to make the computer models wrong. I would not at all be surprised to see temperatures touch freezing, but not dip below.

People, on the other hand, are not as tough as plants. The sodden day and bitter gales seemed to make people even more crabby than all the nonsense about the corona virus had them, to begin with.

Fortunately, in the afternoon, the weather became so absurd people’s sense of humor started to kick in. This stuff called “graupel” started to fall. It is a sort of soft hail which occurs when super-cooled water forms rime around a snowflake. In actual fact it is like being bombarded by pompoms out of a Dr. Seuss book. It was so ridiculous that it was hard to remain grouchy.

In any case, I didn’t get my garden planted, but the good thing is no one wanted to argue with me that Global Warming is happening. (Also I wrote a good grumpy sonnet.)

*******

Well, now it is Sunday morning, and it appears the plants won. Despite all the freeze warnings, all the way to the coast, it seems temperatures stayed just above freezing even in the cold light of dawn.

This is not to say that there wasn’t a touch of frost down in hollows tucked out of the wind, but if you examine the plants there you will notice they are the sort that can take frost. Many (such as brambles) even undergo a fascinating process where leaves turn purple and only become green when the weather warms. Up higher the plants won the war.

Some may debate there was no freeze because the wind never died. I can attest to that, for some of that wind blew under my bathrobe when I went out to examine the leaves before dawn.


There was no sign of white frost or a blast’s blackening. Therefore I assert the tree tops had an effect. After all, though the winds had origins far to the north where there is still snow, the wind had to pass through miles of tree tops, all burning sugar to unfurl leaves.

This got me wondering if it can be said that trees “know.” Obviously they lack brains, but they do respond to diverse situations and are alive. Besides being effected by their environment they effect their environment, which is why we go sit under one on a hot summer’s day. Besides being beaten down they to some degree fight back.

It seems to me that this battling is largely unconscious, but still it seems a form of consciousness. This explains something. It explains why a silly old man is out talking to trees in his bathrobe at the crack of dawn.

Another thought occurred to me, before another breeze under my bathrobe sent me hurrying back inside. It was this: Though trees may be largely unconscious, they were created by a Creator who is omniscient. Therefore there is something all-knowing about mere vegetables.

That seems a good thought for a Sunday, and also a handy thought to have on hand, next time some rude person says you have the brains of a cabbage. They actually are saying you are all-knowing, infinitely knowing, the knower of the past, present and future, and are knowledge itself (albeit unconsciously.)

LOCAL VIEW –May Snow Sonnet–

This spring’s a florist’s refrigerator.
The daffodils have stayed fresh for three weeks.
Though sunsets stain skies later and later
Snow still falls far below ivory peaks.
Snow on May ninth! You’ve got to be joking!
I seek my gloves, put on my sweater,
Don’t garden; instead keep my chimney smoking
And tire of saying things will get better.
Where is that sunbeam that nudges my cheek?
That one kindly day before black flies swarm?
I’m feeling like Job. My faith’s getting weak.
My heart’s growing cold. It never is warm.
I’m merely a mortal. I fail the test
And confess a weakling’s need to be blessed.

LOCAL VIEW –Corona Virus; Remember What The Door-mouse Said–

“Keep your head.”

I have noticed a fair amount of people, both on the left and on the right, are losing their minds in the comment-sections of various posts at various sites. I’ll skip repeating their views, except to say they tend to be one-sided. I’d like to counter this tendency by, in my simple way, reminding people that unity is not one-sided. The strength of being united, whether it be in a marriage, or in a two-party-system, comes from Understanding (with a capital “U”) which neither side can have alone. A cyclops has no depth perception. However two eyes, with differing views, gain a third thing neither eye has alone, when they harmonize. This Depth Perception (with a capital “D” and “P”) is lost if and when we panic and retreat into selfishness, which is seen when people hoard, price-gouge, shun, hate, etc., etc., etc.

Not that we shouldn’t have the common sense to make sure we stock up on certain items, but there is a difference between “stocking up” and “hoarding”.

I heard of one person who bought two huge 60-roll packages of toilet paper, when they used about one roll a week. However their greed attracted greed, and someone shattered the back window of their SUV and stole their two-year’s-worth of tissue. To me this is a perfect example of how greed wastes our time and energy and rear windows, whereas generosity takes one down a totally different path.

We are seeing some hoarding here in New Hampshire. Toilet paper can’t be found. But I’m not worried. Brillo pads work.

All our local schools are closed down for at least three weeks. Why couldn’t this have happened back when I was in grade school? I would have been on cloud nine! But now I’m a bitterly disappointed old man, because my grandson’s basketball team had fought its way to the finals for the State Championship, and then the big game was canceled.

The sad shape of my ex-smoker lungs makes me a prime candidate for extinction, but I refuse to be cowed. Any ‘flu could kill me, and while I take more care to dress warmly than I once did, and eat more wisely and drink less, I think one of the worst things for a man’s immune system is to live in dread, while one of the most stimulative things is hope, faith, and bounding about being positive, (or at least huffing and puffing about being positive.)

We couldn’t really close down our Childcare, as the doctors and nurses are going to need someone to watch their kids. If they are going to accept risk for the rest of us, someone should accept risk for them. I don’t want to run away from germy children the way people ran away from my family, when we all had polio during the final outbreak before the vaccine in 1954, so I am pretending to be a Christian Scientist like an old, French nanny who came striding into my overwhelmed Grandmother’s kitchen and saved the day when I was two. I can barely remember her, other than that she looked like the guy on Quaker Oats packages, but apparently she remained nearly a year, and I spoke French before I spoke English. My father was a surgeon and my mother was a nurse, and as a medical family we tended to look down our noses at Christian Scientists, but we made an exception in her case. What a difference she made!

Kindness has consequences we may not live to see. For example my father might not have even been conceived, were it not for a kindness. Two years before my Dad was born my Grandfather was apparently very ill with the Spanish Flu’ in occupied Germany in 1918, but his commanding officer refused to send him to the crowded hospital (where soldiers died in droves) and instead stuck him upstairs in the building they had seized as a headquarters, so his bed looked out the broken window of an airy room in a castle, and in the fresh air he survived. One thing they learned in 1918 was the people forced to sleep out in the elements in tents, rather than in the wards, had a far higher survival rate.

https://medium.com/@ra.hobday/coronavirus-and-the-sun-a-lesson-from-the-1918-influenza-pandemic-509151dc8065

In any case my wife and I have made our Childcare into an all-outside-all-the-time operation, with no indoor activities. I get a big fires going in the pasture, and erected a tent for napping outside, which heavy, wet snow promptly collapsed. Judging from frantic parents we were expecting 25 kids our first day, (and had to get a waiver from the state, allowing us to go over our limit of 17,) but then only 5 kids actually showed up that day. I expect we’ll just have to fly by the seat of our pants until things settle down.

I read an interesting things about how viruses mutate. They tend to become kinder and gentler, because the most vicious mutations kill their hosts too fast to spread much. The “Spanish ‘Flu” apparently passed through the USA, without much ado, but once aboard crowded troop-ships and in crowded camps and trenches the more vicious mutations got going. The new strains were nasty in Europe, but not so bad as they passed back through the USA, as many had already experienced a weaker version of the same virus, which acted like a sort of vaccine. But when the same virus reached Polynesia more than half the population succumbed, on some islands. In any case, I’m hoping the virus mutates in a kinder and gentler way before I get it.

Also I hope they may have chanced on a sort of cure. In Asia they’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this ‘flu, (as well as prior ‘flues), in essence trying out a thousand drugs, and seeing 999 didn’t help much, but have bungled upon a malaria drug, a sort of quinine, that holds great promise.


https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/03/17/an-effective-treatment-for-coronavirus-covid-19-has-been-found-in-a-common-anti-malarial-drug/

So we shall see what we shall see. If my time is up, well, so be it. I just hope I show the class I saw my Mother and Father display when considering atomic war, back when I was around three. (People forget there were not all that many A-bombs back then, and some thought destruction might not be “mutual”, and we several times teetered on the brink of a war which would have been horrific.) (Because this memory dates from the Suez Crisis of 1956 when I was only three I was dubious to its authenticity, so I checked with my mother about what I recalled, back around 1980, and she stated my memory was surprisingly accurate,)

They went down in vast cellar of our three story suburban, Victorian house with an MIT student who was living with us and helping with chores my Dad couldn’t do, (because he’d had polio). Each was sipping an Old Fashioned, and Dad and the student were discussing engineering a fallout shelter, talking about how bricks stop radiation, as my mother calculated the spacing for beds and the oxygen needed for a kitchen. My Dad abruptly became impatient, deciding the shelter was a dumb idea, scowling in irritation at the ceiling and envisioning three stories of burning wood collapsing downwards. (I thought a bomb shelter was a great idea for a fort, and likely got a scowl for chirping my opinion.) But what I recall most was that it was decided the engineering student would head for Canada with us four kids (which sounded like great fun) as Mom and Dad stayed in Boston to “treat the burned.” I’ve always thought that was a classy choice, arrived at during those trying times.

Trying times have returned. Currently the doctors and nurses of the world are all being tested, and most are being classy. I pray they get the appreciation and help they deserve.

If you are in the mood to read the poetry of an unknown ancient poet, involving facing “pestilence”, among other things, read Psalm 91. (It’s where the “In God We Trust” on the money of the United States came from.)

All gatherings are cancelled here, including church. But the preacher I currently enjoy, (a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, now working in my mother’s childhood neighborhood,) preaches online, and his very vocal congregation types in their “Amen’s” (and other comments) from keyboards rather than pews. His first out-of-auditorium sermon was a decent look at Psalm 91, and on having hope in an epidemic. (Skip first 6 minutes to skip music, and skip first 29.30 to get to Psalm 91).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Y4gJ0UPtp8&feature=youtu.be

I hope everyone stays well, and we all are looking back and laughing about all this in July.

“Keep Your Head”.

PUNKY WOOD –Part 3– –Being Derailed–

Considering the economy of Maine was ordinarily depressed every year, once the warm weather and tourists departed, and considering the national economy was suffering “stagflation” as it struggled to recover from the Arab Oil Embargo, and considering unemployment was near 10%, you might think that as soon as I heard there might be work at a sail loft in Portland I would have rushed to be there as soon as it opened the next Monday morning. But considering my tendency to procrastinate, it was somewhat amazing I made it by Thursday.

It may not be fair, but I did the psychologically-correct thing and blamed my mother. She had an amazing ability to derail my initiative. Rather than encourage me she always seemed to see problems in my plans. Part of that problem was that I often couldn’t be bothered with plans. I preferred spontaneity. I felt I was a man who could fly by the seat of his pants, but my mother tended to feel I couldn’t do that unless I first remembered to put my pants on.

It really won’t do, to go into too many details; after forty-five years there are things which lose their urgency; they pass beyond staleness and enter the realm of absurdity. Back-breaking straws are seen as what they actually were: Straws. Let it suffice to say that though we loved one another we weren’t always constructive. Her advice was unwanted, and I was not good at accepting advice.

For a woman over fifty she was remarkably well preserved, smooth skinned and slender, partly due to ointments, creams, lotions and potions that littered her bedroom bureau, and partly due to her insistence upon serenity. A serene face stays smooth. As a trained nurse she could remain calm midst blood and gore. Therefore it was something of a wonder to me that I could age her ten years in a flash, simply with the bad spelling within a poem. And my plans had the same effect.

One way she achieved serenity was to be extremely well prepared. She had grown up during the want of the Great Depression and had experienced the rationing of World War Two, and was careful to keep shelves well stocked, not merely in terms of food, but in terms of hand-lotions and lipstick and soap and detergent and floor wax and vacuum bags and nails and bolts and screws and bandages and medicines and toothbrushes and scissors and paper and pens and brake fluid and spark plugs. If World War Three had broken out, our home would have been the place to loot, (perhaps to prepare for such a contingency, she did have a gun permit, though I never saw an actual pistol.) She had savings and stocks and also other investments which wouldn’t crash if the stock market crashed, and she paid premiums on ordinary insurance as well as some insurances for odd misfortunes which it never occurred to most people to insure, (for example, for obscure diseases, or for earthquakes in New England). She avoided all debt; she and my father had bought their first home with cash, and she’d never had a mortgage.

One preparation she did not make was for nuclear war; I remember she and my father discussing building a fallout shelter, while walking around in our cellar when I was small, but I think they deemed the likelihood of survival too small to be worth the investment; their noble plan was to send us children far off into the hinterlands, if possible, and then to die in Boston treating the burned.

The only other thing I can think of, that she didn’t prepare for, was the waywardness of sons. There was no telling what we might do. Sometimes we might take off just to escape being prepared, because at times her preparedness felt as stifling as an OSHA horse.

https://tackandtalk.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/horse-safety1.jpg

Despite the suffocating aspect of being overly prepared, I really liked my mother’s serenity. There was something comforting about being in her presence; you just needed to approach her with care. Sometimes I had the delicacy to say absolutely nothing. I’d walk into a room where she was smoking and reading, meaning to ask her if she’d seen where I left my shoes, and decide not to bother her. Instead I’d pick up a magazine and light a cigarette of my own, and just sit, enjoying the comfort. Eventually she might murmur, “Yes, dear?” But what was really odd was occasions where I had forgotten what I came in to ask, and had become totally engrossed in the magazine, and she murmured, “By the pedals of the piano”. I was absolutely certain I hadn’t said a word to prompt such a response, but when I went and looked, that would be where my lost shoes would be. The woman was mildly psychic, yet was completely unaware of it.

Having now raised five kids myself, I’m more aware of the complete shambles the young can make of the most carefully constructed plans. I had less pity for parents when young, and called my mother “too withdrawn”. But I likely can’t imagine what it was like for an only child (like my mother was) to be confronted with the utter ruination of a parent’s idealism which six children are capable of achieving. However I do now know there are times an exhausted parent simply needs to zone out, to become comfortably numb. It need not involve alcohol or drugs; a good novel or prayer will suffice. In any case, it is unwise to press a parent at such times.

My Dad used to joke that, when my mother was smoking and reading, she would respond “Yes, dear,” to whatever we children asked or announced. If we said, “Mom! The back yard is on fire!” she would dreamily murmur, “Yes, dear.” He also would joke we had a “statute of limitations” and should not confess to fiascos which occurred while camping, or to having capsized our sailboat, until at least a year had passed, because, rather than enjoying hearing of an adventure, the tale would “disturb the peace.” However in the end he himself “disturbed the peace” too much, and was shown the door.

All six of us kids had tested her limits, and were all well aware we could push the serene woman too far. Her dreamy eyes were capable of blazing. It did not happen often, but partly that was because once you witnessed such eyes, you did not wish to ever see them again. As a result there were certain subjects we were extremely careful about, if we brought them up at all.

This resulted in a wrench in the works of communication. We kids were not blatantly dishonest, but there is something which, if not dishonest, is distrusting, about doing things behind a mother’s back.

One technique we utilized was the fait accomli. One brother came strolling in to dinner at age sixteen and mentioned, “Oh, by the way, I’ll be living in Germany this summer as an exchange student; a German kid will be coming here.” Such announcements can be disconcerting, if you are a parent who is big on careful planning.

Another technique was borrowing-without-asking. This caused no problems if the borrowed item was stealthily replaced in good condition, but my mother was not pleased if we forgot to put things back, or used her silver forks for can-openers and put them back looking like they were having a bad hair day. And there are some things you simply should not borrow-without-asking, such as a car or a rich neighbor’s yacht.

But now I was twenty-one, and figured I’d left all the goofs of youth in my past. I was grimly determined to make no further mistakes. I’d studied my dreams and motives with five different psychologies, and had decided that the best psychologists were poets, and Shakespeare was the king. I’d dabbled a bit with reading scattered scriptures, and then abruptly surprised many by dropping Atheism and by stating I was convinced there was such a thing as a Loving God, and that, even if I couldn’t solve every problem, I had a Friend who could. I not only felt I had a clear vision of my own gifts and weaknesses, but also thought I had everyone else weighed and measured, and that included my mother. Therefore it was surprising to me that, despite my supposedly advanced maturity, my mother could still completely derail me.

She might say something innocuous, such as that I’d be wise to get my hair trimmed before applying for the job at the sail loft, and it would feel like a insurmountable stumbling-block, because I had no money for a haircut. I’d then have to have a “session”, (with my self as my psychologist), sifting through all my rude and inappropriate responses for the appropriate one. This could take a long time, if I allowed it to, for I liked looking into the past at childhood memories (and quite obviously do to this day, and am doing it now.) The study of faded traumas, and the cause-and-effects of karma, is much more interesting than getting a job (to me). Also a change-in-life such as getting a job could result in odd dreams, and those dreams, if analyzed, were a gateway to the landscape of poetry, which was (and is) a beautiful place and felt more like home than some grim brick warehouse down towards the waterfront in Portland. However I was also self-aware, when it came to understanding the excuses I could invent to justify procrastination, so I’d be my own drill sergeant and tell myself to get off my butt and quit worrying about my hair. I’d just borrow my mother’s scissors from her hair-cutting supplies, and trim my own hair, and also write a reminder to comb it carefully when I applied for work, tomorrow. Tomorrow. Always tomorrow.

I could have used a bit of coddling, I suppose, but I had become aware of my need for encouragement and was sick of it. I felt I should be able to do the right thing whether people appreciated it or not. Maybe a little child needed reassurance and support, but I was an adult, and had quit promiscuous sex and drugs even though my hippy friends booed rather than cheered. As I looked in the mirror and trimmed my hair my face adopted an expression that was rough, and tough, and sneered.

Another wrench in the works involved the simple fact my shack down by the water had become too cold to live in. Keeping the pot-bellied stove going involved scrounging for driftwood along the shore, and I’d have no time for that, if I was working from dawn to dusk. Therefore I’d have to move up the hill to my parent’s basement, for at least the time it took me to get my first paycheck and could afford firewood.The prospect of informing my mother of this move made me nervous, as it would derange her order, but I was a rough, tough man, so I took a deep breath and tried to be bold without sneering. After all, in the poetry of Aaron Hill, way back in 1750, it stated:

Tender hearted stroke the nettle
And it stings you for your pains.
Grasp it like a man of mettle
And it soft as silk remains.

It often turns out actions aren’t as terrible as one envisions beforehand. I had only gotten as far as venturing, “It’s…um…getting sort of cold down in the shack…um…and…um….I was wondering…um…” when my mother surprised me by swiftly responding, “Oh, good.” Then she continued, “I was hoping to get you to move up to the little cottage and keep its pipes from freezing, at least until I can convince your Grammy to move up from Massachusetts.”

The “little cottage” was one of two cottages crammed onto the hillside between the Main House and the dock. A dark haired waitress named Allison had rented it during the summer, but when the restaurant where she worked closed for the winter she’d been unable to come up with the money to pay the rent, and recently moved to a friend’s. I became busy packing up my papers, typewriter and clothes and moving them up the steep stairs to the cottage, rather than applying for work at the sail loft. In the process I found a couple of rumpled dollars and lots of loose change and, with $6.35 to my name, didn’t feel so broke any more.

Ordinarily it would take me a long time to pack papers. I seemed compelled to linger over each page, thinking and sorting. Also I had a reluctance to put away things undone, and one poem required a rhyme for “orange.” This would then involve taking my Mom’s two dogs for long walks by the water, looking thoughtfully at the sky. (Over forty years later I explained this dilemma to my youngest son, and it took him four seconds to respond, “door hinge.”) (However I’m still looking for a rhyme for “silver”.) Fortunately it was so very cold in the shack I was able to pack papers far more speedily than usual.

I had the good sense to avoid unpacking my papers. I knew that could take as long as packing them could. Instead I took my dirty clothes up to my parent’s washing machine, because I figured I wouldn’t have time for laundry once I was working. Then I headed back down to the small cottage and took out a notebook and planned out schedules and budgets I might adopt, if I got the job at the sail loft. It was at this point I heard a metallic clashing behind the cottage, and went out into the early evening to investigate.

It was Mort. Mort was one of the Tradesman who Tubs and Slim had gotten my mother in touch with, as she shouldered the task of renovating the property, and adding improvements.

Mort rebuilt brick chimneys, and was the perfect fellow to find, for initially every chimney on the property had seen better days, and the chimney for the little cottage was crooked and crumbling and looked like it might totter and fall in the next good gale. Mort had set to work the spring before, up at the main house, which had a three story chimney connected to two fire places and was a major job, and then worked his way down the hill, and now every chimney on the property looked new; to me they almost looked too good, too perfectly orange and straight and flat and neatly mortared and perfectly square; I figured a chimney ought to have a certain roughness or it lacked character, (though of course I kept my opinions to myself).

The little cottage’s chimney had been the last one he’d worked on, and there was some minor detail he’d been unable to get to before the arctic blasts hit, and he occasionally showed up during thaws trying to complete the task, which required temperatures above freezing. (Also I suspected he liked chatting with Allison, though she was a third his age.) Now at long last he was done, and was taking his aluminum ladder and two big tool boxes home.

I liked Mort, for he was the only tradesmen who didn’t automatically look at me askance, assuming I was a long-haired hippy and therefore hopelessly effete. Mort seemed strangely blind, in that regard, and always seemed glad to see me, and to chat about a vast repertoire of inconsequential topics. He spoke with a rich, coastal Maine accent, clipped rather than a drawl, and he also had the ability to make nearly any subject interesting. He appeared to be around sixty, was wiry and hale but also a bit arthritic, and usually had a young go-for with him to do the heavy work, such as lugging bricks. They never lasted long, as such lugging is hard work, but he would laugh he never blamed them for quitting, ” ‘Cause I can’t affawd t’pay ’em maw than peanuts.”

One helper, Sammy, apparently would return as soon as he had spent his paycheck, and Mort would chuckle about how mad Sammy would be to find he had been replaced, and how he’d tell Sammy to be patient, for the new help wouldn’t last. Sammy wasn’t to be seen, on this occasion, and other help had apparently all gone back to school, and Mort was regarding his ladder and two toolboxes with a sad, wry humor. Without even thinking, (because I had found religion and believed in random acts of kindness,) I offered to help lug stuff up the hill, saying I had to go up the hill to get my laundry in any case. Mort grinned broadly. For an effete hippy I was very strong, and could hoist the ladder to one shoulder and lift one heavy tool box with my other hand.

As we started up the steep hill Mort wryly and somewhat sheepishly explained in his clipped speech, (wonderfully turning some dropped “R’s” into entire syllables), “I da-yah not puttah my old truck down he-yah, fuh fe-yah, that with the drive icy, I’d be stuck down he-yah ’til May.” Then he glanced sharply up the hill, where another tradesman was shifting the topmost, flat field-stones of an enormous retaining wall. Mort called out, “Good aftahnoon, Mistah Cappatelli. ‘Bout finished?”

“Yep. Fool’s Folly’s ‘ficially finished. And by Gawd, I’m glad!”

“Fool’s Folly” was my stepfather’s name for a rose garden he had promised my mother. Because it was built on the steepest slope of the hill, the field-stone wall had to rise nearly twenty feet to extend a flat garden out thirty feet. The wall Mr. Cappatelli built was the biggest wall he’d ever built in his life, and perhaps taxed his engineering skills. His first effort had come crashing down when nearly completed. Undeterred, he rebuilt a better footing and the wall arose a second time, but it was the talk of the town, (or at least of the post office, where I learned details after I returned from India). It then was back-filled with subsoil, then topped with peat moss, and finally Grubby Douglas, the neighborhood gardener, came and planted a collection of roses in rotted horse manure and covered them with white, Styrofoam cones, to await the spring. Great things were expected, though I thought the white cones made the garden look silly.

Although the job was complete and Mr. Cappatelli had been paid, he seemed to like to come by during the off-time of winter and tweak the positioning of the flat, topmost stones, and also to anxiously regard the doings of frost heaves down by the footing, and perhaps to quietly gloat over his accomplishment, (and lastly, I suspected, to be invited in for a drink).

He was a very strong man, pushing forty, with curly black hair and a flashing white smile. He was not as tall as me but very muscular, with massive arms twice as thick as mine. What was most intimidating about him was his habit of looking you squarely in the in the eye with his big arms folded. No one called him “Raphael”. Even when he smiled I tended to look away.

I looked away as the burly man folded his arms and flashed a grin, stating, “Well Mort, looks like you got better help than those puny runts you usually hire.”

“Aye-yup, but ’tain’t hired. This’s boss’s son.”

“Really!” That was all Mr. Cappetelli said, as he scrutinized me from head to toe. Then he turned to Mort, “The boss has invited us in for a snort of hooch. Will you be joining us?”

“I may drop in t’ chat, but my daughtah’s comin’ by with grandkids, so I think I’ll steeah cleah of booze.” After a pause he added, “And boss tends to twist the wrist ‘n’ tip the lip far ‘n’ long.”

“Oh, he’s liberal all right” agreed Mr. Cappetelli as we passed. Both men seemed to find my stepfather’s trait a virtue.

I lifted the heavy toolboxes into the back of Mort’s battered pickup and hoisted the aluminum ladder to an odd roof-rack made of wood, thinking the ladder looked too modern for the truck. Mort was petting our two black dogs, opining about whether the winter would remain mild, (though it didn’t seem mild to me), and I talked about the jet-stream. Weather was one thing I could talk knowledgeably about. After Mort expertly roped the ladder to the roof we headed in, “to pay owah respects”, as Mort put it.

I had to pass through the kitchen and dining-room to the stair down to the laundry in the basement. I did so slowly, taking in the warm atmosphere. Mr. Cappetelli had already made it in, through the back entrance, and my stepfather was already making him an Old Fashioned. Slim and Tubs were also there with two women I didn’t know but assumed were their wives, along with Grubby Douglas and an elderly woman I recognized as the postmistress. Everyone seemed to be talking at once and laughing a lot. My stepfather gestured towards Mort silently with a big half-gallon of Old Crow, pointing at a glass invitingly, and Mort shook his head and laughed, “Thanks but no thanks. If I had one I’d need six, and my grandkids are comin’ by for dinnah.” I slowed slightly, thinking my stepfather might invite, but just then my mother loudly informed me, “Your psychologist called. I gave him the phone number for the little cottage.”

To me it seemed the room became instantaneously quieter and that everyone regarded me curiously, except for Slim, who took a step back and bit a knuckle. I lost all interest in staying, nodded to my mother with a smile, and continued on to the laundry. I imagine my face became quite different the moment I was out of eyeshot.

I was fuming. Why did she have to use the words “your psychologist?” Any other time she’d say “Audley Bine called”. Was she trying to make me look like some sort of dorkus? Irritated, I seethed with absurd rage when my clothes weren’t in the washing machine. Rather than being thankful that my mother had put them in the drier I was angry that they had cooled before they were folded. Was she trying to make me look all wrinkly when I applied for work? I turned the drier back on with a self righteous twist of the dial, folded my arms, and sneered down long avenues of idiocy as I waited.

It wasn’t until I shouldered through the door of the little cottage with my arms full of laundry that I came to my better senses, because my eyes fell on a motto under a picture the size of a credit card, taped to the fridge.

I had taped the picture onto the fridge as one of the first things I did upon entering the house, though it was a picture I took a fair amount of grief for. One friend told me he thought Meher Baba looked like he could make a good pizza. Another asked me what city he was mayor of. Yet I taped the picture up because I was rough and tough and didn’t need the encouragement of my peers. Also I found it hard to be crabby looking at it. On this occasion, however, it made my shoulders sag slightly.

I walked through the tiny kitchen into a surprisingly large living room, which held a bureau that smelled vaguely of Allison because the bedroom, which also smelled of Allison, was so tiny it belonged in a train. The living-room also held a small wardrobe because the bedroom was too small for a true closet, though it had a flat cabinet you might hang a shirt sideways in. As I hung my four shirts in the wardrobe, which smelled vaguely of seaweed, I muttered to myself, “I can’t believe I let Mom do it to me again”. Then I smirked and mimicked her voice in fallsetto, ” ‘My psychologist’. ‘My psychologist’ Why’d she say that? Audley hasn’t been my psychologist for a year, but with the postmistress there the whole frickin’ town will gab. But…but…but what the hell do I care what anyone thinks?”

Of course it was right then the telephone rang, and of course it was Audley Bine. Instead of “Hello” he said, “Why the hell didn’t you call me!”

“Call you? Was I suppose to call you?”

“That was the message I gave your mother.”

“You did? All she told me was that she’d given you my number.”

There was a long pause, and then he said, “Oh.”

Audley was becoming a bit of a pain. I spent more and more time listening to his problems and complaints, as he grew more and more impatient with mine. If anyone paid anyone for being a psychologist, he should have been paying me; I’d long since stopped paying him, and therein lay a problem.

I had worked for Audley, and it seemed to me that, although perhaps a trainee should pay for the training he receives, that should stop when the trainee is trained; then he should be paid for the work he does. Audley’s problem seemed to be that he wanted to keep being paid, and didn’t like to pay, though he could become quite angry when I told him so. I had become like an apprentice who has become a skilled journeyman, and wants to set up a shop on his own.

Not that I wanted to do what Audley did. He was a idealist who was forever collecting groups of followers and attempting to create a perfect society, but they all tended to be communes that crashed and burned. Being associated with him was a sort of roller coaster ride which I initially found inspiring, (when I believed the communes might succeed), and still found fascinating, (though I suspected his latest commune was failing).

Audley and I had a swift and somewhat brusque conversation. I learned the commune was in crisis, which didn’t surprise me, for that tends to be what you get when you form a commune of people in need of psychological help. Audley wanted to “seize the bull by the horns” and demanded I come down for a “group session”. He could be a bit of a bully when in his go-getter mood, and refused to take “no” for an answer. My problem was that I couldn’t lie. When I told him I was broke and couldn’t afford gas, he asked if I was really broke, I confessed I had $6.35 to my name. Audley did some quick calculating. Gas was 56 cents a gallon in 1975, and my tiny Toyota got 31 miles a gallon. I could drive to Newton and back to Maine for four bucks. What was I so worried about? I needed to get away from my mother’s worrying, because…

I cut him short, because I was in no mood to be psychologically dissected like some sort of frog. We shifted to the topic of whether I should be looking for work rather than saving a sinking commune, and Audley pointed out tomorrow was Sunday and Sunday was not a good day to find work, so I might as well go for a drive. Next I protested I could do no good, and at this point Audley shifted to wheedling. I couldn’t stand that. I didn’t want to hear how I was a “moderating influence” when I didn’t feel moderate, but in the end I caved,

The surprise-ending for this chapter is that I don’t end it by applying for work in a sail loft, but heading south towards the suburbs of Boston. When it came to procrastination, I was a master.

Actually I’ll begin the next chapter roaring south after dark on the Maine Turnpike in a tiny, tinny Toyota that screamed like a deranged sewing machine at seventy mph, for a night highway is a good place to contemplate the phenomenon of Audley Bine. I’ll conclude this chapter with me dashing into my mother’s kitchen and making myself an instant coffee at the boiling-water tap at her kitchen sink, for the drive down.

The party was still going on, but I figured I should tell my mother my plans. “Heading down to Boston. Lights are off, and heat’s down to fifty-five, in the little cottage. Be back tomorrow.” I tried to dart out the door and not see I had aged her ten years.

PUNKY WOOD –Part 2–An Old Friend–

Over the years I have held well over a hundred jobs, and gradually came to very much enjoy job interviews, as the prospect of rejection grew less intimidating.

I think I first stopped being terribly intimidated in New Mexico at age thirty-three, when I was required to show proof at the unemployment office that I had applied for work in at least three places every week, in order to obtain tiny unemployment benefits of $32.00/week.  (The benefits were hardly worth the effort, but I continued to bother spending a day each week walking around fulfilling the requirements, primarily because I knew my getting benefits irritated my mean, crooked former-boss.) It was benign summertime, and the rest of the week I was busily writing in a campground where the rent was $25.00/week; I had absolutely no desire for the interruptions caused by the nuisance of employment. To make certain I wouldn’t accidentally get a job, I applied for work at the oddest places, and adopted an attitude of curiosity where it didn’t matter that it became immediately obvious I wasn’t qualified for the job; I asked questions because I was interested in learning about a job I couldn’t do. I became more like a reporter than an applicant, and for some reason most (but not all) interviewers liked the tables being turned, and being the one interviewed, and we’d sit for half an hour “chewing the fat” over coffee.  They seemed surprised a shabby drifter was so articulate, (and I liked the free coffee.)

But when I was young and terribly shy it was a completely different matter. Looking for work was a humiliation and a hell.

It wasn’t so bad when I ran my own little landscaping business in the wealthy suburb I grew up in. I walked up and down streets putting a file-card-sized advertisement in mail boxes, with big lettering that inquired, “Spring Cleaning? Need Muscle?” and then had details and a phone number in small lettering. Then I sat back to wait for others to call me. Rather than like asking others to dance it was more like the phone rang and others asked me to dance. (In my list of jobs-I’ve-had I don’t know whether to count this business as being one job, or twenty-five; rich and interesting people asked me to help with all sorts of interesting tasks, but that is a tale for another time.)

It was quite a different thing when I looked through a newspaper’s classified ads for the help-wanted ads, and had to go fill out an application. Then it was like asking a girl for a dance, and I was never very bold in that respect. In some ways it could be worse, like asking a girl to dance when you didn’t know how to dance, and she’d be required to teach you.

(As an aside, during my first date with my wife we attended a Cajun barbecue with Cajun music, and were both surprised to see people begin dancing in a way I supposed was Cajun. I said I didn’t know how to dance, and she said she didn’t know how to dance, and then we decided to invent our own dance and danced joyously for ninety minutes straight. I knew then I had found someone special. However I was thirty-seven when that happened.)

At age twenty-one I was gruesomely uncomfortable when it came to job interviews and “selling myself” in any way, shape or form. “Tooting your own horn” seemed somehow immodest, even rude. But in January, 1975, I was flat broke, which is a state good at pushing a man past his self-imposed limits.

My mother knew something was up when she came downstairs and found me plunked at her dining-room table, sneering distastefully at the small local paper, which was opened to the help-wanted section. She was, as she put it, “all gussied up”, which meant she was dressed up in tweed to go to some sort of cocktail party; fragrant with subtle perfume; tall; her short, dark hair perfectly styled with gray wings at her temples, and wearing dangling tear-shaped earrings of green jade.  She radiated an aura of pleased serenity, but the moment she summed up my situation her serenity became creased by concern. The fact I apparently needed a job suggested there was a problem, and she did not like her children to have problems, especially when she was about to go out to a party.

She veered  carefully away from the topic of my prospects, and instead inquired if I would sprinkle some salt on the icy front walk before my stepfather came home. I was glad to escape the dismal want-ads, so I got up to do it, aware he’d be home any minute.

It was just getting dark as he pulled up to the side of the street, even as I sprinkled the salt, which I decided made me look good, as he didn’t often see me working. He smiled at me as he gingerly got out of his Saab, an elderly man with only a fringe of grey hair left, but with his baldness hidden beneath a checked, deer-slayer hat like the one Sherlock Holmes wore. I thought the hat looked silly, but never told him so because he so obviously enjoyed wearing it.

My stepfather was 28 years older than my mother. His friends had told him that marrying her would either extend his life or kill him, and initially we kids did our best to kill him, and he actually did have a heart attack within the first six months of adopting six troubled children.

Immediately after the marriage I’d done my best to be polite, but when the old man accidentally offended me I began to refer to him as “the fossil” behind his back. I deemed him an old fool, and even a home-wrecker, for I preferred being a struggling family on the verge of having to move out of a wealthy suburb, to being mere used baggage bought by an old coot who wanted a trophy wife. But then things changed. Somewhat amazingly I began to feel like a trophy stepchild.

He had been a Harvard Law School Professor, and fit the mold: “You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much.” He would speak with long pauses, as if he was a very learnéd man and all the world breathlessly awaited his thoughtful opinions. He seemed quite blissfully unaware that the mannerisms he felt were charming were in fact dreadfully dull.

During our first dinners together as a family I attempted to bat my eyes politely as he took forever to say even the most inconsequential things, “I think…..I would like….some mustard.” My ten-year-old and eight-year-old younger brother and sister would have none of it, and would interject silly things into the old man’s pauses, completing his sentences for him: “I think….I would like….to tap dance?” Then they would dissolve into helpless laughter. My stepfather initially was infuriated by the affronts to his dignity, but his manner of punishing them was to rise in wrath and stalk silently away from the table, which made my younger siblings only laugh all the more helplessly, as my mother regarded them with horror. I hated dinnertime. But after six months, and especially after his heart attack, I began to notice something. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but the old man dropped the long pauses.

The late 1960’s was a tumultuous time, with disrespect of elders in fashion. My two elder brothers were away at college, and both dropped out to join a commune two thousand miles away. My older sister had a scandalous relationship with a married, older man and got thrown out of our house, which I thought a bit hypocritical of my mother, considering she too was living with an older man. At age fifteen I decided to tell my mother what she was doing wrong, and was rewarded with a slap across my face I likely deserved.

In retrospect my stepfather seems slightly mad to have walked into such a buzz-saw at retirement age. Having been a stepfather myself, I now have a better understanding of the problems stepfathers face, but at the time I had no mercy. I loved my father, felt my mother should have stood by her man, and saw my stepfather as an interloper.

My father had been a famous surgeon who had at least five major trauma’s simultaneously occur in his life, not the least of which was the fact the woman he’d had six children with didn’t love him any more, (and perhaps had never loved him),  which led him to begin raving and drinking too much. But the specific trauma that intellectually hit me hardest was the simple fact he couldn’t do what he once had done. He’d been an amazing surgeon, able to suture the ends of severed arteries back together with twenty tiny stitches and tie the knots with one hand. No other surgeon could do what he could do, enabling him to make what, in modern terms, was roughly a half million to a million dollars a year.  But then, (in the same manner that even Babe Ruth reached an age when no team wanted him), my father hit the wall at age forty-four.

This contributed greatly to my desire to become a writer. I wanted to find a vocation I’d never be too old to do.

My stepfather went through a similar crisis, which for obvious reasons I watched with interest, (if not compassion). When he hit age seventy Harvard College retired him. He was as mentally sharp as ever, but it was simply the college’s policy in 1970: When you hit seventy you were out the door; no discussion.

I was somewhat incredulous that he should be hurt or angry, and puzzled that he became as crabby as he became. In my eyes getting a job was more likely to make me crabby. He had a fine pension and plenty of money saved and could just kick back and laze as happily as a clam, but instead he was miserable. Was it possible a man could want to work?

Then something nice surprised him midst his bitterness. Three of his former students had formed a law office in Portland, Maine, and they came to him and very humbly inquired if he might be so good as to consider helping them out by becoming the law office’s senior advisor. I have never seen an old man stop being crabby so fast. He seemed to feel like a man granted a reprieve on the gallows, and accepted the job as a very great blessing, and seemed to never forget he was blessed, gently twinkling like morning stars in the afterglow of glory.

I think it was my older sister who first understood that the old man deserved appreciation, which was a bit surprising, as she’d become a fiery feminist. She made me walk on eggs, for fear I’d offend her. I didn’t think she’d put up with anyone over thirty. Yet when she visited she took to greeting the old man with demonstrative hugs. He most definitely was not a man prone to hugging, but he seemed to like hers, especially during the days when he was unemployed and crabby.

I myself didn’t hug the man. I’d tried it one time, the first breakfast after we became a new family. I came downstairs and gave him a hug as he sat at the table reading the paper, and he gruffly stated, “Don’t feel you have to do that ever again.” I recoiled, and it was only after four years, (when involved in some sort of “express your inner feelings” pop-psychology), that I confessed I’d been hurt, and he apologized, saying he only intended to free me from feeling I had to display any sort of artificial affection. At the time I took him at his word, and stayed away from him.

I didn’t approve of my younger sibling’s irreverence at the dinner table, and tried to frown at them, although they were so funny I sometimes couldn’t manage it. For my part I politely discussed weather and sports with my stepfather and then excused myself; I left the table as swiftly as I possibly could. I assumed he didn’t care for me. At age sixteen I ran away from home for a week as a sort of grandiose gesture, and was a bit taken aback that he never really noticed, because my mother never told him; he just assumed I was off visiting friends.

Only gradually did we become interested in each other. I think the first common ground we discovered involved a love of puns. Then, because my mother had a large dictionary on an ornate stand by the dining-room table, we shared an interest in the derivation of words. The closest I ever came to  being so bold as to argue with the man involved words. One time I ventured I didn’t approve of the word “niggardly”, and he protested the word had nothing to do with race, so we looked the word up. Usually he was correct and I was not, but, on the rare occasions I knew something he didn’t, he always behaved appreciative rather than offended. That surprised me.

Then, as I became a hippy and began hitchhiking around the country, he actually supported my adventures rather than attempting to prevent them. The police tended to investigate smooth-cheeked hitchhikers, to see if they were runaways, and I was able to show them a permission-slip from my stepfather that I carried in my wallet. (I don’t think it was the illegible handwriting that impressed the officers, as much as it was the fact the stationary read, “Harvard Law School”, at the top.)

Though I hitchhiked because I was restless, and the suburbs were sterile and bored the hell out of me, I always pretended I was doing it “for a school project” or “for an English paper.” This caused a bit of a problem when no such papers were forthcoming. However I did produce one paper, a “senior project”, which drew a strange response from the old man.

What I did was to overcome my shyness and interview every member of my senior class I could get to talk with me, during lunch in the cafeteria. I asked them to describe what cliques they had belonged to, going back as far as they could remember. Then I wrote a paper with the title “The Evolution Of Cliques In A Suburban High School”  which I got in trouble for, (because I handed the same paper in to both my English and Social Studies teachers, blithely unaware such redundancy might present a problem). The paper contained a fair amount of sarcasm, and was vain, for it described hippy poets as the “most highly evolved” clique, and my stepfather was completely enchanted by it. He took it in to Harvard and showed it to all his friends, even making extra copies of the badly typed document. We never talked together about the paper, but I could see the man was delighted. I found the experience strange, for I didn’t tend to think of myself as being delightful, at age seventeen.

When I was eighteen one of my older brothers “borrowed” a rich man’s yacht and we sailed it south, intending to load it with marijuana in Jamaica and get rich quick. We made it as far as Nassau before the Law caught up with us. We deserved jail, but my stepfather fought for us, and he got us off with a slap on the wrist, though it cost him a pretty penny. Sometimes having a stepfather who is a boring professor of law isn’t all bad.

Now I was twenty-one and had known the old man for seven years, and not only had I failed to kill him, but against my own will I found myself liking him a lot.

He had become very careful and methodical in his old age, to avoid falling or losing things. He stretched little ice-grips over his boots, and followed a three-step process when leaving his Saab to make certain he did not forget his briefcase, keys, or to turn his headlights off. Even though I had salted the front walk, he took all the care of a man on a tightrope, gingerly walking to the front steps, and then, after entering the house, went through a similar process,  reminding me of Mr. Rogers in the way he always hung up his coat and deerslayer hat in an identical manner. He was particularly slow and deliberate when hanging up his car keys on a particular hook. Then I shadowed him to the dining room table, where he would open his briefcase and remove the Portland Press Herald and the New York Times. He was well aware of my tendency to lurk like a vulture, and handed me the papers with a smile.

He was also slow and deliberate with his questioning (though he had dropped the long pauses,) and was very observant. As a lawyer, he knew how to cross examine, and despite his caution he’d learned to think quickly on his feet. A lot seemed to happen in his silences, at times giving me the sense he was psychic.

On this occasion he must have noted I didn’t reach for the Times, and instead for the Press Herald, and noticed that rather than opening to the weather map I opened the paper to the “Help Wanted”  page. He also may have noted the town newspaper was already open to “Help Wanted”, on the table. He looked interested, and inquired, “Any work?”

I pretended to find the situation humorous. “Well, there are three jobs in the local paper. I can pretend to be a mechanic at the cannery, or pretend to be a cook at the diner, or pretend to be an expert at veneering the decks of yachts, at the marina. The trick would be to get at least one paycheck, before they fired me.”

My stepfather didn’t say anything, but he did give me a slightly unnerving, very penetrating glance with his very blue eyes, before my mother came bustling in and said it was time to go.

Then abruptly the house was gruesomely silent. A sterility I knew all too well was pressing in from the black windows, as I faced a Friday night alone. I swiftly glanced through the help-wanted ads in the Press Herald, not expecting to find anything and having my expectations confirmed.  Then I began to pace around my parent’s house, trying to find something to think about, to escape my despair.

Sometimes escapism is too obvious. I could click through all the shows on the T.V., and nothing would grab me. I could glance over the spines of all the books in the ceiling-to-floor wall of books in the living-room, and every author would be dull. I could go to the piano and try to lose myself in a song, bellowing at the top of my lungs because no one was home, but my heart wouldn’t be in it. All the symbols of wealth in the plush home were sucked dry of value, and became empty trinkets. There was no escaping a poverty that came creeping in from black windows like ghouls, so I put on my jacket, hat and gloves and went out to walk in it. Something about walking in the darkness was soothing to my soul (and it wasn’t because, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”).

The soothing was a bit of a mystery to me, and still remains a mystery, when I see a young man striding along a highway when I’m out driving after dark. I’m sure the police are curious as well, but when they pull over to ask a young vagrant what he’s doing or where he’s going, I doubt they get a good answer. (The best answer is “going for a walk”, because then you don’t have to explain). However the real answer is, I have decided, something which involves levels of our being beneath the superficial skim we call our intellect or our “our rational”. Even in the pitch dark we are “communing with nature”.

I found hiking-in-the-dark annoyed psychologists, for they were like the officer questioning the vagrant, and always wanted to know exactly what I was communing, demanding specifics when there were no words. (Also perhaps they were annoyed because when I went for a walk I didn’t have to pay them to be healed). But what (or who) the healing involved was always a mystery. In a sense it was like talking-in-tongues, words that sounded like babbling but were the super-conscious speaking to the subconscious, without granting the conscious mind permission to eavesdrop. Or that’s the best I can do to explain the inexplicable. The simply fact is: After-dark hiking made me feel better without any excuse for feeling better.

One psychologist explained that I “burned up excessive hormones through physical activity”, and I’ll allow that, if it makes him feel less insecure, but he was never in my head in that darkness.

There definitely was a physical component, especially as the walking became striding (which hippies called “trucking”). I’d become caught up in the rhythm, the way feet sounded scuffing over the tar, the way the streetlight pools came and went and bobbed up and down as I strode, the way my striding shadow shortened and then lengthened. Then out of the rhythm would come lyrics, and sometimes the melody of a song. Often it was an old song, for example I might find myself humming a song that came to me when walking home from my girlfriend’s, (back when I had a girlfriend), the evening before I set sail as an outlaw with my brother, when I was well aware I might die at sea.

The night is cricket’s velvet.
My cigarette is glowing.
A police car whispers by.
I have no way of knowing
Will my baby cry
When she finds me going
Going going…

The world is swimming softly.
The cool night air I’m drinking
Brings me softly down
From my happy thinking.
I cannot turn around
Though the happiness is shrinking
Shrinking shrinking…

The streetlight pools are nodding.
The steady pavement’s flowing
Surges as my march is on.
Can she see I’m knowing
This could be my ending song?
Oh am I really going
Going going gone?

Other times the song would be a new song, and I was always a bit mystified where they came from. Not that I worried about such things. Instead merely I enjoyed the sensation. I now blush a little to think how unselfconsciously absorbed in my own emotions I became, and wonder what people sleeping with their window open thought, as a crooning crazy-man approached on the street outside, and then faded away. But I myself became wonderfully carefree, sort of drunk without alcohol, and within a bubble where I felt most like myself, and free of the person I had to pretend to be when applying for some job I really didn’t want to do.

On this particular occasion it slowly dawned on me that there was nothing I could do before daybreak; there were no offices accepting job-applications after dark, and therefore it was a waste of energy to worry. It then occurred to me that, if I couldn’t find a job, perhaps I could join the clam-diggers I saw slogging out over the mudflats from the window of my shack, as the tide went out. In the bitter winds of January it looked like a miserable job, and I had noticed there were fewer and fewer of them as the weather grew colder and colder, but as I paced in the darkness I found the idea strangely appealing. It would be a job with no boss. But they didn’t dig clams in the dark, so it was no use starting right away.

Eventually I found my way along the waterfront to my shack on the dock down below my parent’s house, but it was bitter cold inside. The fire had gone out in the pot bellied stove, and I’d neglected to get firewood or split kindling. That was another problem to deal with in the morning, but in the meantime I decided to grab my notebook and to head up the hill to my parent’s warm abode, and to jot down a poem that had come into my head as I walked, and eventually to sleep in their warm basement.

When my parents returned from their cocktail party they found me scribbling and smoking at their dining-room table, as if I’d never left. I was feeling much better, for my poem pleased me, and also I had decided I had a job. I’d be a clam-digger. My mother didn’t ask about my poem or job, but rather to please clean up all the newspapers on the table, so I did it, after clipping the weather-map from the Times. As I did I idly inquired if the party was fun. They both seemed a little flushed, and I suspected they’d had more than one cocktail.

My mother rhapsodized about some client of my stepfather’s she had met who had opened a place that made sails, in Portland. My mother could be quite dazzling at a party, but she was equally charm-able, and I gathered the businessman had charmed her.

Listening more carefully I learned she had absorbed details of the sail-making business like a sponge, and could even become righteously indignant about people who had caused the businessman a problem and to require a lawyer. Apparently there was some government grant aimed at enticing businesses to Portland, to lower the high unemployment rate,  but some disgruntled employee had tattled about some “i” the businessman forgot to dot or some “t” he neglected to cross, in order to qualify for the government grant. The man found American employees very ungrateful for the work he had brought to their city, and it was then my ears perked up. I immediately assumed the man must be from some foreign place that had Queen Elisabeth on their stamps, and must speak with one of several British accents that my mother could never resist, (even if they weren’t the King’s English). Sure enough, when I inquired I discovered the businessman was an Aussie.

For the most part my stepfather had remained silent, merely nodding and smiling as my mother chattered in her musical voice, but suddenly he turned to me and I realized he hadn’t forgotten me, even at a cocktail party. His face grew serious and he said two dreadful words. “He’s hiring.”

I sat back, a bit stunned. Me? A sail-maker?

Oh well, I hadn’t really wanted to dig clams in January, anyway.

ARCTIC SEA ICE –Saints and Chihuahuas–

I have heard what the United States is currently politically enduring described as: “A battle between a chihuahua and a saint”. On one side you have a chihuahua incessantly yapping, and on the other you have the saint displaying unending patience. The yapping just goes on and on and on, and gives you a headache. Increasingly you wish the saint would just give the little dog a boot.

Most annoying to me is the fact that no matter how carefully you explain what the facts are, the “other side” behaves as if you said nothing. For example, the United States spent two and a half years and millions of dollars determining that there was no conspiracy between Trump and Putin to “steal the election”, yet in his opening statement in the Impeachment Hearings Adam Schiff went on and on and on about Russia, as if the years and millions had never been spent.

This should wake people to what saint-like sea-ice Skeptics have been enduring from Alarmists, during discussions about sea-ice, over the past quarter century. Originally the Alarmists at least made an effort to debate scientific facts, but as the years have passed they have increasingly abandoned debate and discussion, and resorted to  innuendo, shaming and threats, with Greta Thunberg, an emotional young dropout, replacing James Hanson and Michael Mann, supposed scientists in white lab-coats, as the Alarmist’s spokespersons. In the end all a Skeptic’s long-suffering patience, and carefully explained truths, seems a colossal waste of time. It truly has been like attempting to debate with a yapping chihuahua.

Forgive me for expressing how exasperated and disgruntled I feel with a sonnet:

I search their faces, hunting for the hints
And clues contained in clouds, but they are blank.
The clouds have no faces, and seas don’t glint
With sunshine. There is nothing left to thank
With bursting song, and when I sniff the breeze
There is no scent. When two sniffing dogs greet
They exchange more news, and news is more sweet
Than in the zombie blankness that seeks to seize
With deceit’s hate. Disrespecting what’s real,
What’s tried and true, and all of the facts
For lust, gold and power, they try to steal
The jewel of peace with lead’s restless attacks.
What can I do but bow and beg with prayer?
Truth remains true, though I can’t see It’s there.

So what is “true” these days, in terms of sea-ice? The truth is the sea-ice “extent” is at the highest level, for the specific date of January 24, that it has been at in the past five years.

DMI 200124 Extent Screenshot_2020-01-24 Ocean and Ice Services Danmarks Meteorologiske Institut

Therefore, yet again, the “Death Spiral” theory has been debunked. Not that it seems to matter. Greta Thunberg blathers on about the sea-ice melting away. Because she dropped out of school, she apparently has no use for charts and graphs.

It is sort of sad, but I increasingly have to do the Alarmist’s arguing for them, as they apparently can’t even be bothered debating any more. For example, in the above graph it should be noted that, though this year is the highest of the past five years, it is still “below normal”. Then, having stated the Alarmist side, I cross over and state the Skeptic side, pointing out that the “normal” is determined using the time period 1981-2000, when the AMO was largely in its “cold” phase, and then suggesting that a slightly lower “normal” should be adopted when the AMO is in its “warm” phase, as it now is, (but may soon be shifting out of.)

Switching back to the Alarmist arguments, if the “extent” graph doesn’t work, one should shift over to the “volume” graph, which does indeed currently show very low levels. A true Alarmist then suggests the current sea-ice is thinner and more “rotton” than it formerly was.

DMI 200123 Volume Screenshot_2020-01-24 DMI Modelled ice thickness

The Skeptic response to Alarmist excitement over low volumes was more difficult in February 2017 or in March 2018, when Alarmists could use the word “unprecedented”.  However between March 2018 and July 2018 the volume (navy blue line in above graph) went from lowest in recent times to highest (for each specific date) which tended to suggest the “trend” was not in one direction, and that “volume” involved factors and fluctuations that hadn’t been discussed, and which needed to be considered.

The “truth” is that “volume” is very difficult to determine, and involves great efforts on the the part of the true climatologists working on the subject. The numbers we use are “modeled”, which is to say there are no actual people out measuring how thick the sea-ice actually is, in the midwinter darkness.

The thickness is gleaned through satellite measurements which tend to miss the the finer details because they are so far from the surface.  For example, a “pressure-ridge”, formed when two flat floes collide, can heap up a considerable volume of ice in a relatively narrow area, and be missed by the satellite many miles overhead. In fact a satellite may miss the significant difference between flat sea ice (created by a calm winter) and sea-ice crisscrossed by pressure-ridges (created by a stormy winter).

We were able to observe this around seven years ago when funding was more plentiful, both for funding cameras on the ice, and for funding young adventurers upon the ice. Where satellites, even with close-ups, saw smooth ice, our on-the-ground explorers saw and were blocked by new pressure-ridges which one experienced arctic-skier once described as “crazy ice”.  Like mini-mountain ranges, pressure ridges can thrust up ten to thirty feet, and, (because nine-tenths of an iceberg is under water), also thrust down ninety to two-hundred-seventy feet, holding considerable “volume” in what, from outer space, is, even in a close up, thinner than a hair if not downright invisible.

Later in the melt-season, when the pressure ridges tend to crumble and spread out, the “volume” can even appear to increase although the sea-ice is melting, as the satellites can start to “see” ice they formerly couldn’t. (Later on in the melt-season there may be different problems, as melt-water pools are “seen” as open water.) All in all volume measurements need to be taken with a grain of salt, (although the fact we even have such tools to work-with should  earn the scientists involved kudos).

This year likely has seen the formation of many pressure ridges towards the Atlantic side of the sea-ice icecap, for there have been many North Atlantic storms, and on occasion they have remained powerful even after progressing into Barents Sea, where they usually weaken.

Such North Atlantic storms are enormous.  Although they lack the eye-walls and intense inner winds of a hurricane, they are often larger and have tropical force winds over a larger area. The bigger ones have hurricane force winds far from their centers and central pressures below 28.00 inches (950 mb). I think they may actually “expend” more energy each year than hurricanes and typhoons do,  and likely play a large part in keeping the planet from growing too hot, and in transferring heat from where it accumulates at the equator to where it is lost to outer space at the Pole.

In essence hurricanes and typhoons transfer bundles of energy from Hadley Cells up to Ferrel Cells, and North Atlantic (and North Pacific) gales transfer bundles of energy up to the Polar Cell. It is part of a majestic and elegant system which (in a simplified form) works in the manner pictured below:

Hadley-Ferrel-Polar general-circulation-hadley-ferrel-polar-cell

As beautiful as the above portrayal of our atmosphere’s workings may be, reality is in some ways more messy, or perhaps more intricate. Above is a picture of things in balance, but wrenches get thrown into the works.

Some of the wrenches are predictable, such as the fact the sun moves from shining on the North Pole on June 21 to leaving that Pole in darkness and shining on the South Pole on December 21. Also the swings from a spotted sun to a sun with a clear face and back is a fairly predictable cycle of eleven years. These cycles likely interact to create oscillations, such as the AMO and PDO and the fluctuations between El Ninos and La Ninas which, even if secondary in nature, are wrenches-in-the-works in their own right. Furthermore there are dramatic events, such as the eruptions of enormous volcanoes and even the strike of a major meteor, which disturb the poise of the planet.

One cycle, perhaps predictable or perhaps not, is what may be a 200 year cycle from a quiet sun to an energetic sun and back to quiet again. The last “quiet sun” was the Dalton Minimum, around 200 years ago, which was marked by Global Cooling, and leads some to feel that current concern about Global Warming is patently absurd, and that we are donning bathing suits on the day of a blizzard.

It seems to me that, no matter what it is that whacks things out of balance, the planet has ways of recovering its balance, and I’m curious to identify what these “ways” are. It seems to me that if we had a list of phenomenon or sequences to expect, we might be better prepared, irregardless of whether the wrench-in-the-works was an El Nino, the AMO switching from “warm” to “cold”, an extended solar minimum, or a whopper of a volcano.

For this reason I watched with interest the past few winters as the above scheme of atmospheric circulation seemed disturbed, for rather than descending air and high pressure at the Pole, there tended to be an anomalous area of low pressure (which I dubbed “Ralph”.)

Of course, often, when you are looking for one pattern, that pattern refuses to show its face. “A watched pot never boils.” This winter has seen little of “Ralph”, and things have swung back to a more ordinary pattern, but with intriguing variations that make things unique, wonderful and puzzling.

While high pressure has generally owned the Pole, it has been displaced to the Pacific side, and there has been an interesting hubbub in the North Atlantic.

The typical Atlantic gales tend to peak around Iceland, which has led to such low pressure being dubbed “The Icelandic Low” (complimented by the matching “Aleutian Low” in the Pacific.) After stalling out around Iceland its remnants tend to wander away to the east, sometimes as secondary and tertiary storms along the trailing cold front, and sometimes as “kicker” storms on the warm front. In the fall, before sea-ice forms, such remnants of the Icelandic Low can be traced as they roll on along the arctic coast of Eurasia all the way to East Siberia and Bering Strait, but as the sea-ice forms such residual systems seem to be starved for moisture, and fade away earlier and further west.

During the past few winters the east side of huge Icelandic lows brought mild, surging “feeder bands” of Atlantic air north into the Arctic Sea, resulting in the formation of various incarnations of “Ralph”,  but this year has seen little of that. Instead the warm air has come north only so far, before being sucked in to intensify the Icelandic low, but the low hasn’t anchored itself by Iceland, and instead has peaked as a 950 mb giant as far east as the western border of the Kara Sea, and as far west as (recently) the east coast of Labrador.  In essence the Icelandic low has had a bad case of wanderlust.

To shift where the Icelandic low anchors itself and “peaks”, locating it more than a thousand miles east or west, must utterly derange the typical temperatures, stratification,  and currents of surface waters.

First, such enormous storms suck heat from the ocean and transport it to the top of the troposphere, for even when the seawater is below freezing (because it is salty), when such water is whipped to sea-spray, it creates moist air at 29º F which is so much warmer than overlying arctic air of -40º F that “bombo-genesis” results, with lapse rates favorable to amazing updrafts.  Heat from the ocean is removed to the edge of outer space, with further heat removed as latent heat released during the phase-change from vapor to liquid and from liquid to crystal, and that heat is left behind in the upper atmosphere as cold snow falls back down. (Though gas cools as it rises, expands and decompresses, solid does not warm as it falls for it does not re-compress. Therefore what goes up does not come down. The heat uplifted is lost to outer space.)

Second, such enormous storms have such extremely low central pressures they cause water to up-well beneath them,  as if they were a large mouth sucking on a soda-straw. Passing hurricanes leave a stripe of cooler water in their wake, and the same event occurs in the arctic, though less obvious. This is bound to derange the stratification of arctic waters in terms of temperature and salinity.

Third, such enormous storms have “fetches” that can be hundreds of miles long, and fetches of even a thousand miles have occurred. When such a fetch is from south to north it transports warmth north, and when such a fetch is from north to south it transports cold south. If the Icelandic Low is over Iceland it has a southerly fetch between Iceland and Norway, but if the Icelandic Low is displaced to the border between Barents and Kara Sea, as occurred earlier this winter, the southerly fetch becomes northerly, and a derangement of ordinary currents occurs.

“Fetch”, as a five letter word, fails to adequately describe what occurs in such storms. One needs to be out in a small boat in such a gale to appreciate the power involved. I, as a foolish young man, was once south of Cape Cod in a 28 foot yacht heading for New Jersey,  and had the misfortune to observe how swiftly the sea changes (as does ones intellectual Atheism). Because I had the good fortune to survive I can pretend I was scientific and that I took rational observations, and was aware the storm I was experiencing was downright puny, compared to the storms up by Iceland. (Actually I was sick as a dog and my scientific objectivity was reduced to swaying between groaning curses and whimpering, “Mommy.”)

They say the seas “build”, which is another inadequate five-letter word. What is fascinating is how the rather disorganized points of wavelets get their act together and become lines of marching waves, growing taller and taller until you can’t see over the oncoming wave until you are lifted to its top. The tops are torn and breaking in the wind,  creating streaks of foam on the water and flying spray in the air. The storm I experienced was a force 9 gale, (though when I tell the tale to grandkids I make it be force 12) and for me 50 mile an hour winds and thirty foot seas were enough. I have no desire to scientifically investigate true Icelandic bombs.

Yet what is odd is that, while the power and energy involved is tremendous, and so blatantly obvious one would be a fool to deny it, it has an elusive quality. It can slip under the radar in certain ways, in certain computer models. Why? Because in the midst of chaos the temperature may be stable, and the barometer may have bottomed-out in be flat-lining;  according to those two instruments nothing is happening. Also the water is theoretically barely budged by a wave passing through it, a cork on a windless swell describes an up-and-down circle and makes little progress, (in the same manner the sound waves of a song don’t stir the air they pass through very much). A wave may have little effect crossing thousands of miles of sea,  as if the sum of its passage was zero, and such a wave only reveals the power it holds when it crashes into the cliffs of a distant continent and crumbles solid stone to sand. Great power and energy is there, but, because such power cannot be measured by a thermometer, barometer or even anemometer,  it is neglected, and not included in some discussions about “Global Warming”.

A perfected climate model would need to include formulas I haven’t seen written down. For example, we may know how much energy there is in a sunbeam, but how many sunbeams are in a fifty knot wind? And how many sunbeams are in a thirty foot wave?

Because some forecasters bear the burden of warning sailors and “boaters” (who aren’t really sailors) when the seas may build and become dangerous, some good science has developed formulas that work fairly well. If you know the fetch is a hundred miles and the winds will rise to forty mph for three hours,  you can plug those three numbers into your equation and come up with an answer telling you how big the “average sea” will be, and by adding around 80% to that figure you can arrive at the size of the biggest wave. Though such numbers are now automatically fed into computers, with wave heights popping out to be read by clerk-like meteorologists,  the invention of this formula took a lot of hard work by dedicated scientists over many decades.

The invention of submarines meant further hard work needed to be done to determine how far down into the stillness of the depths the great agitation at the surface extended. (It is not as far as I originally imagined.)

Further hard work is needed, for the situation turns out to be far more complex than it may appear. For example, although waves move through the water without moving the water much, the wind does more than make waves; it bodily moves the water at the surface. When a fetch extends many hundreds of miles and then runs up against a shoreline, the water can pile up and create especially high tides. Also, because low pressure sucks water upwards, a mound of higher water exists at the center of a storm which can create a different sort of especially high tide, should the center cross a shoreline. Both of these events involve the shifting of huge amounts of water, which we notice when our beach house gets washed away, but tend to ignore when it occurs far from shore, in the middle of nowhere.

One thing we have never studied in great detail is what occurs in the North Atlantic when the “warm” AMO swings to “cold”. This lack of knowledge is due to the fact the last major swing of this sort occurred sixty years ago, when satellites were just being invented. (The first satellite, Sputnik, flew 63 years ago.) These early birds had no cameras, and then had very poor cameras. But one thing we do know, from the reports of fishermen, is that some mysterious shifts in cold and warm currents were involved,  which caused fishing grounds to shift hundreds of miles, to the great concern of fishermen (until they tracked down the fish.) We know it happened, but how it came to pass is sheer speculation, at this point.

Besides satellites, an array of buoys has been set in place in the North Atlantic and in Barents Sea to measure temperature and salinity at various depths. (I wish I could study the data they are gleaning.) This is the beginning of the hard work a new generation of scientists will do to further our understanding.

It is somewhat irritating when some Alarmists state “the science is settled” and fill the young heads of uneducated dropouts like Greta Thurnberg with panic, for the science is not settled and much awaits discovery (and some Alarmist “science” is just plain bogus, rather than “settled”.) Worst is that the funding seems to be being dramatically cut back, partly because, “who needs scientists, when they can hire a  bimbo like Greta?” Also it seems much of the funding was entangled in the “Swamp” mentality of “pay to play”, involving kick-backs and other forms of corruption, more concerned with power than with Truth. There seems to be a sort of push-back now occurring against such nonsense, which is making the money tighter in the “Swamp”, and far less trickles down to the true scientists, or even to the pseudo-scientists who….well….perhaps I won’t go there…….

To return to the subject of the North Atlantic, the wanderlust of the Icelandic Low did have some effects I could see. While the movement of currents below the surface and the stratification of those waters can’t be seen by satellites accessible to the public, we can watch the sea-ice.

When the Icelandic low formed up in Barents Sea, becoming a monster with a central pressure below 950 mb, stalling for days and only slowly crawling east towards Kara Sea,  south winds on its east side scoured the west coast of Novaya Zemlya, pushing the edge of the sea-ice (which had been advancing south) many miles north, actually creating a slight downward blip in the sea-ice “extent” graph. This downward blip might have been greater, but on the other side of this monster storm sea-ice was driven south, with a polynya of open water actually forming on the southwest coast of Franz Joseph Land, as sea-ice crushed up against the east coast of Svalbard and moved into Barents Sea south of there. There even seemed to be an increase of sea-ice on the west coast of Svalbard, which is often kept open by a warm tendril of the Gulf Stream that sneaks into the arctic along the easternmost side of Fram Strait. It seems likely that the flow of this warm tendril was interfered with, not only by north headwinds in the strait itself, but by contrary gales along the entire route this tendril takes as it moves north from Norway.

While I cannot dignify such observations by calling them “data”, I do park them in the back of my mind, for it seems probable that anything that impedes the inflow of warmer water into the Arctic Sea could eventually encourage the current formation, and impede the later melting, of sea-ice.

Further to the east, the general positioning of low pressure to the west, in western  Siberia, and high pressure to the east, towards Bering Strait, created steady south winds between the two.  Such south winds are not warm, for they come from the cold heart of Siberia in the dead of winter. In fact even without these south winds there is a tendency towards offshore winds along the Siberian coast during the winter, because the cold and sinking air over the interior is drawn out over the water as, even when ice-covered, the sea creates warmer air that rises; the south winds only enhanced this tendency, and the south wind was so persistent that the heart of Siberia was drained and did not get as terribly cold as it sometimes does.

The tendency for offshore winds seems to usually be greatest smack dab in the middle of the Siberian coastline, in the Laptev Sea. Because these wind push the ice away from the coast, forming polynyas of open water which skim over with fresh ice which in turn is also pushed out to sea, the Laptev Sea tends to be the greatest exporter of sea-ice to the Central Arctic of all the marginal seas. This year that export has seemingly been enhanced. The skim of ice near the Laptev shoreline has been exceptionally thin, while the ice has piled up to an exceptional degree where it runs up against thicker ice in the Central Arctic, forming a long band of thicker ice from north of Svalbard to north of Wrangle Island, and now a second band seems to be starting to form closer towards Eurasia.

DMI Thickness 200124 Screenshot_2020-01-25 FullSize_CICE_combine_thick_SM_EN_20200124 png (PNG Image, 1337 × 1113 pixels) - Scaled (53%)

The piling-up of this sea-ice towards the Pole is interesting (to me) for a number of reasons.

First, a feature I’ve sometimes noted during the melt-season, and dubbed “the Laptev Notch”, (a triangle of open water based at the Lena Delta and pointing towards the Pole,) seems apparent as thinner ice, even though the formation of ice continues for three months. This baffles me, for all the theories I’ve come up with to explain the Laptev Notch involves things such as the Lena River Floods that involve warmer weather. (Time to eat some humble pie).

Second, the piling-up of this sea-ice is alarmingly close to where they bulldose a blue-ice airstrip for the yearly “Barneo” research-station dash military-base dash tourist-trap. There has been trouble holding the event for the past few years due to quibbles between Norway, Russia and Ukraine, and last year the event was cancelled because some rule (which never existed before) abruptly decreed that an airline could not land jets north of eighty degrees latitude. Among other things this meant several hundred members of the elite could not joyously squander roughly $30,000 each, spending a couple days at the Pole. Now that the people involved have had a year to think about how roughly ten million dollars they could have fondled slipped through their fingers, they perhaps are rethinking their need to quibble.

Third, the fact this piled-up sea-ice is so visible in a satellite-derived model suggests it is far more than a few pressure-ridges, which are all but invisible from outer space. The “thickness” maps are an average-thickness,  and do not speak of the variations in thickness in the piled up area. When the sun rises over this sea-ice in March, the area will become discernible to the naked eye via satellite,  and we will be able to squint at close-ups. Sea-ice has a geology all its own, and it will be interesting to see what it looks like.

Fourth, it should be noted that the Naval Research Lab “Thickness” maps show nowhere near the same size and thickness, for this piled-up area. The Danish Meteorological Institute model seems to show sea-ice six feet thicker, which hints at problems with the reliability of models. It will be interesting to see which model is more correct, when daylight dawns at the Pole in March.

Fifth, The MOSAiC Expedition ship is locked in the sea-ice between this piled-up area and the Pole. If you don’t mind people who drink too much coffee and who strain at gnats, a surplus of information about the expedition’s findings is discussed at Nevin’s sea-ice site here:

https://forum.arctic-sea-ice.net/index.php/topic,2906.500.html

It will be interesting to see if the piled-up sea-ice interferes with the resupply of the MOSAiC expedition by icebreaker, next June.

Lastly, if sea-ice levels are determined by cycles of the AMO and PDO, then at some point we should see the levels of sea-ice begin to “recover” at the Pole. Such a recovery would put a final nail into the “Death Spiral” theory. Could we be seeing hints of the mechanisms involved?

Moving further east along the Arctic Eurasian coast we leave the influence of the North Atlantic gales and move into the orbit of the displaced high pressure which we see in the middle of a traditional “Polar Cell”. Besides wobbling to and fro between the Pole and Bering Strait, this high pressure has wobbled from side to side in Bering Strait. When it leans toward the Siberian side very cold air drains south through Bering Strait, and when it shifts to the Alaskan side the winds reverse and Pacific air flows north through the strait.

What I have noticed is that the cold air draining south, besides growing sea-ice south of the strait in Bering Sea, has (along with cold air pouring into the Pacific from western Siberia) chilled the “warm blob” in the Gulf of Alaska a lot. This may explain why, when the winds shift around and Pacific air comes north, it is not as mild as I expected. In fact, if this shift in sea-surface-temperatures continues the northern Pacific will start to take on the characteristic of a “cold” PDO, (which is also occurring, interestingly enough, on the Atlantic side, with a hint of the “cold” AMO appearing.)

SST anomaly 200127 anomnight.1.27.2020

This is quite a change from last November:

SST Anomaly 191104 anomnight.11.4.2019

While the sea-surface-temperatures remain confused, and don’t seem to want to resolve into anything definite, there is clearly some chilling occurring in the northern pats of both oceans. (As these are anomaly maps, the chilling is actual, and not merely because it is winter.) One thing that seems interesting is that both the Gulf Stream and the Kuroshio Current are above normal to the south, which suggests that the continental cold is heading out to sea further north. This is more indicative of a “zonal” flow than a “meridional” flow around the Pole, and suggests that although the high pressure is displaced towards the Pacific, much of the winter cold is being trapped up at the Pole rather than escaping south as arctic outbreaks, (which, because the cold stays over the Arctic Sea, may result in thicker sea-ice).

Another indication that the cold was trapped to the north was cold temperature records being set in Alaska over the New Year.

Alaska cold Fairbanks-Graphic

I found the cold in Alaska troubling, especially when the trajectory of the air-mass seemed to be from the Pacific, and therefore seemingly should have been warmer. I supposed I could dismiss it as “home grown”, due to the very long nights and brief days. However if I followed the trajectory of the “Pacific” air further back it often had poured off Siberia, and while that air may warm at the surface as it crosses the Pacific the warming isn’t all that deep. (Even as far south as California there is a difference between “Pacific” air that originated in Siberia and air from Hawaii.)

Besides the air from Siberia that crossed the Pacific there was Siberian air that bled across the Pole itself, due to the contrast between high pressure in Bering Strait and low pressure in the North Atlantic. This air did “warm” as it crossed the “warm” sea-ice, (if you can call temperatures rising from -50º to -25º “warming”), but these surface temperatures also seemed shallow, and as soon as the air bled into the Canadian Archipelago it reverted to extreme cold.

As a result it looks to me as if the central section of the Northwest Passage is frozen very solid, and if things were left to nature I’d say a sea-ice breakup would be unlikely this summer. Of course, we do have icebreakers helping with the breakup these days, so all bets are off.

Despite all the cold on the arctic coast, not all that much managed to charge south to my neck of the woods in New Hampshire, and frost has not been a worry in the orange groves of Florida (though one time they had just a touch.) Our cold air has tended to be “home grown” in Central Canada, due to snow-cover and short nights, or it has sneaked down through Quebec along the east coast of Hudson Bay,  timid compared the roaring blasts of arctic air which we’ve experienced other years.

This supports my contention the flow has been zonal, albeit in a confused and indecisive way. Perhaps the factoid most supportive of the idea the cold “stayed north” is that an all-time cold temperature record was set on the icecap of Greenland. (On January 3)

Greenland record ENYfUFSW4AAr-s3

This record was not merely the record for a single date, but for all time. Nor did it beat the old record by a small amount. The old all-time record was -81.9°F, and the new record is -86.8°F, nearly a five degree difference. (Inform Greta.) I find this especially amazing because, due to the fact various oceanic oscillations are in warm modes, the average humidity of the planet is slightly increased, and this makes a big difference in polar regions.

(Basically, if you measure humidity in terms of volume, a small volume (say a tablespoon) of water evaporated into the air at the equator makes very little difference, in terms of relative humidity, but makes a far greater difference at the Pole. IE, if you boiled a cup of water in a tropical kitchen you’d hardly notice any change in humidity, but if you boiled the same cup in an arctic igloo at -40° the room would fill with fog. A small amount of moisture raises the dew point a lot at the Pole, and, because the dew point represents a sort of basement to temperatures, (because latent heat is released as fog forms), a slight increase of moisture at the Pole results in a big jump in temperatures.)

Anyway, if you had asked me I would have told you would will see no record cold at the Pole until the oceans cool and the planet’s air gets drier. And I would have been (and was) wrong. The new record set in Greenland really raised my eyebrows.

Greenland summit_camp_e1578045880344

In terms of temperatures at the Pole, they have remained a few degrees above normal, but so far have lacked the spikes we saw in recent years when huge surges of Atlantic air rushed north as “feeder bands” to feed a “Ralph”. To me the difference is noteworthy. (2017 left; 2020 right.)

This brings me all the way around the Arctic Circle to the North Atlantic again, and returns me to my wonder about why it is that some years the milder “feeder bands” continue on up to the Pole, whereas other years they get spun up into an Icelandic Low with wanderlust further south. And the honest answer is, “I don’t know”.

And perhaps that is the difference been the way I am now, as an old man, and the way I once was, when I was a spoiled but frightened teenager like Greta Thurnberg. Now I know I don’t know, and it doesn’t bother me much, whereas back then I thought I knew everything, and was troubled. (I’m not sure, but perhaps this hints that even a chihuahua may hope to someday become a saint.)

(Note: If I get time I’ll include an update with all the DMI maps I’ve managed to save, but my old computer crashed and I’m inept with my new laptop. It takes me a long time to post maps, and time is in short supply in my life, for sea-ice is my avocation, and I have a vocation to run.

I should mention that the maps do show some incarnations of “Ralph”, though they aren’t of the well-fed Atlantic variety. One sort comes through Bering Strait, as an extension of the Aleutian Low,  and seem to occur when the high pressure shifts from one side of Bering Strait to the other. Another sort seems to come up through Baffin Bay along the west side of Greenland, and puzzle me a lot as they seems to have a cold core and haven’t much of a warm “feeder band.”

Here are the most recent DMI maps, showing more quiet than usual in the North Atlantic, especially in Barents Sea, and a weak “Ralph” that came through Baffin Bay fading away over the Pole. The “feeder band” curving up west of Svalbard through Fran Strait towards Francis Josef  Land is a new feature, drawn north by the fading Ralph, and will be interesting to watch.)

Stay tuned.