A Bright, Sparkling Morning

First light hits the trees.

Morning light.

As expected, it snowed last night. Not as expected, it snowed a little more than the light dusting that was forecast. A small low-pressure system unexpectedly formed over the northeastern Olympic Peninsula and Whidbey Island then moved south. End result was a little over 2″ of accumulation in many areas on the west side of the Salish Sea. Not a big blizzard by any measure, but still a big deal in a climate that simply doesn’t see a whole lot of snow.

Then the storm promptly departed, leaving clear skies in its wake. It’s been years since that’s happened after a snowfall here, so I really enjoyed the treat of watching it gradually get bright this morning, going through various shades of first purplish then bluish light, followed by the trees being hit by first light. This sort of thing happens routinely in the Rockies, where I lived in my teens and twenties, and it brings back memories of winters there.

White Rock Canyon

In the canyon. See link at end of post for more images.

Once in his life, a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it.
— N. Scott Momaday

There is a great good in returning to a landscape that has had extraordinary meaning in one’s life. It happens that we return to such places in our minds irresistibly. There are certain villages and towns, mountains and plains that, having seen them walked in them lived in them even for a day, we keep forever in the mind’s eye. They become indispensable to our well-being; they define us, and we say, I am who I am because I have been there, or there.
— Ibid.

One of my goals on my most recent trip to New Mexico to visit my parents had been to revisit White Rock Canyon, a landscape I bonded with in my youth. It was not even a half-mile from the house I lived in during my teens. Initially, like most, I concentrated my visits in the colder months, because the canyon becomes an inferno in the summer; its black basalt walls collect and concentrate the heat of the already intense Southwestern sun.

Then one June curiosity got the best of me: what would the canyon be like now? What would the hottest and driest spot in the county be like during the hottest and driest part of the year (as June is, in New Mexico)? There was only one way to find out, so one fine scorching afternoon I loaded a day pack with several canteens and descended into nature’s oven.

The cacti were in their typical June defiance. As the most drought-tolerant of plants, they could afford to bloom despite the conditions, and they did. As such, they were richly reaping the rewards of their monopoly on the supply of pollen and nectar; each cactus blossom was teeming with pollinators.

As expected, it was hot. Clouds of powdery, dessicated dust rose with every footfall. It was a challenge to exercise discipline and ration my water so I would still have some on the trip up. The further I descended, the hotter it got. The grasses and forbs were withered and brittle brown amongst the angular black boulders and parched soil. The branchlets of the junipers and even the blooming cacti looked wizened and water-deprived.

Then I turn a corner of the trail and see a view of vibrant, lush, defiant green appear. It seems like a hallucination, so out of place in this dry land in its driest season. It’s the sort of green one might see in Ohio or Louisiana or the Pacific Northwest, a green born of plant life exuberating in a water surplus.

I’ve been here before, so know it is no hallucination. The same descent that brought me into ever hotter conditions brought me ever closer to the water table. At the rim, it was nearly 1,000 feet below the surface. Here, near the bottom, the surface meets it. Multiple springs burst forth and merge into a clear stream.

I enter into the deep shade and rest by the first spring. It is mercifully cooler here among the verdure and abundant water. After a few minutes I glance upstream. Orchids!

Hundreds of orchids, in fact. In full bloom. More wild orchids than I have ever seen in one place. It turns out that these springs are one of the few places in New Mexico where the stream orchid grows, and they bloom in June. Because nobody I know enters the canyon in June, nobody I know knows about them.

That decided it; from then on I regularly visited the canyon, year-round, even though people thought I was nuts for going there in the summer when it was so hot. In August, the area around the springs was more magical yet. Cardinal flowers bloomed in a profusion as great as the orchids did earlier.

I had been wanting to see these rare flowers ever since hearing about them as a younger child in Illinois. I had given up hope of seeing them when we moved west, thinking they were a strictly Eastern/Midwestern plant. The tall spikes of scarlet humming with hummingbirds looked like a scene that belonged more in the jungles of Central America than the high deserts of New Mexico. Yet I could lift my eyes and see that beyond the narrow strip watered by the stream and springs, the austere landscape remained.

Some days I paused on the rim before I enter the canyon, surveying the landscape and choosing an off-trail destination that looks interesting from above. Other discoveries followed: a rock wall covered in dozens of petroglyphs, benches untouched by sheep and cattle where the grasses grew as tall and thick as they did everywhere centuries ago, ancient irrigation works, piles of giant boulders that left one feeling as if an ant amongst grains of coarse sand, unusual ferns (yes, desert ferns), and others I can’t recall at the moment.

Naturally, I had to go back someday, but my parents moved, first to Texas, then back to New Mexico but 100 miles from the canyon. It’s never been convenient to work in a side trip, but I kept saying to myself that someday I’d rent a car and make a day trip there.

Someday was Monday. It being in a town I had lived in for eight years, I drove directly to the trailhead with no missteps. There is now a fancy sign with an elevation profile and rules. I did not read the rules. Other than that, there were not any big changes. No new enlarged parking lot, no big crowds at the trailhead; it was basically the same as I had remembered. From the rim, the familiar landscape of river, semi-desert vegetation and Toreva blocks came into view.

It was winter, so no sightings of wildflowers this time (though the ferns are evergreen and were still there). There was still the unique fragrance of the canyon, a mix of sagebrush, basalt, and dust. It was still surprisingly free from human sights and sounds for a place right on the edge of a town: canyons lie below the surrounding land, frustrating the ability for sounds to enter them. It’s the converse of how you can see and hear signs of distant civilization from a otherwise remote mountaintop.

I found and climbed the boulder pile (easy to find, it’s close to the trail) and visited the petroglyph wall (less easy, it’s a detour off-trail of at least a half mile through terrain that is in places quite rugged). The latter spot was no longer completely my own, as others were obviously visiting and admiring the ancient artwork, as evidenced by the faint trail, marked by cairns, and trampled vegetation at the site itself.

Overall, however, the canyon has changed far less in the intervening 35-odd years since I last saw it than many attractions in that state have. Part of it is it’s not really a tourist attraction: it’s a county park, not a state or national one, and the county really doesn’t publicize it much (there’s no signs directing one to the canyon from the nearest major highway). Mostly, it’s a spot for the locals.

Halfway through my visit I realize how much that place is still part of me today, how its lessons in harsh beauty have influenced my own outlooks. I just can’t get on board with so much New Age stuff because it strikes me as all soft and mushy and friendly and cute; the world isn’t all soft and mushy and friendly and cute, sorry. Ditto for a good chunk of politically liberal beliefs that think all problems can simply be loved away; sometimes things must be fought for. I care even less for right-wingers and their cheering on of capitalism and its subjugation and domestication of the wild.

The natural world exists on its own terms, and it’s not simply good and bad according to our own metrics (nor should it be). The canyon can outright kill (and has killed) the unprepared, the foolish, and sometimes the simply unlucky. Hazards abound: extremes of temperature, a disorienting terrain, rattlesnakes, and sheer cliffs among them.

Would those orchids have been the experience they were if it was easy and pleasant to get to them, if I had expected them because I had heard of them from somebody else first and gone to see them, if there had been crowds and paved trails and a gift shop there? If there had been signs and rules and regulations and profit-making capitalists charging money everywhere, instead of the freedom to explore and wander that I had then? If the weather had been comfortable and temperate?

No, I don’t want a world engineered to be nice and safe, or a world engineered to be efficient and profitable. I want a wild world, a free world.

More photos here.

A White Pine Conundrum

At the age of four I moved from California to Illinois, a land of prairies and broadleaf trees. The only local conifer was the Eastern Red Cedar, and there weren’t many of those.

Several hours away was White Pine State Park which has the only forest of Eastern White Pine trees in Illinois. There were white pines elsewhere in the state, such as at Starved Rock, but just occasional trees mixed in with the broadleaf ones, not a solid forest.

There were no wild pines in the western suburbs of Chicago, where I lived, something that I regretted. I have always been interested in plants, and the tree books talked about a closely-related pine found in the West, which I was curious to see some day.

When I moved to Seattle and was biking through my neighborhood several months later, there it was. A tree that was obviously a white pine, yet obviously not the Eastern White Pine I knew from Illinois. And another, and another, generally in the more unkempt areas, like greenbelts and the margins of back yards. A quick look at a range map confirmed that yes, the Puget lowlands from about Seattle north were in the range of the Western White Pine.

It’s the only place in the world where that species comes to meet the Pacific; it’s mostly an inland and mountain species. It both provides a sense of home and memories of my childhood in a place where its close relative was one of the only native conifers.

Last week I noticed one coming up in one of my hedges in the front yard, underneath a rose bush. It’s not a complete surprise, as its likely parent tree looms large just a fraction of a block to the south. No doubt a winter windstorm carried a winged seed from it to under my rose bush a few seasons ago. But it’s not exactly where I’d want a large tree to grow, which is the conundrum.

Where do I put it? Mine is a small lot, so most people wouldn’t plant something so large there in the first place. The place where it has the most room to grow already has a grand fir volunteering, another species I love, because of the distinctive citrus-like fragrance of its needles, and no way is there room for both there.

I suppose I could dig up and give away one of the two trees, but I’m attached to both. Right now I’m leaning toward digging up and gifting (or just guerrilla transplanting) the grand fir and moving the pine to that area, but my thoughts keep changing. Thankfully, there’s no great hurry; I have about a year to make a decision.

One Final Eclipse Post: Journal Entries

Evening of 20 August

The eve of the Big Show. Or will it be the Big Cloud-Out? There has been a disturbing trend towards more cloudiness over the past few days. Weather forecast for tonight is “mostly clear” and “sunny” for tomorrow, but that has been the general word in forecasts for the past few days.

Oh well. Traffic woes make any location change impractical. “You stakes your claim, you takes your chances” — as I have said for the past month or more.

21 August, 9:11 AM

Skies clear. First contact noted. Probably started a minute or two ago.

Traffic on road, which has increased by a factor of 20 or more in the past week, is strangely absent this morning. Other campers are doing what we are — awaiting the big show.

9:34 AM

High thin clouds are becoming evident. Bah. (Sun still visible.)

9:42 AM

Dimming becoming increasingly evident. Still less than 50% obscured.

The feeling of anticipation before it (first contact) began was virtually palpable. The quietness of the road added to it.

9:54 AM

50%, maybe more. It’s not getting warmer any more. At this stage on a normal morning, it would be. Actually it seems to be cooling.

10:03 AM

Horns [of solar crescent] now at halfway point. Estimate 65 – 70% obscured.

10:04 AM

Several aircraft audible. Air traffic is way up today. Balloons being released from the other camp for the past 20 minutes or so.

10:08 AM

Birds are in “evening chorus” mode. Feels more like 7:00 PM than 10:00 AM. 80%? Dimming is very evident.

10:15 AM

More than 90% gone. Really darkening fast now. Very eerie atmosphere. Getting cooler and cooler.

10:18:30 AM

Just a thin sliver left. Not taking pictures any more. Just focusing on the experience.

Shortly after Totality

Totality lasted from 10:21 to 10:23. Darkness came very fast. Quite cool now. Saw diamond ring. Missed Baily’s beads [wrong; see below]. Clouds thinned [then vanished near the Sun] just before the show.

10:32 AM

Nighthawks came out shortly after totality.

10:42 AM

The exodus is underway. Two cars so far….

10:48 AM (estimated)

Sunlight is starting to feel warm again.

11:37 AM

Basically over. Like it was at 9:11. Tiniest bite. Aircraft all gone.

I Did Actually See Baily’s Beads

I recognized totality was ending because I could see the landscape backlit by the Sun on the Moon’s trailing edge. That is how I interpreted the scene in my mind, not as “Baily’s beads,” because it looked so very much like just that.

Of course, that is exactly what Baily’s beads are. The impression was so strong in my mind that I didn’t even associate what I had seen with the common term for it until well after totality had ended.

Think about that for a moment: the eclipse allowed me to view, with my naked eyes, for a brief fleeting moment, the topographic relief an alien landscape that wasn’t even fully mapped until the Space Age. We’re talking about a relief of perhaps a kilometer or two at a distance of about 385,000 km.

More on the Eclipse

If there was one theme to the whole experience of the trip to see the total eclipse it would be one of the pace of events gradually but persistently accelerating from slow to fast.

I arrived at the site (selected based on extensive study and a carefully drawn-up list of criteria) a week early. I had initially planned on six days early but moved that up by one day due to the Malheur National Forest ranger station in John Day informing me that the day I was going to arrive would be one of their biggest arrival days; I did not want the site I had selected taken by someone else.

Nobody was in the general area when I arrived; it was the same quiet, out-of-the way part of one of the nation’s more remote and least-visited national forests that it was back in early July when I surveyed it. Nobody passed by on the road for the first 24 hours.

In the next 24 hours, a few cars did. A few more in the next. By Friday and Saturday, that formerly almost-unused road was quite busy. I was glad to be camped somewhat away from all the clouds of dust being kicked up by the vehicles traveling it. Sunday was busy, but distinctly less so than the preceding two days.

Monday, the day of the big show, comes. Absolutely no traffic on the road whatsoever. Everyone is in place, viewing the Sun.

There were four of us on this camp-out, and our nearest neighbors were at least a half mile away. We had an entire meadow, perhaps five acres in size, to ourselves for viewing the sky. Despite all my planning, I had neglected to print out and take a timetable of the major events of the eclipse (start of eclipse, start of totality, end of totality, end of eclipse). I knew the eclipse would start sometime after 9:00 and totality would be some time around 10:20 or 10:30, and that was as specific as I could remember.

So we made regular checks using eclipse glasses, No. 14 welder’s glass, and the image of the Sun as projected by my cheap thrift-store binoculars onto a piece of paper. At about 9:08 someone other than me reported that there was now a small bite taken out of the Sun.

That bite grew larger very slowly. It took a long time for the ambient light level to be perceptibly affected, and then the light level decreased only very slowly. Then the pace picked up a bit, then a bit more.

The temperature, which in that semiarid climate had as normal been rising rapidly after a chilly night, stopped rising, then began falling.

The clouds played tease. The first few days, there were none to speak of. Then, high clouds became more and more evident. By Sunday, the entire sky was covered by a thick and worrisome layer of high clouds.

The weather forecasts promised clearing, and it happened overnight. Despite the forecasts, I kept nervously awaking every few hours and looking up to verify the stars were still clearly visible.

The day of the eclipse dawned clear, but thin high clouds came in almost as soon as the eclipse began. I could still see increasingly eclipsed disc of the Sun through them, but they promised to compromise the view during totality. Then, about ten minutes before totality, they almost miraculously parted.

The final bit of crescent Sun disappeared astonishingly quickly. I quit taking pictures of dappled shade and binocular projections when I estimated totality was 10 minutes away, opting to just be in the moment and watch the show. It turned out that totality was at that point only 3 minutes away.

I lied down on the ground and alternated between looking at the Sun through my welder’s glass (purchased decades ago as a teen for eclipse-watching purposes) and looking at the now rapidly darkening world around me. The light was now perceptibly declining from moment to moment.

The final thin green arc in my welder’s glass rapidly shrank to a point. I glanced around me and saw the “platinum print” effect that Anne Dillard spent paragraphs waxing eloquent about in her essay in The Atlantic Monthly. It lasted about twelve seconds; far less time than I took to read about it in her essay.

The point disappeared; nothing but darkness was visible through my welder’s glass. I put it aside and beheld a world utterly changed in a moment. I looked at my watch. 10:21.

No photograph does the corona justice. It was irregular and multi-limbed, far larger than any photograph shows. The longest limbs were at least twice as long as the diameter of the Moon. It had a unique bluish-white color, and a three-dimensionality to it.

It was cast against the firmament of a sky of the darkest blue, but still blue and not black like the disc of the Moon. All around the horizon, there was a point where the sky rapidly graded into the colors of the sunset. Mercury, Venus, and some of the brightest stars were visible overhead.

I then notice some extremely brilliant white areas on the trailing edge of the Moon. Baily’s beads. Then, diamond ring. Look through the welder’s glass and see a rapidly growing crescent. It’s over, after what feels like a mere 30 seconds. I glance again at my watch. 10:23. It was probably the shortest two minutes of my life.

“It’s over,” I write, yet there’s more than another hour of partial eclipse to go. But, really, it’s over right there and then. As a friend remarked to me today, the difference between a 99% partial eclipse and a total eclipse is the difference between night and day.

The exodus soon begins on the gravel road. Everyone else thinks “it’s over,” too. The four of us stay to avoid traffic and mostly spend the rest of the day talking about what we just saw. As I wrote earlier, the experience was so otherworldly and brief that it was hard at first to believe it actually happened.

Back from Totality

Executive summary:

It started slow, then sped up. The changes in ambient light were really slow at first. It was just like a normal, partial eclipse that you have to use equipment to look at the sun safely with to verify there was indeed an eclipse in progress. The pace of change kept inexorably increasing. I quit taking pictures when I estimated it was 10 minutes to totality; it turned out to be 3 minutes. The final bit of crescent vanished astonishingly fast. While that happened, you could see the light level (at first) and color quality (final moments of light) change from moment to moment.

The most noteworthy thing were the colors. Inky-black disc of the Moon, bluish-white corona, deep midnight blue (not black) sky above which abruptly graded to the reds and yellows of the sunset across the entire horizon.

The corona was far larger (and a different color) than I had expected. It had five limbs, three of which were long, the longest at least twice the diameter of the Moon. As mentioned, its color was an astonishing (to me) bluish-white. No photograph I have seen accurately reproduces either the color or the full size.

Totality was so otherworldly and brief that it’s hard to believe I really experienced it. It’s getting easier to believe and integrate the short memory after watching other videos and photos of the event, particularly one probably taken within a mile of where I viewed it from.

I Expected This

I lived in New Mexico as a teen, and learned early on that if there’s a spell of abnormally warm weather in the cooler months of the year, it typically ends abruptly. Two days ago, highs were in the 70s.

Flying back to the Pacific Northwest this afternoon.

Cloud from Fraser Outflow Upslope Wind

 

Cloud formed by cold outflow winds from the Fraser Canyon.

Something told me that I should go to the Grand Forest Hilltop and look at the Olympics this afternoon. I didn’t expect to see this cloud formation, but when I saw it it was no mystery why it is there, while the rest of the sky is cloudless under dry high pressure.

Were having cold outflow winds this week. As the dry interior air from the BC interior exits the Fraser Valley and crosses the Salish Sea, it picks up moisture from the relatively warm (about 50 °F) salt water. When that wind hits the Olympic Mountains, some of it is forced to rise and cool, causing the moisture to condense and form that cloud. Sometimes the effect is profound enough to cause an area of snow to fall on that region.

Worth a Read

This. (It’s not the best-designed web site. Click on the three dot-dash symbols at upper left if it seems to end mid-work without showing the whole thing.)

Yes, Derrick Jensen is something of an asshole (check out some of his rants about anarchists and transgendered people if you don’t believe me). No, I don’t buy his claim that the only viable alternative to civilization is stone-age tribalism.

But, that said, the guy (and his co-authors) does have some valid promises about this civilization being so destructive that it must be ended, the sooner the better, in part because the official mechanisms of power are pretty much useless for the purpose of arresting and reversing the destruction.

Update: Note that this endorsement of the book with the title Deep Green Resistance is not an endorsement of the organization by the same name. The latter appears to be dominated by a cult of personality around Derrick Jensen as much as the Revolutionary Communist Party is by a cult of personality around Bob Avakian.

More Snow

About three inches fell overnight before changing to rain and starting to melt. Judging by the extended forecast outlook, I may well see more scenes like one below in the coming weeks.

img_0097

The view out one of my rear windows this morning.