Sunday, August 23, 2020

Crazy Weather

When we first moved to the Bay Area, in 1988, we packed all our inclement weather clothes with the rest of our New England belongings, and had them shipped to us.

For we knew we were heading to sunny California!

Shortly after we got here, there were 4 days of drizzly, drenchy, dull, rainy days.

And all our umbrellas, all our coats, all our nice rubber boots?

Packed away safely, in the moving van, which was somewhere around Omaha, Nebraska at that point.

Anyway, now I at least know that mid-August is Summer Monsoon weather, and when the Eastern Pacific hurricanes wander about, they can be a mite threatening:

National Weather Service San Francisco Bay Area
318 PM PDT Sun Aug 23 2020

..Elevated moisture and instability from former Hurricane Genevieve will move over the region this weekend through early next week and bring the threat of elevated thunderstorms across much of Northern California. A low pressure system off the coast may enhance and strengthen these thunderstorms allowing some to develop frequent lighting strikes and gusty erratic outflow winds. These erratic gusty outflow winds can lead to potentially dangerous and unpredictable fire behavior on existing wildfires while additional lightning strikes may result in new wildfire starts.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

I can't believe it took me so long to find this setting

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... leans back in chair ... blood pressure markedly lower ... fewer broken keys on keypad ... dog is no longer cowering in other room ...

Monday, August 17, 2020

Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada: a very short review

According to my notes, it's been well over 10 years since an entire summer went by and I didn't make it up into the mountains.

But this is an unusual year.

So, instead, I decided to spend most of August up in the mountains, through the eyes, and words, of Clarence King, and his still-relevant-after-150-years journal: Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada.

Clarence King might be one of the most interesting explorers you've never heard of. Born in New England, he studied the earth sciences at Yale University. Then, aged 21 years, in the middle of the Civil War, he tracked down his childhood friend James Terry Gardner and together they travelled all the way across the country to meet up with William Brewer and Josiah Whitney and join up with them as part of the California Geological Survey.

King and Gardner reached California just in time to join up with Professor Brewer in the 1864 Field Party survey of the central Sierra Nevada. Here's an absolutely wonderful picture of them, together with Richard Cotter, just as they are setting out on the trip.

Over the next half-dozen years, King (together with Cotter and Gardner, what a threesome they must have made!) summits many of the 14,000 foot peaks in California, making first ascents of several, including Mount Tyndall, which he gets to name, as well as Mount Shasta, Mount Langley, and of course Mount Whitney, which King discovers on the first trip and attempts to climb, but has to turn back slightly before the top (he finally reaches the summit 10 years later).

Oh, and he writes a book!

Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada was published in 1872. I don't read many 150-year-old books nowadays, and certainly I'd think twice about most 150-year-old non-fiction works, as so much has changed.

But it's quite remarkable how well Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada holds up.

There are definitely a few completely cringe-worthy parts, primarily in those sections where King veers away from Mountaineering and into discussions of the various people he meets along his trips. So just skip over those parts whenever you hit them, I suggest. (I'm not saying to forgive King for this, but certainly I was able to enjoy his book immensely by simply jumping over such sections as soon as I hit them.)

And maybe even give "Kaweah's Run" a try; that's the chapter where King describes the week-long adventure where he is chased by two robbers who pick up his trail in a foothills saloon and follow him for hundreds of miles on horseback before he finally gives them the slip. Cringe-worthy though parts of that chapter are, the overall story is remarkable.

But, oh, the mountains! King's writings about the actual experiences he had in the mountains are just wonderful!

Firstly, of course, there are the mountains themselves. Here, King and Cotter climb to the top of Mount Brewer, from which point they can then see their target, which they are soon to name Mount Tyndall:

The gorge turning southward, we rounded a sort of mountain promontory, which, closing the view behind us, shut us up in the bottom of a perfect basin. In front lay a placid lake reflecting the intense black-blue of the sky. Granite, stained with purple and red, sank into it upon one side, and a broad, spotless field of snow came down to its margin upon the other.

From a pile of large granite blocks, forty or fifty feet above the lake-margin, we could look down fully a hundred feet through the transparent water to where bowlders and pebbles were strewn upon the stone bottom. We had now reached the base of Mount Brewer, and were skirting its southern spurs in a wide, open corridor surrounded in all directions by lofty granite crags from two to four thousand feet high; above the limits of vegetation, rocks, lakes of deep, heavenly blue, and white, trackless snows were grouped closely about us. Two sounds—a sharp, little cry of martens and occasional heavy crashes of falling rock—saluted us.

Climbing became exceedingly difficult, light air—for we had already reached twelve thousand five hundred feet—beginning to tell upon our lungs to such an extent that my friend, who had taken turns with me in carrying my pack, was unable to do so any longer, and I adjusted it to my own shoulders for the rest of the day.

After four hours of slow, laborious work, we made the base of the débris slope which rose about a thousand feet to a saddle-pass in the western mountain-wall, that range upon which Mount Brewer is so prominent a point. We were nearly an hour in toiling up this slope, over an uncertain footing which gave way at almost every step. At last, when almost at the top, we paused to take breath, and then all walked out upon the crest, laid off our packs, and sat down together upon the summit of the ridge, and for a few moments not a word was spoken.

The Sierras are here two parallel summit ranges. We were upon the crest of the western ridge, and looked down into a gulf five thousand feet deep, sinking from our feet in abrupt cliffs nearly or quite two thousand feet, whose base plunged into a broad field of snow lying steep and smooth for a great distance, but broken near its foot by craggy steps often a thousand feet high.

Vague blue haze obscured the lost depths, hiding details, giving a bottomless distance, out of which, like the breath of wind, floated up a faint tremble,vibrating upon the senses, yet never clearly heard.

Rising on the other side, cliff above cliff, precipice piled upon precipice, rock over rock, up against sky, towered the most gigantic mountain-wall in America, culminating in a noble pile of Gothic-finished granite and enamel-like snow. How grand and inviting looked its white form, its untrodden, unknown crest, so high and pure in the clear, strong blue! I looked at it as one contemplating the purpose of his life; and for just one moment I would have rather liked to dodge that purpose, or to have waited, or have found some excellent reason why I might not go; but all this quickly vanished, leaving a cheerful resolve to go ahead.

From the two opposing mountain-walls singular, thin, knife-blade ridges of stone jutted out, dividing the sides of the gulf into a series of amphitheatres, each one a labyrinth of ice and rock. Piercing thick beds of snow, sprang up knobs and straight, isolated spires of rock, mere obelisks curiously carved by frost, their rigid, slender forms casting a blue, sharp shadow upon the snow. Embosomed in depressions of ice,

Yet King is not simply a man of rocks. He certainly appreciated the astonishing beauty and pageantry that are the Sierra Nevada in their full summer bloom. Here he is preparing to make his second attempt on Mount Clark, having failed two years earlier in the face of a fierce fall blizzard.

So now in June I climbed on a Sunday morning to my old retreat, found the same stone seat, with leaning oak-tree back, and wide, low canopy of boughs. A little down to the left, welling among tufts of grass and waving tulips, is the spring which Mrs. Fremont found for her camp-ground. North and south for miles extends our ridge in gently rising or falling outline, its top broadly round, and for the most part an open oak-grove with grass carpet and mountain flowers in wayward loveliness of growth. West, you overlook a wide panorama. Oak and pine mottled foot-hills, with rusty groundwork and cloudings of green, wander down in rolling lines to the ripe plain; beyond are plains, then coast ranges, rising in peaks, or curved down in passes, through which gray banks of fog drift in and vanish before the hot air of the plains. East, the Sierra slope is rent and gashed in a wilderness of cañons, yawning deep and savage. Miles of chaparral tangle in dense growth over walls and spurs, covering with kindly olive-green the staring red of riven mountain-side and gashed earth. Beyond this swells up the more refined plateau and hill country made of granite and trimmed with pine, bold domes rising above the green cover; and there the sharp, terrible front of El Capitan, guarding Yosemite and looking down into its purple gulf. Beyond, again, are the peaks, and among them one looms sharpest. It is that Obelisk from which the great storm drove Cotter and me in 1864. We were now bound to push there as soon as grass should grow among the upper cañons.

The air around my Sunday mountain in June is dry, bland, and fragrant; a full sunlight ripens it to a perfect temperature, giving you at once stimulus and rest. You sleep in it without fear of dew, and no excess of hot or cold breaks up the even flow of balmy delight. You see the wild tulips open, and watch wind-ripples course over slopes of thick-standing grass-blades. Birds, so rare on plains or pine-hills, here sing you their fullest, and enjoy with you the soft, white light, or come to see you in your chosen shadow and bathe in your spring.

Mountain oaks, less wonderful than great, straight pines, but altogether domestic in their generous way of reaching out low, long boughs, roofing in spots of shade, are the only trees on the Pacific slope which seem to me at all allied to men; and these quiet foot-hill summits, these islands of modest, lovely verdure floating in an ocean of sunlight, lifted enough above San Joaquin plains to reach pure, high air and thrill your blood and brain with mountain oxygen, are yet far enough below the rugged wildness of pine and ice and rock to leave you in peace, and not forever challenge you to combat.

One thing I found particularly striking in King's writing, is how much time he spent thinking about climate change.

Even in 1865, it was a major part of his thinking. As he travels, he observes over and over the effects of climate change. Glaciers have receded, marks of old rivers and lakes are still present in the driest of areas, and he repeatedly comments on the effects these changes have had on the trees, plants, animals, and birds of each region he travels through.

After the intense twenty year period that King spends in the west, his life changes dramatically. Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada doesn't cover any of this, but you can find plenty of information about it in various places, and I encourage you to at least have a look, as it is certainly important to have the full picture of the man, even if, as I do, you find yourself willing to dive most deeply into just his adventures in the mountains.

I am not sure when I will get back to these lovely mountains, myself. I hope it will not be too long.

In the meantime, I am glad I took the time to listen to Clarence King's voice from 150 years ago, as he vividly led me up, down, around, and through some of the greatest landscapes that the western edge of North America has to offer.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Excellent choice!

She has very high standards, and will expect the same of everyone else.

Now go make things happen!

Friday, August 7, 2020

Who are those 13%?

I can't say I'm surprised in the slightest about most of this: Biden Leads Trump in Poll Showing 87% Unhappy at U.S. Direction, reporting on the most recent Pew Research analysis: Public’s Mood Turns Grim

As the United States simultaneously struggles with a pandemic, an economic recession and protests about police violence and racial justice, the share of the public saying they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country has plummeted from 31% in April, during the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, to just 12% today.

Really, though, there's just one thing I want to know:

Apparently, one out of eight people they surveyed shrugged their shoulders, and said: "Actually, everything's just fine."

Who are those 13%?

Nice news for a Friday

We all work remotely at my company now, so I tend to miss things that maybe would have gone a bit differently if we were all together.

So I've been working with one of my colleagues, on and off, on a particular small project.

And he sent a message about a task last night.

And I replied to that message and suggested a follow-up.

And then I got a message from him:

Hey Bryan, I will take care of that later today.

I am at my naturalization oath ceremony this morning.


Now I have happy smiles for the weekend.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Where the Crawdads Sing: a very short review

I won't be the first to tell you anything about Delia Owens's Where the Crawdads Sing. According to the latest reports, I won't even be among the first five million people to tell you about it; it's surely the publishing success story of the decade!

I've heard that Where the Crawdads Sing is regularly assigned as high school reading material, which makes a certain amount of sense to me, because there is so much to talk about.

Depending on where you sit, and what sort of mood you are in, Where the Crawdads Sing is many different sorts of books. It's:

  1. an adventure story
  2. a memoir of growing up in rural coastal North Carolina in the 1950's and 1960's.
  3. a love story.
  4. actually several different love stories, of different types
  5. a murder mystery
  6. a harrowing account of family dysfunction amidst the evils of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, misogyny, alcoholism, and child abuse
  7. a police procedural
  8. a courtroom drama
  9. a devastating tale of sexual assault and its aftermath
  10. a meditation on race relations
  11. a thoughtful and elegant love song to the natural beauties of the wetlands
  12. a hopeful tale of determination and grit

It's not all these things all at once, of course. Owens adopts the approach of structuring the book as a series of short (sometimes very short) chapters, switching themes, styles, and approaches from one topic to another as the need arises.

It's like reading Mark Twain, then William Faulkner, then John Grisham, then Zora Neale Hurston, then James Lee Burke, then Harper Lee, and so forth, bouncing around and back and here and there (and then, through multiple timelines) as we go.

It's nowhere near as chaotic as I make it sound; Owens is graceful and adept and it rarely feels forced or artifical.

She's not perfect, of course, and she handles some topics better than others, but nearly everyone will find something in Where the Crawdads Sing that speaks directly to them, while simultaneously finding very little to be boring or uninteresting. Even if you're in a stretch where your interest is flagging, it's only a page or two before you're on to something quite new and different!

For myself, I found the most lovely parts to be where Owens temporarily takes a back seat and lets the marsh do the talking. Unsurprisingly from an author who directly quotes Aldo Leopold ("There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot."), Owens has a true conservationist's deep respect for the beauty, power, and honesty of the natural world.

Listen here, as the marsh itself becomes an active character, interacting with the human denizens as it would any other:

Sand keeps secrets better than mud. The sheriff parked his rig at the beginning of the fire tower lane so they wouldn't drive over any evidence of someone driving the night of the alleged murder. But as they walked along the track, looking for vehicle treads other than their own, sand grains shifted into formless dimples with every step.

Then, at the mud holes and swampy areas near the tower, a profusion of detailed stories revealed themselves: a raccoon with her four young had trailed in and out of the muck; a snail had woven a lacy pattern interrupted by the arrival of a bear; and a small turtle had lain in the cool mud, its belly forming a smooth shallow bowl.

If Where the Crawdads Sing could be summarized in any single phrase, it would be "a profusion of detailed stories revealed themselves". There's so much going on, but underneath it all the marsh ties it all together.

Here, listen to how Owens uses the simple technique of bookending a passage with several alliterative 'S' words to beautifully draw a line between cultural and religous influences ("Spanish moss", "cavelike sanctuaries") to their physical location ("sea and sky" and "serious ground"), showing how, in the end, it's all of a piece ("Markers of death ... elements of life"):

The Barkley Cove graveyard trailed off under tunnels of dark oaks. Spanish moss hung in long curtains, creating cavelike sanctuaries for old tombstones -- the remains of a family here, a loner there, in no order at all. Fingers of gnarled roots had torn and twisted gravestones into hunched and nameless forms. Markers of death all weathered into nubbins by elements of life. In the distance, the sea and sky sang too bright for this serious ground.

After roaring off to an amazing first two years of success, will Where the Crawdads Sing still be on everyone's thoughts twenty years from now? I'm not sure. Perhaps this is this generation's Huckleberry Finn, but it may also be just too soon to tell.

Regardless of its eventual state in the canon, I didn't regret a minute I spent with Owens's spell-binding saga.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Some Oakland Airport news that really probably only I find interesting

Runway 12-30 at Oakland International Airport is a massive beast, a full 1.5 miles in length, long enough to accept any currently-flying commercial aircraft, most military aircraft, and even a few aircraft that no longer fly, such as the well-known SST, aka the Concorde.

Of course, back then, it was known as Runway 11-29, because the Earth's magnetic field was different then!

Anyway, this runway is in use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even if nowadays it's been primarily servicing delivery flights such as UPS and FedEx. This can create challenges when work needs to be done on the runway, for example a few years ago when it was re-surfaced, there was a complicated arrangement where the adjacent taxiway was used as the main runway at times.

This spring, something similar is going on, although the details are a bit different.

This time, the issue is the plants around the runway. I suspect these plants are Spartina, which is a very tough and successful invasive plant that loves the coastal salt marshes of the California coast.

The plants are apparently so thick right now that they were becoming a hazard on the runway, so they have been closing Runway 12-30 from 8:30 AM to 1:30 PM on Mondays every week for the past few months, and using the North Field runway instead.

The North Field runway is much smaller than Runway 12-30, but it's still plenty big enough for the Boing 737s that are the typical commercial traffic through the Oakland Airport.

But one thing about the North Field runway is that it's about 1 mile inland from Runway 12-30.

Which considerably alters the flight path when the planes take off.

So, on Mondays, the airplanes during the day take off RIGHT OVER MY HOUSE AND IT SOUNDS LIKE THEY'RE ABOUT TO LAND IN MY DRIVEWAY.

That is all.