What a Difference a Day Makes!

Yes, the age-old adage, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute,” whether Mark Twain originated it or not, is as true as ever in north Texas. Winter was generally milder than average in the metroplex, with only a couple of brief ice storms to remind us it was winter. But then, we’ve had a spate of rainstorms here this spring that must be at least close to setting some records for the region’s seasonal rainfall and low average temperatures, and certainly I can attest to the practically tropical greens and lushness of the landscape as compared to my previous 5+ years living in the area. A glance at the lake levels charts is almost comically improbable; even the small line reading “Change since yesterday” today reads “↑ 0.70 feet,” meaning that nearby Ray Roberts Lake has risen nearly 21.5 cm in under 24 hours. For a place that has languished well under normal levels for several years, being still below “full pool” as late as 11 April this year, that’s a tidy bit of change.

Photo: Sparks Lake, 2015

Even the level of Sparks Lake, also known as our front porch, has remained so high that I have had to resort to putting mosquito-repellant ‘dunks‘ designed for standing water applications on the concrete. At least now we can advertise our home as waterfront property.

The last few days have been especially showy in their showers. On Thursday night, our drive home from Dallas was merely rainy at the beginning, but the last half hour was lit with such constant sheet lightning and the soundtrack of equally omnipresent grumbling thunder that it was film-worthy. I shot 30 minutes of iPhone footage that would have given a Steadicam a seizure, but of course it’s too long to link here and would probably give my reading friends dizzy fits. Not to mention the incredible circus-like blur of lights as the rain obscured and abstracted everything, and the couple of times that waves literally engulfed the whole car, even at crawling speeds. But as there was no place to stop on the freeway for shelter, all of us simply lumbered on, determined. I did, however, shoot a couple of very brief clips at home over the weekend, as the fun continued.

Yesterday, in fact (Sunday), the local tornado warning sirens went on around 2 or 2:30 pm. They kept up their mournful moaning for well over an hour, accompanied by warnings via telephone and computer from the National Weather Service that our county was under flash flood warnings until the wee hours of today. The wind picked up quite a bit, even in our sheltered spot between a low rise toward the street and our back fence line along the small runoff ravine, where we sit pretty comfortably sandwiched between higher lots and houses on the sides. Our great oak and pear trees whispered more urgently than usual that we should batten down the hatches and keep away from the windows. The lightning and thunder that had been holding their dramatic interchange all through Saturday night and Sunday morning kept at it like a couple of elderly housemates nagging at each other without more than a moment’s pause for breath. Somewhere around 3:30 pm, I thought it prudent to quit sneaking onto the porches for a gawk at the squalling mess and hunkered down in the quietest part of the house to write until the sirens stopped and the storm abated. And it did. The worst here had stopped shortly after, the eye of the storm now past us.

We were among the most fortunate, in our safely tucked-in hideaway at home. For a glimpse at some of the nearby damage, click this link. Yes, a couple of deaths have been confirmed and plenty of damage has been sustained. It is nowhere near the levels and expanse of more famous storms and disasters around the world, but my heart goes out to those who had a harder time of it during this go-round than we have; as I’ve said many a time before, suffering is a relative thing, and one’s pain in the moment may as well be the only pain in the world. The people who were hit hard by this latest storm, whether the ones three miles down the road from us or those in other counties and across the state line, have my true sympathy, and I feel all the more fortunate for the ease of our escape.

Today, less than 24 hours later, this is what it looks like in our idyllic little backyard. Blue skies, bright sun, thriving garden, and receding puddles where the walking path had been a fast-flowing stream. I look at it in amazement and scratch my head a little. The weather forecast tells me to expect rain tomorrow and the next day, and thunderstorms again for a full week afterward. All I can do is keep living my life and see what comes.Photo: Just Like the Storm Never Happened

Meanwhile, I need to get back out to the garage and figure out how to reset our water heater, because the storm knocked it out of commission.

The Bleak Outlook

Photo: Bleak HouseDawn comes in fits and starts. Tatters of grey cloud hang diagonally across the bottom quarter of the pale sky ahead as I’m driving away from the warmth of home; as the road swings me southward, that ragged hem rises into an ever darker, flatter cloudbank and it seems I’m reversing time as I go. The world gets smokier looking with every mile.

Have I driven all day, already? It looks less like dawn, more like dusk, every minute. A ground fog is rising from the pavement, narrowing the gap with those shredded clouds in a slow, relentless re-closing of the curtains. Approaching the city, I watch the tops of the towers fade into the growing dark and finally disappear, enveloped.

The rain begins. It’s thin and dirty at first, but with every mile I drive, grows denser, heavier. The whole world around me turns to molten lead. I am driving, now, into a contracting twilit vortex that soon enough will pull me undersea, it seems. I’m grateful to be exiting the freeway, exhausted from gripping the wheel and blinded by the bleary flow of rain that has outpaced the windshield wipers’ meager strength.

The exit ramp swings in a slow, wet arc up and over the freeway to take me back in an east-northeast crawl, and suddenly it’s as though the rainstorm has been turned off and dawn restarted. The last miles to work see no more precipitation except for that being shrugged off of the trees, and daylight brightens at every intersection, with every car’s-length I drive, and then with every foot. The office building is sparkling like a freshly scrubbed, dazzling beacon, haloed by the rising sun.

And as I walk through that phalanx of security arches toward the windowless interior where my work awaits, I go from brilliant morning into the dim, unhealthy crepuscule of artificially lighted night.Digital illustration from a photo: Into Each Life

Sailing Ahead, Wherever That May Be

The only time I’ve ever been on a sailboat was to sleep. There’s a great Tall Ship converted into a youth hostel in Stockholm where my sister and I bunked for a couple of nights on our college gallivant across western Europe. [Which hostel appears to have been recently renovated, and very nicely, if any of you should be interested.] While there may have been the faintest of motion rocking us to sleep in our on-board berths, I doubt it replicated very accurately the sensation of actual sailing. My next opportunity was during graduate school when I got a fan letter (one of the very few in my life, as you can imagine!) from a stranger who’d liked a gallery art installation I made so much that he offered to take me out sailing to the nearby islands. I don’t think there was anything predatory about him, but besides my still having a grandiose case of social anxiety in those days, there is the fact that the art show in question was entirely a walk-through, life-sized illustration of an espionage thriller; while I am doubtful that was his inspiration, I didn’t take him up on the offer.
Photo: Adrift on the High Seas

But whenever I see a sailboat, I do think it’s a beautiful representation of a genteel form of freedom that captivates my imagination all the same. Yes, I know plenty of tales of grueling trials on the high seas, no matter the size of the craft; even some of my close friends and relatives have such stories to tell, thankfully, having survived them. And I know, too, the old joke about testing one’s real interest in boat ownership by dressing up in a rain slicker and standing under an ice-cold shower for a couple of hours while flushing hundred-dollar bills down the toilet. But I also know that a vast number of people who could jolly well choose to spend their money and time on less demanding, safer, and far less expensive pastimes still choose boating. There’s clearly a strong pull to counterbalance any such negatives.

I, too, have spent some happy times on boats, just not sailboats. As a coastal kid, after all, I grew up thinking time spent on the ferries was as much pleasure and sightseeing as it was commuting or transport. I have been fairly miserable on a North Sea ferry in stormy seas while I was recovering from the stomach flu, but it did not so permanently scar either my psyche or my stomach lining that I didn’t look forward to the next time I got to be on a slow boat cruising along the shore, or perhaps best of all, in a rowboat or canoe, dipping the oars or paddle in with the rhythmic soft splashing that accompanies my reveries.
Photo: All Ashore

Living far from any natural body of water as I do these days, I am beached like an old craft whose hull is no longer seaworthy. But like those old boats I see, dry-docked on the beach or alongside the tumbledown barn or in a weedy field, I keep in my soul a firm and loving memory of every good time spent with the waves rocking me softly from below, telling me stories of their own and inviting me forward, ever forward, wherever that might take me.

If You don’t Like the Weather, Wait a Minute

photoHave you ever seen a pigeon flying backward? I did today. This phenomenal occurrence was not because I spotted a mutant genius helicopter pigeon; that really might be a matter for tales of magic and fantasy, given the modern pigeon’s brain.

It was that windy. The pigeon was making a valiant effort to take off from the edge of a roof and, blown instead straight backward, finally saw the same edge directly under him and came right back in for a landing. What’re you gonna do?

The wind is giving us a good whack here in north Texas today. Two days ago, it was over 80°F/27°C, brilliantly sunny, and calm as a sleeping cat. Tonight, we’re told, we can expect freezing temperatures and should cover all of our tender plants in the garden. A couple of days before our balmy pseudo-summer day, we had a storm pass through. Parts of our town had a little thunder and lightning and a fair amount of rain with a little bit of hail mixed in it, but nothing extravagant by local standards. Our house was in that lucky sector, and so was our car while we drove home in The Weather. Just across town, others were not so fortunate: some had hail the size of golf balls or larger, and tornado-like gusts, and among the downed trees and limbs there were homes where the roofs were destroyed or caved in, cars were damaged or totaled by metal-dimpling all over and glass smashed through, and interiors soaked with the rain and debris thrown in through the broken windows.

We’re torn, in more ways than strictly the physical, around here.

We crave every drop of H2O that we can squeeze out of the sky; even after a relatively mild number of months, our lake levels continue to be well below their norms, some still fully in drought status. It’s not considered a plus if you can drive directly to where your boat is moored, in case anyone wondered. All the same, if the moisture is dumped all at once as though shot through giant firehoses, it doesn’t always stay where it’s needed but instead causes flash floods, undermines foundations, uproots vegetation and breaks down buildings and roads left and right.

Doesn’t matter what you call it—climate change, global warming, a thirty-year cycle, or evil pixies run amok—the weather all around this wonderful, messy planet is more extreme than it had been for much of recent history. The extremes are more extreme, the heat and cold, the wind and dead stillness, the flooding and droughts. Only the inconsistency of the weather seems to be more, well, consistent.

All somewhat amusing, if the worst one experiences is the occasional sighting of a pigeon flying backward. But of course, that’s the least of it. Ask our neighbors who sustained major damage to house, car and property all at once last week. Ask the people—the peoples—displaced by tornado and typhoon, those who have lost home and family to the floods and famines that massacre everyone in their paths throughout whole regions.

I don’t much care about whether we’re partly to blame for the seeming extra intensity of nature’s capriciousness and fury at this point. It’s not all that different, in my mind, from all of the displacements, distortions and destruction in history that we can absolutely attribute to human invasion, conquest, greed, prejudice, ignorance and evil. As horrible as that stuff all, genuinely, is, it is: it exists, already. What matters is what we do now in order not to perpetuate the ills, and better yet, to mitigate them as best we can. We can’t undo history, and we can’t control nature. But we can and should change our attitudes, practices and beliefs (and the governing processes needed to support those societal improvements appropriately) in whatever ways will support a far better world, one where wars, rape, murder, slavery, thievery, violence and all sorts of other horrible human actions are not only universally condemned but undesirable to enact.

And, since we expect that we, and those generations who succeed us, will continue to need to live on this specific planet and its resources, hadn’t we better think up some less selfish and more practical ways of easing the effects of nature just as much as our effects on it? We won’t likely figure out how to stop the wind from blowing with great intensity, floods from filling valleys, hail from pelting like rocks out of the sky, or lightning from searing and exploding whatever it can lay its fiery fingertip on, but if we put our minds to it, maybe we can think up some reasonable ways to protect more people, and care for those who are affected, better.

I didn’t really start out with the intent of rambling on about this stuff, but it’s on my mind. Probably not so different from the pigeon’s reaction when he discovered his original flight plan wasn’t viable. Can I fly backward? I don’t know. But I’ll bet it’s worth trying, if I find myself needing to make an emergency landing. No matter how the wind is blowing.photo

Rising above It All

digital collagePhoenix in Plainclothes

I’m not afraid, though storm clouds menace me,

obscuring all the known, the safe and sweet,

though lightning slashes through the dark and sleet

to make its fury all that I can see–

For under it, still in the garden’s bed,

lie roses, graceful guardians of peace,

to shelter me until the storm should cease,

and blue convolvulus, whose trumpets said–

The rain announces plenty, growth and life,

and nothing terrible amid its fires

can conquer me, so strong are my desires

and will, that they defeat such earthly strife–

And I will spread my wings and rise, remade,

for though storms menace me, I’m not afraid.digital collage

Clouding My Thoughts

As a cloud-gazing aficionado, I know I’m in good company. It’s hard not to be intrigued by the astounding amount of information, meteorological and otherwise, that one can read and guess and even predict from close observation of clouds; it’s easy to become rather obsessed with watching them and seeing what’s found in them beyond the mere factual.

And you know I am drawn to all things that invite invention.photoOur summer peregrinations offered vast quantities of opportunity in this lovely form. As passenger on 99% of our 6000 mile road trip (just as I am in our everyday life) I was free to stare into the sky whenever I wasn’t on intensive watch duty for a specific exit or landmark, and the sky when seen from the vast American plains is a grand theatre indeed. While ‘Big Sky Country‘ is one state’s nickname, and Montana is indeed a region of wide open views of the sky, even from the rugged-not-flat high plains, the US has millions of acres of land that lies relatively flat under the heavens and allows views across the miles that rival the telescopic.

I would be hard pressed to agree with those who find extensive mid-country travels boring from a viewing standpoint. The landscape may, in places, be no more varied than one kind of wild grass giving way gradually to another over wide sweeps of seldom changing topography, one tumble-down farm very much like the next, but besides that even these have their subtle differences, they are all capped by this apparently limitless height of sky. Mostly, I find this mesmerizing, even meditative. When the weather is cloudless, the intensity of the hot blue depths above, looking as though they never did and never could have anything in them change, have a kind of cobalt stolidity to them that can be oppressive but, when broken by the least irruption–a crop dusting plane coughing out its own skinny clouds, a crow chasing a hawk straight up out of a stand of mowed weeds–suddenly becomes backdrop for high drama. Indeed, as one who grew up before the special effects masters of film took to using the more popularly familiar green screen to allow the insertion of infinite inventions in CGI, I was accustomed to chroma key blue screens, so now the sky has become mine.

Still, as much as I love the clear beauty of a bold blue sky and the endless space for spectacle that it represents, when clouds come into the picture the possibilities are multiplied exponentially.

Not only do they serve as messengers of what sort of travel conditions lie ahead when I’m on the road–especially when observed from so many miles away as is possible in an open landscape–they tell stories and evoke romances tirelessly, keeping my mind a-spin with the permutations and portents I read therein. Much as I find driving in the most intense storms, day or night, a stressful challenge to my technique, never mention my eyes, the colors and textures and patterns in the clouds rarely cease to amaze and delight me, even in the center of the maelstrom. And when things settle down and the clouds begin to part and thin and allow through them those fugitive rays that remind me more truly of both the size of the clouds that it takes to fill such a hyperbolic height of sky and of the power that mere collations of mist can have when they converge for battle? Then I see again the beauty of clouds altogether, and I am on cloud nine.photo

Animal Behavior

Little Beasties’ Escapade

Raccoon, Armadillo and Possum set sail

In a galvanized bucket, the teeth of a gale,

On the reservoir lake in the midst of the night,

Under cloud-obscured stars and without the moon’s light,

For they were on a mission requiring the dark,

At imperative speed, wildly searching the spark

Of a glimmer ashore on the lake’s farther side,

Where they’d scramble the banks and find somewhere to hide–

And what was their mission, to act like scared squirrels?

Escaping, of course, from the amorous girls

Of the possum, raccoon and ‘dillo persuasions.

Run and hide’s all one can do on just such occasions.digital artwork from drawings