Youngblood Blog

Writing weblog, local, topical, personal, spiritual

Rockin’ the Boat to Save the Lighthouse

Rockin’ the Boat to Save the Lighthouse

Former coal-oil-burner Trinidad Light shone out to mariners headed for home port

PETROLIA might RATTLE
McKinleyville may prattle
But in Trinidad they battle
To save the Lighthouse dear

Eureka dredges Humboldt Bay
While Arcata rescues Market Day
Weaverville firemen clear the way
So folks can go back home dear

One-lane traffic on 299
Get your gear packed well before time
You won’t get much of a warnin’ sign
Tsunami incoming, dear
Sidereal Musing 2017

Trinidad Civic Club’s Memorial Lighthouse site is a sacred one, erected on a small piece of land donated to the club in 1948 by Earl and Neva Hallmark, who in 1946 built the redwood pier at the Harbor. It was to play an important role in the lives of commercial and sport fishermen, and supported the ocean-going life of Trinidad until its steel replacement, which handles marine traffic today.

Synchronously, the Memorial Lighthouse stands on an overlook of the Bluff down towards the sacred burial ground and Yurok village of Tsurai—home to generations of First People—on Old Home Beach. The Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse and the ancient village setting are a reminder of how preservation of sacred places can exist together. The Yurok Tribe are supportive of the Lighthouse preservation fund.

Lighting the Way for a Future of Memories

WWII Danforth anchor, 1898 decommissioned bell—which strikes every day at noon—flank the endangered Lighthouse

Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse, constructed in 1949 to house the 1912 coal oil lantern, was decommissioned by the Coast Guard when the electric light was installed at the Trinidad Head Lighthouse in 1974. The area also accommodates the two-ton 1898 bronze bell decommissioned at the same time when automation came to the Bell House on Trinidad Head, pictured below right.

Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse, a replica of the 1871 Trinidad Head Lighthouse, was built by Trinidad Civic Club on a 45ft. x 50ft. parcel of the Bluff donated by Earl and Neva Hallmark in 1948 and dedicated on June 26, 1949. The lighthouse contains a 1912 coal oil Fresnel lantern, the last one of its kind, decommissioned from use by the United States Coast Guard on the Pacific Coast. It was previously installed in the Trinidad Head Lighthouse.

Later, the World War II USS Danforth anchor, recovered from the bay, was added to the site, and a bronze plaque reading “In loving memory to those who perished at sea. They shall live forever in our hearts” was dedicated May 30, 1970.

The site on the Bluff at Edwards and Trinity Streets also holds the 1898 4,000-pound bronze fog bell moved from the fog Bell House on Trinidad Head, pictured below. It also serves as a Memorial Wall engraved with the names of 238 individuals Lost or Buried at Sea. An annual Memorial Naming ceremony is held on the last Sunday of May commemorating and honoring those named, since 1995.

Lighthouse & former Coastguard cottages on Trinidad Head—foghorn & automated light remain

TRINIDAD City leaders and Civic Club have agreed in principle to raise $40,000-$50,000 to move the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse a few yards away, outside the threatened landslide area.

Council and Civic Club are working together with professional geologists to complete the move by October 2017, before the onset of the rainy season.

Foundation Realignment or Shoring Up?

Civic Club President Dana Hope informed the City Council that her group would accept any stopgap financing, to be secured via fundraising which included online solicitation. $40,000-$50,000 in ‘seed money’ is contingent on how much more Trinidad Council can secure in financing from California’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

OES funding is reckoned likely, but FEMA’s response is ‘pending’—an understandable statement, given their current clean-up operations in Florida and Texas after two hurricanes.

Tiny Trinidad Head Lighthouse, left distance, with functioning foghorn, foreground

The slope underpinning both the Lighthouse and Edwards Street, town thoroughfare that passes just north of the lighthouse steps, need long-term reinforcement. Construction costs range from $100,000 to $1 million, according to a recent engineering report, based on drill borings, readings from slope inclinometers and aerial and field mapping, compiled over last six months by SHN Consulting Engineers & Geologists, Eureka.

Plight of the Lighthouse has attracted national and international attention and that interest is starting to pay off.

A Preservation Fund has already been set up and gifts and donations of any size are flowing in here. U.S. taxpayers may make tax-deductible donations by check for the Lighthouse Preservation Fund to

Trinidad Civic Club
for The Lighthouse Preservation Fund
P.O. Box 295
Trinidad, CA 95570

Those wishing to add a named donation, or gift on behalf of a loved one already buried at sea may wish to use this avenue of funding.

If you want to give anonymously, or make a large (private) amount, you may email for more information to memoriallighthouse@gmail.com.

Trinidad Civic Club, in cooperation with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Coast Guard, arranges free tours of Trinidad Head Lighthouse throughout the year—a strenuous walk around ‘The Head’, but worth it. Discussion is ongoing to find the most reasonable and cost-effective solution before the rainy season.
©2017 Marian Youngblood

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September 15, 2017 Posted by | authors, blogging, culture, earth changes, environment, history, ocean, rain, seismic, traditions, weather, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Late Season Hurricanes promise Autumnal Chaos

INSECURE WRITERS’ MONTHLY ESCAPE CORNER
Refuge even in the Stormiest Weather

Late hurricane Matthew causing havoc in Haiti heading for Bahamas, mainland U.S.

Late hurricane Matthew causing havoc in Haiti heading for Bahamas, mainland U.S.

June too soon
July stand by
August come it must
September remember
October all over
Bahamian Hurricane Rhyme—now outdated by Global Warming

Hurricane warnings are in effect for Haiti, eastern Cuba, the southeastern Bahamas—including the Inaguas, Mayaguana, Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Cay and Ragged Island; also central Bahamas—Long Island, Exuma, Rum Cay, San Salvador and Cat Island.

Hurricane watches continue for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Cuban province of Camaguey, which have now been extended to include the northwestern Bahamas, including the Abacos, Andros, Berry Islands, Bimini, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama and New Providence.

Cape Hatteras and Interests in the Capital
Washington D.C. is not unaware of the strategic importance of monitoring a strong category 5 storm headed to Cape Hatteras and Maryland.

Space lightning sprites over hurricane Matthew, filmed from Aruba by F.Lucena

Space lightning sprites over hurricane Matthew, filmed from Aruba by F.Lucena

One possible analogue to Matthew is Hurricane Hazel, which swept through Haiti in October 1954, claiming 400-1,000 lives in severe flash flooding and landslides.

Hurricane Betsy was famous in Nassau for similar treatment of humans in September 1965.

Both storms were unprecedented for their time—technically late season—in the ‘all over’ category of the poem, top. Now hurricanes are known to form in April and extend through November.

Along with unseasonal—but much welcomed—thunder, lightning and RAIN.

On the other side of the world, and on the other edge of the Pacific, Fukushima officials strive hopelessly to reinstall the damaged ice wall they built of sea ice to shut in radiation leakage. But September 2nd, thanks to tornado Lionrock, Japan’s tenth typhoon, the ice wall was again breached, with leakage of contaminated soil and fluids once more soaking through into northern Pacific waters.

Why are we not surprised to hear it’s heading our way?

Realtime Storms and CassaStorm
We IWSGers might sometimes be forgiven for burying our heads in the sand—digging deep into the recesses of our past, future or fantasy selves.

I am tempted to suggest that these earthly storms may even have been fantasized into reality by the fantastical script of our Ninja leader Alex’s CassaStorm—which, I am told, has just gone viral 😉 Congrats Alex.

May we all weather this storm, to write again tomorrow.
©2016 Marian Youngblood

October 5, 2016 Posted by | authors, blogging, culture, environment, publishing, rain, seasonal, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drawing Breath—Speaking up for Lungs of the Planet

MONTHLY INSECURE WRITERS’ ENCLAVE—
IWSGers Speak up for the Planet

Thanks 2Alex for getting on our case—writing-wise

Thanks 2Alex for getting on our case—writing-wise

Happy New Year to all Insecure Writers! And to the world at large.
Mostly, thanks to our prolific host and Ninja Cap’n, Alex, for allowing us crazies free rein on his excellent forum. It opens writerly doors, and allows us to vent, when things go wrong. May we all survive—nay, plunge into—this year and follow our dreams.

Sore Patch hidden by powerful local  'Resource company' under umbrella of social conscience offer to 'open woodland to public'

Sore Patch hidden by powerful local ‘Resource company’ under umbrella of social conscience offer to ‘open woodland to public’

2015 saw many changes in awareness of common responsibility for our country’s finite resources, both nation-wide and internationally, bringing accord which would have been impossible a decade ago. Politicians are—with careful research—actually clearing desks, allocating reserve funds to deal with the atmosphere-environment.

It is no longer an ‘issue’. Climate has become real time—Western nations’ new goal—to do good by the planet, our only home.

But don’t hold your breath.

Rattle in Seattle as Farewell to Old Ways
West Coast shakes over New Year ranged from Mag.4.7 in Seattle through M.6.2 Nevada/Utah border, to M.4.1 off Ferndale, CA. Judging by whale movement—on late migration south delayed by warm northern waters—quakes and movement are happening on the coastal plate, where the Gorda fault fissures to join its subterranean sisters under (human habitat) the land. Several landslides along the coastal Scenic Drive route north of the Eel and Mad Rivers—in Humboldt County—have made travel ‘difficult’—official sources.

Once again we realize our Earth Mama is shaking her feathers—a little ruffled by now with all the oil extraction and fossil burning we’ve been up to.

Seattle, Nevada, Baja Mexico echo New Year Mediterranean quakes

Seattle, Nevada, Baja Mexico echo New Year Mediterranean quakes

Lieber kleiner blauer Stern [Pale Blue Dot auf Deutsch]
Menschen habt ihn endlich gern
Tut ihm nun nichts mehr zu Leide
Nicht den Bergen, nicht der Heide
Nicht den Wiesen, Mooren, Flüssen
Nicht den Wäldern, Vögeln, Fischen
Liebt den kleinen blauen Stern
Pflegt und schütz ihn
Habt ihn gern
courtesy M.Asgardh

Snakes, ants, beetles, redwoods and humans—we all travel the Milky Way together and share the planet’s blessings
John Muir, founder of Sierra Club

Volcanoes, dormant since the dinosaurs, generating lightning storms in Nevada-Utah

Volcanoes, dormant since the dinosaurs, generating lightning storms in Nevada-Utah


Latest round of seismic unrest included quakes in Oklahoma, causing power outages, and widespread flooding damage in Mississippi basin.

In Pacific NW, several dormant volcanoes shook over New Year, alongside multiple larger (Richter Mag.4.2 or more) earthquakes rippling along faults extending N-S along West coast United States. Authorities remain vigilant, with such heavy movement currently underway.
If Mama is shaking us, what is it we’ve done to get her so annoyed?

Well, let’s take breathable air, for a start—yes, we decimated Earth’s fossil trees—so, what are we doing about it?

Headwaters Forest—Tragedy of 1990s

Trying to measure up to 1000-year Old Growth Redwoods is harder work than forestry companies imagined

“Standing among these ancient trees, a thousand years old perhaps, I am humbled by how long it takes to restore these forests. As I take one last look up into the stratosphere of canopy before heading back into the glaring light of second-growth, I wonder at the rôle of restoration in recreating the beauty I see before me. I think it will be a very long time before our forest will be what it once was”
David LaFever, Bureau Land Management Ecologist, after 2001 restoration attempt

Headwaters Forest was purchased in 1999 by State and Federal government agencies, and put under permanent protection. Clear-felling practice was legally reduced to a 20-40-acre maximum.

The logging industry finally sat up and paid attention. Its own resource was decimated; salmon runs and ecosystems had suffered in a mindless race for economic gain, with only table scraps left, in the view of Humboldt State University forest scientist Steve Sillett. ‘The challenge now is to improve management on the 95% of redwood landscape (felled) that is just starting into regrowth.’

Old Growth Sequoia Groves
Old-growth redwood forests are structurally diverse, with a range of tree sizes, reiterated tree trunks—high tree and stand biomass—and with complex canopies. Headwaters old-growth is characterized by a mixture of redwood (Sequoia sempervirens, 50-70% of overstory) and Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga Menziesii, 30-47%) with a density of 70-80 trees per acre. Conversely, unthinned second-growth stands are dominated by Douglas Fir (60-80%), with density of over a thousand trees per acre.

Sequoia sempervirens, redwoods as big as a Boeing 707

Growing trees like a crop of grain is no longer the enlightened view. Scientists from HSU have discovered that the older the redwood, the harder and more disease-resistant is the wood, and the tougher its ability to withstand weathering, damage. That there is more life-support value in one 1000-year old Sequoia, than in a thousand 10-year olds.

Forestry attitudes are changing too. Heavy Caterpillar earthmoving tractors, that caused such erosion—skid trails—with consequent pollution to streams and spawning pools, are being replaced by smaller, lighter shovel loaders on tracks that leave the forest floor intact. State law now enforces a mandatory buffer zone of trees now, along streams and rivers.

Finally the salmon and other native fish are returning.

Forestry business mantra is that they are ‘on target to create new forests’ (in one hundred years), like the ones protected in the Redwoods National and State Parks, begun by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1875-92. He and John Muir should by now roaring with delighted laughter in their (redwood) coffins.

At the time Headwaters was established in 1999, 60% of the area had been logged. In some areas, forests were only beginning to regrow from clear-cut harvests of the 1980s and 1990s. Inheriting unnatural second-growth forests dominated by Douglas Fir, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began restoration thinning in 2004. Goal of restoration was to accelerate forest development towards old-growth conditions, and restore a more natural species mix to each area—by cutting Douglas Fir and leaving Redwood and other less common species. From 2004 to 2013, BLM thinned 1,600 acres—approximately 21% of Headwaters Forest Reserve.

Thinning Understory in Attempt to Mimic Old Growth
In 2014, BLM began a second round of thinning with an idea of introducing more ‘spatial complexity’, to mimic conditions found in old-growth forests within Headwaters. BLM workers created a mosaic of tree density across second-growth stands, by building off recent restoration work completed in Redwood National and State Parks. They also completed their research project in partnership with Humboldt State University. Their report, published 2013: “Modeling Young Stand Development towards the Old-growth Reference Condition in Evergreen Mixed-Conifer Stands at Headwaters Forest Reserve, California”.

‘This study helped us understand the conditions in old-growth stands and allowed us to model trajectories towards old-growth under various restoration scenarios’
BLM ecologist D.laFever

Life without trees—lack of breathable air—would be a scenario more appropriate to Star Trek, CassaStar, or in our sci-fi leader*, Alex’s new ‘geek stuff’. But we breathe on, thanks to the lungs of the planet—threatened, decimated—broken but unbowed.
*If Alex can branch out into short stories—’geek stuff’—I can face the bureaucracy with a little non-fiction of my own—lol. Thanks, Alex and fellow IWSGers for listening.
Happy Epiphany!
©2016 Marian Youngblood

January 6, 2016 Posted by | authors, birds, blogging, consciousness, culture, earth changes, energy, environment, fiction, nature, rain, seasonal, seismic, trees, volcanic, weather, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Autumnal Angst—Getting Even the IWSG Way

INSECURE WRITERS’ MOANING MINNIE CORNER

Arctic Cathedral of light, Tromsø, Norway, triggers communications blackout , courtesy SpaceWeather

Arctic Cathedral of light, Tromsø, Norway, triggers communications blackout , courtesy SpaceWeather

While my heart goes out to all those East Coasters who have been suffering in their recent bout of inclement weather, –hurricane Joaquin notwithstanding: I believe “he” did a 360º turnaround and headed not for Britain after New England, but back to Bermuda!—I have to claim extenuating I.T.-related circumstances, as this monthly missive has had to be hand-written, agonized over, and finally in frustration thrown into the mix unedited, unpolished, and under-quota for IWSGers’ standard of writing… ;(

I am clearly in the minority here, at least six hours behind schedule—plus the extra three hours all good (true) Californians steel themselves to be in the office by six a.m., because that’s 0900 hours New York City time— well, I’m well over that.

So, my abject apologies to our ever-indulgent, forgiving and forgetting—but also hugely talented when it comes to such sci-fi antics in the fantasy world—Ninja Captain Alex, who is ALWAYS on time.

When it happens in the “real” world, however, I’m not sure anyone on the East Coast feels suitably badly-done-by to send condolences. But I need something.

I am told it is a total communications blackout—Pacific Northwest-wide—emanating from a small C.M.E. alongside a man-made under-the-R.A.D.A.R. [i.e. undisclosed] microwave blast centered on our ozone layer over Nevada-Arizona, to induce RAIN. But it caused other disruptions. RAIN did not fall, guys of NOAA persuasion. We are still arid here.

Don’t get me started on weather manipulation and climate control…

More alarming—solar unrest is just revving up. There are more solar disruptions to come. Don’t blame me. Blame SpaceWeather, see sidebar right.

Oldies But Goodies Going in Style

Veteran actors Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin toast each other in Brooklyn Park movie set

Veteran actors Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin toast each other in Brooklyn Park movie set

Instead, let those of us of elder persuasion—no, not all you young IWSGer-chicks—take heart from three—nay four—veteran actors, and plod on regardless. It’s called “being a trooper”. Michael Caine would know the phrase. He has over fifty movies to his credit and, at 82, isn’t thinking of holding back now.

According to studio release from the set of director Zach Braff’s remake of 1979 George Burns movie, Going in Style, the comedy presents Morgan Freeman, 78, Alan Arkin, 81, and Michael Caine as desperadoes. Braff, huge on laughs, has ‘Scrubs’ to his television credit. He’s cleverly persuaded Ann-Margret, 76, to perform as well.

Yeah-h-h for us oldies-but-goodies. UR not old, Alex 😉

Getting the cops steamed up: Michael Caine takes Morgan Freeman to hell in a basket

Getting the cops steamed up: Michael Caine takes Morgan Freeman to hell in a basket

“Desperate to pay the bills and come through for their loved ones, the three risk it all by embarking on a daring bid to knock off the very bank that absconded with their money.”

Braff says Going In Style is about three seniors who lose their pension, because the company they worked for their entire lives sold overseas, and all of a sudden they have no money at all to live off, and they’re barely scraping by as it is.

‘And even though they’re older guys, they decide they’re going to try. They’re going to attempt to rob the very bank that’s withheld their pension money.’

Sometimes I wish life were as easy as robbing a bank—to get even.
But it isn’t easy to get even with a hurricane, floods in the basement, or a blanket communications blackout. SpaceWeather usually covers it: solar flares—CMEs—incoming.

May I send my fellow IWSGers a token solar flare—just so you know I’m late, but—like Baba Ram Dass—I’m still here.

Post-scriptum: Thanks to Alex for such a l-o-n-g list of links to us IWSG not-so-moaning-minnies on his new all singing dancing website, and for allowing me this time for ‘getting even’.*
*I so love your critique on Matt Damon’s The Martian. Evokes memories of Bruce Dern’s ‘Silent Running’, my fave sci-fi-realism fantasy.

When all around are losing theirs, give up.
And laugh.
©2015 Marian Youngblood

October 8, 2015 Posted by | authors, blogging, fantasy, fiction, rain, sun, volcanic, weather, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Strawberry Moon: Think Pink to Tide us Over Trying Times

MONTHLY INSECURE WRITERS’ CORNER

Tectonic shifting June 2015: Pacific Ring of Fire sets off alarm bells around the globe

Tectonic shifting June 2015: Pacific Ring of Fire sets off alarm bells around the globe

On most cultural issues, Californians lead the pack. Except, that is, in their heedless determination to withstand Earth tremors of any scale. They are getting what they wished for now—High tides to satisfy the most intense surfers—literally waves to die for.

Full Moon High Tides Reflect Earth Extremes
World attention has been understandably focused on volcanic mayhem in the Himalayan chain—larger than 7.8magnitude Richter quakes, with repeated aftershocks, causing tragic loss of life in Nepal. Then, without time for humans to regroup, several subsequent 7.6mag. shocks, shattering Mount Everest, Kangchenjunga and swathes of Tibet—devastating the Roof of the World.

Mile-high Denver and hardly a drop of snow. H20 crisis throughout Western U.S.A.

Mile-high Denver and hardly a drop of snow. H20 crisis throughout Western U.S.A.

Half a planet away, USGS’s reputed “insignificant seamount” of Juan da Fuca on the Gorda offshore crustal plate, in Northern Humboldt, CA, has been acting Metronome. It’s been ticking in and out of 5.1mag.-6.1mag. shifts, as high tides became higher, in runup to Tuesday’s June 2nd Full Strawberry Moon.

Tidal effects on Oregon coast have increased too, in rhythm with the rest of the Pacific. Even Hawaii and precious Galapagos Islands on the Cocos Plate have not escaped volcanic broiling. Santorini, Etna and even Vesuvius have chimed in. There seems no end in sight.

Early drought and water hose bans have made June and the rest of this parched planet feel drier—less capable than ever before of withstanding subterranean cracking—and Fracking.
Without speaking back!

Unrelated to writer’s block? you wonder.

Silly Season—or Sell in May & Go Away
Back when there were Ninja Cap’n storytellers who created paper copies of triple best-sellers overnight—putting physical books on people’s shelves—yes—we knew what summer meant for us: Summertime business shuts up shop; people migrate. In writing—and in journalistic—circles, it’s called the “silly season”.

Now many writers—with paper dreams or even electronic ones 😉 —despair of ever finding an agent in summer—unknown, unobtainable, or elsewhere. So can you blame them at times for wanting to fly away themselves?

Maybe this summer we shall pay greater attention—keep our minds focused, senses honed, noses to the grindstone.

Funny how major shifts in our planetary home have a way of rearranging the braincells—systematizing the synapses.

More of a Moon than a Moan

Thinking pink will get you everywhere

Thinking pink will get you everywhere

For those legendary IWSG bloggers—of this now infamous Monthly Moan. And for friends who are brazen Saturnine-visaged Scorpios, or beloved laughing Sagittarians—who take these weather crazies in their stride I salute you—metaphorically speaking; I’ve never been a good little marine—for showing us the way through this impasse aka
astrological storm—more of a Moon than a moan. Maybe now is not the best time to mention a few archetypal cycles, coming back to haunt us—this very week in history.

Salem Witch Trials 1692
Mount Pinatubo erupted 1991 (and she’s at it again)
D-Day 1944
First AIDS virus recorded 1981
Watergate arrests 1972
Beginning of End of Cold War, June 1963—prelude to JFK Assassination, November

…On the Bright Side
In June 1963—five months before he was assassinated—U.S. President John F. Kennedy spoke on the podium of the newly-liberated Reichstag in an undivided Berlin. His famous “Ick bin ein Berliner” speech was heard by millions of Europeans, who already loved him for what he stood up for. His opening doors—and spectacular unveiling of East-West Hamburg/Potdam Autobahn* started the end of the Cold War.

Thanks and ahoy to Cap’n.Alex for indulging me in lost dreams of a better world. Otoh, if JFK could do it, we IWSGers can do it: weather this storm.
*What Americans—reputedly JFK himself—couldn’t quite handle: 1963 Bremen-Hamburg-Berlin Autobahn had and has to this day—no speed limit. The mind of frustrated U.S. roadster-wannabes boggles with vision of JFK’s phalanx of limos—he was heavily guarded, regardless of his youthful wind-in-hair image—driving sedately at max. 65m.p.h. from Air Force One to Berlin PotdamerPlatz—overtaken by, you-got-it, BMWs, Audis, Porsche and even Lamborghinis, Lotuses and Volkswagens streaming by like a sound-track: zoom—zoom—siren–squeal— zoom 😉
Happy summer. #IamWri†ing
©June 2015 Marian Youngblood

June 3, 2015 Posted by | ancient rites, authors, blogging, culture, earth changes, environment, fantasy, history, rain, seismic, volcanic, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

2009/2010 El Niño Crazies? or Just Weather

It was a dark and stormy night – oh, no – wrong genre – start again.

Beauty of a snowflake

I decided winter was going to be a hard one when snow started falling a week before Christmas. Slow and steady, huge hexagonal flakes of white fluff that wouldn’t hurt a fly – until it amasses.

And amass it did.

In this neck of the woods, a white Christmas has become something of a rarity over the last score years: an event you remembered from childhood, when lampposts were short and dogs were tall; when traffic was a report you heard on the radio; when the wind blew from the North and old men predicted the white stuff. In these last few years, it feels as if the Earth is turning on the screws and testing us countryfolk to see if we’re made of the right stuff.

There’s a link there somewhere.

All summer long – I blogged about the weather, because there was nothing I could do to change it – winds brought cloud and rain from the west: dragged it kicking and screaming across the Grampian Mountains – that famous Roman chain that spawned Mons Graupius, which usually blocks precipitation – and dumped it on Aberdeenshire.

geology of Aberdeenshire

Geology of Aberdeenshire: granite, red sandstone and raised beach gravel

For those of you unaccustomed to our spectacular micro-climatic conditions in the Northeast triangle of Scotland, the Grampian county of Aberdeen has paleo-historically been blessed with low-level Pleistocene marine sands and gravels on its eastern coast, Devonian red sandstone on the North coast and intrusive muti-colour granites – also Devonian – in the middle. They’re the ones that usually soak up leftover raindrops.

The Cairngorms form a natural divide between East and West. These stately peaks – though only in the minds of Scots, as they rise to a maximum of 4,000 feet – are geographically closer to the Atlantic Ocean than they are to the North Sea; yet their granite bloc is a block for precipitation, most years dumped unceremoniously on the long-suffering, midge-ridden West.

For every mile east you go you can expect one inch less rainfall. It’s an old Scots maxim that made some sense in Grandfather’s time.

The charmed population of Aberdeenshire has historically experienced early springs, punctual return of swallows, balmy if slightly dry summers and mild falls. Winter, since the storms of 1981-2, was a gleam in the weatherman’s eye.

Until 2009-2010.

Summer was a non-starter. A brilliant flash in late June – like a forgotten dream: one week after solstice, a few days into early July seemed like a world of childhood fantasy; running barefoot through meadow flowers, gathering domestic strawberries, wild raspberries; thinking of lush promised fruits to come: plums and pears and apples.

Then the drought (so-called ‘heat-wave’) vanished and the rains came. And with them the winds.

Hurricane Katrina August 2005

In the Bahamas and the Florida Keys they used to say a hurricane rhyme:

‘June: too soon,
July: stand by,
August: come it must,
September: remember,
October: all over.’

It applied last year to eastern Scotland, to a scary degree.

June and July were the calm before the storm. August – a month when surprise ‘spates’ arrive and inundate fields of ripening grain, sweeping all before them into overflowing ditches, burns and rivers – brought two downpours. Central riverine communities sandbagged doors, secured and taped windows. And still it came. September there were three more floods; this time the river Don burst its banks in several places: in Kintore a farmer died in his tractor, caught out and drowned, unable to extract himself from floodwaters.

A mile of Don’s worth two of Dee
Except for fish and stone and tree

The September ‘spate’, likened to its ancestor, the ‘Muckle Spate o’ ‘29’ (by that they meant 1829), carried away everything not tied down: including fish, stone and tree.

Equinox came and went and still it rained. Still the winds blew. It was as if the hurricane season of Florida had not only exported its rhyme, but all of its storms:

After Ana, Bill and Claudette, the twisting tail headed north, skirted Bermuda and aimed straight for the north Atlantic, round the Pentland Firth and down through the Moray Firth to blast Aberdeenshire.

That’s right. Not only were these storms of gale-force strength (in high summer a wind over 60mph is unusual, to say the least), but they came from the North. Poor battered plants in struggling northern gardens usually basking in an exquisite micro-climate of Icelandic and Scandinavian temperatures, were being blown to bits.

I digress only momentarily to explain that our countryman, Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort is responsible for giving us the scale of wind speeds that we currently use. It really hasn’t changed much since he standardized it in 1806. There’s been no need. Wind, from a gentle summer breeze that cools the romantic brow (3 to 6 knots, Beaufort 2) right through to a full hurricane-force gale greater than 73mph (64 knots, Beaufort 12) has a way of letting you know it’s there.

sheltering toad

Danny, Erika, Fred and Grace brought similar reminders: storm-force conditions injurious to plant, beast and Man. I even found a toad sheltering from the blast in a quiet niche. There seemed no let-up; no sign of a reprieve. Those of us who believed that the Earth was just playing a game, having us on, it would be Okay in another week… were in for a big surprise.

I planted a giant sunflower out of its (greenhouse seeded) pot in May, thinking how lovely the vision that, in a summer like 2005, 2004, 2001 or 1998 (‘Global warming’ years) it might set seed to feed finches by autumn.

By equinox it still hadn’t flowered.

It was so statuesque, so tall, so strong – its stem larger than the area I could encompass with my two hands. It was full of moisture and had responded with phenomenal growth. But no yellow petals.

October arrived. Swallows had long departed – they’d decided for the first time in twenty years that enough was enough. They’d lingered in Ultima Thule only long enough to hatch a single clutch. They left on a singular warm wind three weeks early. I should have known then we were in for more.

I thought things would change after the ‘equinoctial gales’. It is traditionally a time when, if summer has been a little less than kind, the burgeoning vines, the bending limbs, the fully laden branches of fruit and Nature’s bounty make up for all the hard work, lost sleep, missed opportunities: the promise is fulfilled, Mother Earth comes through in spades, the sun shines and all is forgiven. The warm earth brings forth ripened plums, pears and apples in abundance, even a choice late cherry or two.

Not last year.

Green tomatoes so abundant they were going out of style

True, there were Granny Smiths and Cox’s Orange Pippins lying waiting on apple boughs pruned close to a sheltering wall larger than any I have ever seen. Artichokes as big as squash; squash as big as pumpkin. But I had to bring them inside to ripen or they would have moulded in the wet. Green tomatoes so abundant they were going out of style. Zucchini had been under plastic all summer, keeping out the rain. A summer too wet even for zucchini to grow! that gives you an idea of how sodden the ground was. Victoria plums which love a moist year were hanging in abundance, but they were still green, and a few delicate pears – it is a little too northerly for pears here at the best of times – looked like shrunken castanets.

Granny Smiths & zucchini: bounty of summer 2009

There was a lot of green: lettuce, cabbage, parsley and spinach to die for, but not a lot of ripening. I am not usually an ungrateful person. But my expectation was bordering on exasperation.

Then suddenly, as if the weather elves had been napping and awoke in a frantic state of guilt at not having done their usual earth tending, October turned mild.

Roses bloomed, butterflies emerged from wall crevices, a dry shed, and sought out the late blossom of buddleia to stock up for overwintering. California poppies that thought they’d come to an alien planet, flowered and raised their faces to the sun.

And, lo and behold, my sunflower popped her first petal.

But the stratosphere wasn’t done yet. Not by a long shot. She’d started, so she was going to finish.

I mentioned earlier that the Grampian mountain chain forms a barrier that usually holds back rain from the West. And last year, its barricading powers failed miserably. Not only did rain follow wind and wind follow rain, but the midges, the West’s most unmentionable tourist nightmare, followed piggy-back along the trail.

The swallows, great feeders of the heavens, had already gone; so nobody was scooping great mouthfuls of the little monsters in massive numbers. Wrens, robins and a few finches that weren’t busy feeding on grain, demolished a few, but the air was alive with them. Wind seems not to perturb these tiny insects: they hide under trees and reappear the minute it drops.

all birds huddle together for warmth

So, calm evenings in the late Northeast autumn were midge-rampant; not pleasant. No window of opportunity for a leisurely stroll in the balmy, breathless air. The blackbirds had it all to themselves.

Thing is, there was no evening birdsong. Most of the summer visitors had departed. And those that were still around were looking for winter habitat. Wrens can bundle together in numbers up to twenty-two in one disused nest. Body heat is the only thing that keeps out the cold. Wrens were doing a big business in re-roofing spring nests – for future reference.

There were other signs. I should have known.

Greylag geese feast on harvest leftovers

Greylag geese round here have become permanent residents. They like the mild winters, so I’ve heard. They top up and home in on a familiar sheltered waterhole; they feed to stuffing point in leftover barley and wheat in open, harvested fields and then head out a little north of here to overwinter. In previous winters, winters without snow, there have been geese still tucking in in open fields in early December. This last fall, all the grain had gone by late October.

And the geese were gone too.

In late October my drenched sunflower was looking a little the worse for wear, but she was still hanging in there. Her strong stem was sturdy enough to support loads of hungry finches, tits, songbirds.

Sunflower, drenched but philosophical

They used her as a stopping-off point between hedge and feeder-table. As if they hoped her yellow bedraggled petals would somehow unfold to present them with a miracle in fat black and white stripey seeds. It was not to be.

The rain succeeded. Not in taming her, but when her petals closed in late October – usually a (midsummer) sign that the head is transfiguring, metamorphosing, setting seed – they chose not to reopen. She bowed her head and became silent. She’d had enough.

November raged and birds were blown about. Humans and animals prepared for what was to come. Early December brought some sunny days, but there was a chill in the air that nobody could really pretend was unfamiliar.

And then, one week before Christmas, the snowflakes arrived. And they fell in great soft plops of Inuit 32-linguistic varieties. And they didn’t stop falling until every last man, woman, child, blackbird, wren, robin, chicken, fox, wildcat, deer, rabbit and stoat had felt every possible chill factor they were capable of bringing.

* * *

There isn’t much point in going into the blow-by-blow of how difficult it’s been. But it might be interesting to look at the overview.

Scotland isn’t traditionally a snowy place. I’ve explained why. It sits on the northern edge of the Atlantic Ocean in a latitude akin to Alaska, but with temperatures more normal for the 42nd parallel of the Pacific Northwest. Yes, there are storms which come and go in the three months of so-called Winter, and local government services are never ready for them; it’s a standing joke. They complain before it comes, don’t deliver enough salt or grit enough or clear enough if it does and then blame central Government afterwards for not warning them or providing enough funding in the first place. As if the weather were not God’s fault, but the Labor Government’s.

People in Northeast Scotland have over time grown weary of bureaucratic bickering, complaining and infighting. In country districts in particular, they just get out and get on with it: fend for themselves. Farmers with snow-ploughs attached to tractors clear country roads which large council ploughs can no longer access.

This last winter saw more hardship, more strenuous community togetherness, more help-thy-neighbor-like-thy-life-depended-on-it gestures to make up for every snowless winter or heat-blistered summer of the new millennium.

To backtrack a little: we’ve all heard of, or been made aware of the ways of El Niño.

El Nino tropical Pacific anomaly


Spanish for ‘male child’, colloq. the Christmas Child, El Niño was the anthropomorphic name given by Peruvian sailors around 1892 to a warm northerly Pacific current in winter time. It is produced by a weather anomaly combined with atmospheric pressure: Indonesia usually experiences huge amounts of rainfall in winter under low atmospheric pressure, while high pressure hovers over the dry coast of Peru. This cycle produces a westward flow of tropical trade winds.

When the pressures weaken, the trades do too and a period of warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures arise in the east-tropical Pacific Ocean around December, blown along the surface against weakening trade winds which churn its billowing mass into a lingering ‘entity’; the length of its stay can influence weather conditions across much of the globe.

In an El Niño year, warm surface water encouraged by lessening trades migrates east from Indonesia across the central Pacific to the coast of Peru and Ecuador, bringing tropical rains which would otherwise fall on Jakarta, Bali and Papua New Guinea. Not only does the warm water linger, but with weakened winds, it forms a dense mass of warm ocean that does not sustain plankton (which prefer cooler waters) and consequently the larger fish that feed on this resource. In an El Niño year, the high desert, the Altiplano can experience huge rainstorms, while Australia and India suffer from drought.

Recent meteorological interest has been piqued by the growing frequency of El Niño years and the apparent resultant extremes in temperature worldwide which occur the following summer. El Niños since 1982 have occurred so regularly that world attention has been focused, not only on their effect on mean summer temperature but on the fact that they may contribute to ‘global warming’.

Recent El Niños happened in 1986-1987, 1991-1992, 1993-1994, 1997-1998; and in 2002-2003, 2004-2005, 2006-2007 and 2009-2010.

For comparison, using mean world temperature data, the hottest years on record are, in order of maximum extreme temperature:

Red Admiral on autumn-flowering buddleia

1 2005, hottest on record since 1880
2 1998
3 2002
4 2003
5 2004
6 2001
7 1997
8 1990
9 1995
10 1999

These freak hot summers all happened within the last two decades. And nineteen of the hottest 20 years have occurred since 1980.

Notably, and possibly related to the gap of non-El Niño years since 2007, 2009 is not one of them!

What may be happening is that, with an erratic move away from climatic norm, weather patterns become reversed, unpredictable. Bottom line, for the weather man, a nightmare.

So back to the point. The year 2009 already marked the end of the hottest decade in history – or at least since they started measuring annual mean temperature. We are, of course eliminating Northern Scotland as a candidate here.

The winter of 2009-2010 will also go down in the history books, I suspect. Not just because Scotland was cut off from the rest of the world for virtually three months, but weather conditions everywhere were, shall we say, a little out of the ordinary.

Dickey Ridge in the Deep South, USA winter 2010

They had frozen citrus groves in Florida in January, snow in Georgia in February; and a big freeze in northern Virginia at New Year’s. Dickey Ridge (three miles south of Dickey Holler!) had an icestorm, windchill, winds of 50mph (Beaufort 9) which took the temperature down to 8ºF – that, for the Celsius Euros among us is minus 14ºC; and that’s the Deep Saw-uth.

This winter, Belgium had weather like Estonia; Estonia a brief snowfall like Guernsey. Scotland is the land of the deep freeze, British Columbia hasn’t had enough snow to support the Winter Olympics. Torrential rainfall in Sacramento, Monterey and Orange County exceeded seasonal maximum; Las Vegas had more rain in two days than in the entire previous year.

La Soufrière collapse - the 'Sulfurer' from Space (ISS photo)

⁃ Dare one touch on other phenomena, either closely or remotely related to earth changes? After the January 12th and 13th Richter 6.5 and 7.0 earthquakes of Eureka, California and Haiti respectively, probably not; save to mention that Etna is alive again, spewing out volcanic cloud and ash, Kamchatka’s twin volcanoes are active, as are the Chilean twins of Llaima and Pichillaima in the Temuco Lake District, despite an unseasonal cap of snow! And in the Windward Island chain, the Saint Vincent volcano, La Soufrière, the Sulfurer, collapsed last week.

We’re not experiencing anything out of the ordinary.

We’re just in the middle of a shakedown while Mother Earth gets herself ready for spring in the Northern Hemisphere. After all, we, her children, haven’t been behaving all that well these last two decades. So she’s entitled to shake her feathers like a tousled sea eagle and take a look round to see what else she can do to get us to pay attention. Weather is, after all, one of her mechanisms for that.

We decimate tropical rain forests, she sends less rain. We rape the desert for subterranean oil, she sends dust storms and African drought. We create huge whirlpools of plastic waste in the North Pacific Gyre trapping and killing earth’s most evolved sea mammals: it seems fitting that she should turn around and send us an oceanic anomaly to make us scratch our scientific heads in vain.

What’s in store for 2010?

If the Niño camp are right, and the winter of 2009-2010 is one of the ‘strongest’ El Niño seasons yet, then the summer which follows could outstrip all previous chart-topping statistics.

Snowless slopes for Vancouver's Winter Olympics

Let’s look on the bright side. Vancouver may not have had any snow to speak of, but Iowa and Idaho, Kentucky and Montana have had their fill. As has (Scotland and) the whole of the Eastern Seaboard from Virginia to Vermont: snow so deep and penetrating that the earth is going to be busy soaking it up, getting ready for new spring growth, filling riverbeds and lakes, dams and reservoirs.

Snow melts down at about a 10 to 1 ratio, meaning 10 inches of snow equals about one inch of water. One thing’s for sure: we’ll have water in abundance to get us ready for the growing season.

Perhaps that’s what Mother Earth has in store. If the summer of 2010 turns out to be another like those twenty hottest years on record, maybe she’s filling up her tanks; mustering inner reserves; getting ready to take us through some punishing temperatures.

I mentioned animal signs. We humans may have lost our ability to intuit what lies ahead, but the birds, wild animals, flora and fauna know a thing or two.

chickens dared to emerge in frozen snow, but didn't lay for weeks

Swallows left early last fall, as if they knew what was coming. The autumn bird chorus was minimal, to say the least. My few chickens stopped laying in the first week of December and, apart from one jewel of an egg that miraculously appeared (probably by accident) on Christmas Day, the little group of eight didn’t produce a single egg between them until last week. Even then, I think it was only the bright sunshine that shone warm during the day that got them motivated. They’re still pretty quick to get back inside their henhouse before five o’clock sunset. Temperatures outside right now are maintaining a solid two or three below zero.

I mentioned Kamchatka. In the darkest days of solstice – and even in subsequent weeks when January turned to February and the light began to return – temperatures in this part of Scotland were, as I said, more appropriate for Siberia than for an island on the Atlantic seaboard. In the second of three storms, four blackbirds fell off their tree limbs in the night and died. I found the body of a fifth frozen under one of the vehicles, as if she hadn’t had the strength to fly for cover. A greenfinch died in my hands from sheer exhaustion and inability to get enough seed in her crop before nightfall.

As I see it, the winter of 2009/2010 has brought out the best and the worst. At the height of the storms, kind neighbors with 4×4 vehicles ferried immobile snowbound waifs to shop for emergency groceries. Birds died, but hens are laying again and there is birdsong. It’s a signal spring is on the way. The pheasant population, usually set by surrounding farmers as fodder for guns in the Spring Shoot are feeding by day with my chickens, roosting by night in my frozen trees. Safety not only in numbers, but also in the non-shooting enclave.

Aconite petals are gleaming with frost, but their yellow is trying to shine.

They remind me of my sunflower. Beaten but unbowed, she made it through some of the harshest conditions ever to greet one of the girosol family. She stood all winter, too. She stands there still. No flower, no seed, but her stem as strong as a sapling.

If she can make it through, I guess some of the rest of us will, too.
©2010 Marian Youngblood

February 23, 2010 Posted by | earth changes, environment, gardening, nature, organic husbandry, rain, seasonal, sun, trees, weather, winter | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Sunflower Blues

Ideal giant

Ideal giant

One Swallow does not a Summer Make:

This is what a sunflower is supposed to look like. All things being equal, you plant the seed in March or April (not outdoors in Scotland; on a windowsill or in the greenhouse, because it’s 57degrees N 2ºW where I am: that’s the latitude of Juneau, Alaska); water, love, watch and wait. About the last week of May it’s usually all right to plant it out into the garden. And in any given summer, Nature takes over and you get a sunflower: you know that big yellow thing with petals circling round a yellowish – sometimes blackish – centre, which bees love and when the seed sets, birds come and perch all day, pecking.

An attribute to any garden: that’s what they say in the horticultural centres and supermarkets across Britain: there, of course, they’re trying to sell you a potted plant because they think you haven’t been on the ball enough to plant your own from seed.

I do it every year. I plant seeds from last year’s sunflower success or a couple of big stripey ones from the birdseed bag. It doesn’t matter: in the Northeast of Scotland, you need all the encouragement you can get: any seed that sprouts is a success; if it flowers, it’s a glorious success. If it sets seed, then it has to be the summer of 1976, 1996, 2006: you know, a ‘bumper’ year.

So this March I found a really fat stripey seed – the last in a packet of ‘Giant Sunflower’, a big smiley yellow and black face to show you what to expect on the well-worn packet. In it went. Watered it, spoke to it, watched the curved thick neck pop out of the compost in its pot with joy and anticipation.

‘Plant out when all danger of frost is past’: they always say that on Thompson & Morgan seed packets. They must know they have customers in Ultima Thule, on the edge of the Arctic Circle. They have to cover themselves in case someone complains their product didn’t grow.

swallow babes about to fledge

swallow babes about to fledge


This year I waited until June. Frosts had to be past. Swallows were back, firmly in residence, busily building nests and laying eggs in mud scoops on rafters in my sheds. I had in the intervening months been carefully transferring the giant baby from pot to bigger pot in the greenhouse. At waist height, she was ready for the move.

I’d made a new ‘border’ the year before. What an inadequate Victorian description. I nearly killed myself digging out a section of unmown grass on a sunny slope; adding chicken manure from my faithful avian friends, and backfilling with rich mulch left from prolific leaf-fall on the driveway the previous autumn. A gardener’s delight: deep rich flower bed, simultaneously cleared avenue, so cars can actually get up the hill to my house, overgrown with and surrounded by Nature’s bounty. The sunflower and I were just dying to get into the new earth and get ‘established’ (another gardening term they’re fond of in catalogues).

June went well. I planted out other beauties cossetted and nurtured in the glasshouse through an uncertain spring: sweet peas, poppies, nasturtium, nicotiana (‘tobacco plant’) and penny black. People who read about and plant their annuals direct in the earth have no idea.

But things were looking up.

July 2009: best strawberry harvest ever

July 2009: best strawberry harvest ever

Days lengthened to become endless wonderful light-filled experiences one following another. At 57ºN by the middle of June there are roughly three hours of ‘dark’. It’s not quite the land of the midnight sun, but it’s close. You can read a book outside at midnight. And this June was a balmy month.

At solstice and lasting for around two weeks there was a remarkable heatwave. That’s what we call it in Scotland. In other places in Britain they call it ‘summer’. It’s when the sun shines consistently over a period of a week or so; you know, blue sky, no wind, temperatures rising into the 70s. That’s Fahrenheit. I never could get my mind around Centigrade, except for the boiling point of water. Up here near the Arctic circle there’s really no point converting your way of thinking about temperature, because any minute it’s going to change.

This unprecedented spell of warm allows plants and humans to believe all is well with the world. That Scotland is just another place on the planet where life goes on like other ‘real’ places and the garden is a room added to the house. The rural idyll envisioned by Charlotte Brontë and Thomas Hardy.

By the first week of July I had the best crop of strawberries I can remember – ever – coinciding with the second week of Wimbledon. At this latitude, that is a miracle.

Giant sunflower with support

Giant sunflower with support

Sunflower Sally was stretching up there; the stem was big like a fist at the base, needed stakes to keep her in position – in case a stray gust of wind should arrive and surprise…

The rest of the border was coming along nicely, everything starting to flower and send out scent into the warm air. It was like paradise. Green sward, pink, peach, blue, violet, red and orange blossoms mingling with ferny foliage, bees’ buzz, birdsong; hardly a cloud in the cerulean sky. It lasted another week.

Then Scots summer returned to normal. Wind blew from the west, clouds scudded, rain fell on fields and felines, hens stopped laying, day followed night. You know, the usual. Great for growth, they say in other parts of the world. Very green, they say in places where they have forest fires, ground cracking and drying up from lack of water. Yes, very.

I needn’t go on. You get the picture.

August followed July. It rained. Hurricanes Ana and Bill hit the Bahamas and the tail end wound up battering the East coast of Scotland. Crop circles appeared in English fields with regularity until harvested; then the phenomenon was relegated to blogs and picture files. No crop circles in Scotland – Cosmic Consciousness knows better than implant a design in a place where there’s nothing to harvest until mid-September. If you’re lucky. No people either, to come and analyse and gawk.

P9092422_2It’s now the middle of September and farmers round here have finally had their prayers answered: three days of ‘open weather’ (that’s shorthand for no rain) to cut, bale and bring in their barley. They’re all doing it. The air is still warm, buzzing with the distant sound of combine harvesters and tractor loads of grain to-ing and fro-ing from yellow field to dry barn. Nobody has come to marvel at my 12-foot special: tall, stately, erect (staked like a buttress) and still green. They’re all busy. The days are shorter, nights cool. Crisp.

They say if there’s a polar shift, the East coast of Scotland will be the most desirable place to live on the face of the planet. No people means endless vistas of green, space to ruminate and meditate and gaze at mountains and plain. No sticky problems getting to work on overcrowded motorways and packed trains.

Giant Show of Green

Giant Show of Green

In a polar shift, days would be shorter but warmer; sunflowers would blossom; and pigs might fly. I’ll stick with positive affirmations. You know, visualization of the mighty solar orb sending light beams for one more month…

Time to go outside now and see if she’s showing the merest hint of yellow.

One swallow does not a summer make. Or one sunflower, for that matter.

September 11, 2009 Posted by | environment, gardening, nature, New Earth, organic husbandry, rain, sun, weather | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments