Youngblood Blog

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Evangeline and Teach

Green Turtle Cay, Abaco in the Bahamas: one of Blackbeard's hideouts for his slave-ship raids

Inspired by an episode in my former life, this is chapter 15 of my current novel ‘Green Turtle Cay‘ written as part of the annual NaNoWriMo write-a-thon. NaNo suggests participants write every day for the 30 days of November and then stretch back langorously and take a long look at what the Muse has let them produce. That’s the theory, anyway.

In practice, it works out rather differently. Family, friends, eating, drinking, sustenance, nourishment and a few other of life’s ‘essentials’ go by the board. Friends have been known to fall out over NaNo. Families to starve. Or eat out. Only cats and keyboards remain constant companions. Anybody else with any sense has already taken charge of the situation and is ignoring the solitary writer/novelist-to-be.

words in pictures, courtesy of Wordie

Because at the end of 30 days, that’s what has developed. If not a fully-fledged, plot-intensive, character-filled bestseller which will wow the editors, agents and publishers for years to come, at least the bones of something like it.

With five days to go, I should be pulling in the strands which draw my novel to a close, but instead I am procrastinating — because that’s one of the virtues of NanoWriMo. Chris Baty in the San Francisco Office of Letters and Light says it’s all part of the learning curve. So why aren’t you doing it, too?

EVANGELINE AND TEACH
Evangeline was her English Island name.

Back home in French Guinea she had had another name. She was forbidden by her own sacred tradition to speak it in this life, to reveal who she had been in that former time.

Daughter of the tribal chief, she had their trust, she would one day have ruled when Father was too old to lead. And she wondered if that day had come when Father welcomed the strangers to their shore, gave them food and wine, made them honored guests at his table and provided concubines for a night’s rest in their guest villa overlooking the shore.

Out in the Bay, these French mariners described such a ship. A barque made out of full-grown oak trees that they had in their homeland, not like the sappy fig they grew in Guinea. So large they said, one tree could create four walls of the villa alone and leave wood to spare for roofing. And Father was taken in. He saw something out in the Bay — two vessels, she learned later— that were so foreign to his vision, his mind would not allow him to see such alien craft. So he believed totally what the strangers said and believed them when they said they were bedecked with color streamers, paper lanterns. and that they had only come ashore to replenish their provisions of milk and honey and butter and ale. They even said, if the village were willing to trade with them for such a meager request, they would show them international trawling techniques, practise a little fishing in their offshore fishing grounds. Their barrels had run low, they needed to stock up before heading back into the fray. They would be on their way on the morrow, back on the high seas in pursuit of the foreign English who were attacking their borders.

And Father had believed every word. Father had offered them the prize guest seats next to him at the High Table for the feast which all villagers shared to celebrate such an unusual arrival in their rich fishing grounds. Father had given them the sleeping tent reserved only for honored guests, a canvas awning which few others deserved to use. And two concubines each for the foreign sea captain and his officers. The captain said the rest of his men would remain on board. It sounded reasonable. None of the villagers had any reason to suspect. Father usually did the best for the tribe and trade was always beneficial for everyone.

It would be a long night for Father, so Evangeline went to her own quarters earlier than usual, as she saw her presence was not needed, save to be introduced formally to the French captain. He looked and sounded polite. She had no suspicions on that score. Besides, back then, she had no knowledge of what was going on on the high seas except that two European nations were at war and that didn’t usually affect the dominions of the African continent. Their sea traffic came from neighboring tribes. The farthest travelers came was from shores of the southern desert.

So it was from a deep sleep and a vivid dream that she was awakened in the middle of the night — she remembered the moon had just reached its horizon point and was about to set — so a couple of hours before dawn light would flood the land and wake the tribe. In tribal medicine, it was known as an inauspicious time.

Bermuda sloop fitted out as a man-o'-war, 1831

It had been by stealth they came upon her, her family, her brother and of course Father, the Chief. They tied them together with their hands behind their backs and herded them like cattle down to the jetty where their simple outriggers were the only craft to be seen. Then a huge row boat, wider and longer and more massive than any she had ever seen, rounded the end of the pier and nudged in to shore, where the small harbor afforded shelter. Twenty-one of them were poked and pushed and hustled on board, made to sit in groups on heavy trusses that served for seats in the hull as the vessel was rowed silently out of the harbor. None of the tribal elders heard a sound. Her mother, nursing her youngest, only two seasons old, and with her younger sister in the same bed, had not awakened. Had she known she would never see them again, that vision would have given her pain. As it was, much worse had since happened, so remembering her parental home as it was before the disruption sometimes gave her a moment of joy in her grief.

They were taken as slaves. The European gentlemen with their northern manners and their white faces and blond beards and fancy uniforms were nothing more than thieves. She was rowed out into the bay with twenty other young people and Father. None of them knew why. Then, as they neared the enormous vessel, Father stood up to look.

Then and there they slit his throat and threw him to the waves. At the moment he stood up to look into the decks of a ship he had never seen in his entire existence before, not in reality and not in picture books left by other traders — as he rose to help his people out of the low craft and into this mystery ship — they took his life.

He’d been tethered like the rest, but their purpose was finally revealed. He had merely been taken from the village to ensure silence and cooperation. Out here in the bay, as they saw the vessel prepare for a long voyage into equatorial winds and currents, he was an old man, a nuisance, a hindrance.

Her mind reran the event a thousand times. She watched him rise from an unaccustomed positon in the bottom of the boat and stand proud as they neared the tall galleon. His chiefly stance was brave. He still believed he could rescue the situation. That’s what she meant about Father having outlived his time. His belief in the good of Man had been betrayed. It was perhaps the Great Spirit’s way of showing him his time on earth was over. Without a word, without salutation, greeting, or any show of respect, one of the crew stepped forward from his position at the oars. He had a cutlass in his hand. He didn’t even pretend to hide it. Even before he reached Father, Evangeline knew what was going to happen.

Guineaman, a frigate man-of-war capable of supporting 120 guns

She called out ‘Father’, but her voice was unheard. He still believed he was about to be raised with ceremony into this magnificent ship with rigging above reaching to the night skies, and ropes thrown below to raise them up. He believed he was going on board. That’s how he was deceived. The crewman took him from behind, held his chained arm in his left hand and slit his throat with the cutlass in his right. There was no sound. Father collapsed in the bow of the boat and the other young occupants knew there was now no hope for them.

They were taken then, one by one, shuffling past the silent body of the man who had been their Chief, up a shaking gangway over the side and on to the main deck of the Guineaman. Evangeline had a momentary impression of the French ship’s enormous size — it rose even more powerfully up towards the prow where wheelhouse, rigging and full sail added to its grandeur. This was indeed a trader for a long voyage. The rumors had truth. There were far off lands where young people and children were spirited away never to return to their homes or their culture or their families. Always fated to watch the sun rise on another continent, over a different sea or, for some, never to see the sea ever again.

Now, years later she knew this to be a familiar story. She’d heard of others taken like her friends, her cousins and brother from the sea, overland to foreign places where the earth was dry and crops starved from lack of water. They were made to work, to harvest food not for themselves, but for another man. The man who controlled them operated what was called a plantation, where many had been taken to live in vile quarters with none of the gentle trappings of noble life in a village a million miles away on the other side of the world.

Another life, another time, another earth, another past. A dream ago — when she was young.

Years on, in another future, Evangeline learned that her fate had been blessed compared with the stories she heard of those slaves who were sold to plantation owners in South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.

The brigantine advanced on the French Guineaman with piracy in mind

Back then, twelve days out, twenty miles off the South Carolina coast, Evangeline’s ropes were untied. Captain’s orders. They were to come forward from where she and four friends were held in the mate’s cabin up to the foredeck where Cap’n stood at the prow: to negotiate, he said.

The hand that untied them and pushed them gently up the companionway to where the Captain stood under the forward mainsail, was the same young hand who had stolen meat to feed her when rations ran out after their first week aboard. They were made to stand beside the ship’s bell: La Concorde, she read on its heavy bronze lip. He whispered as he pointed to where the captain and navigator scanned the horizon with a hand telescope.

‘There is another ship. The captain thinks they mean to board us. You will have to stand forward on display, in case they mean us harm.’

‘What d’you mean?’ Evangeline would remember his answer to her dying day.

‘Captain says it is Teach. The pirate. You will be taken prisoner and we shall go free.‘

Of course the hand had not been correct. There was something about La Concorde that pleased Edward Teach. He needed a new flagship, or he was tired of his old brigantine. Or he had a new girlfriend who wanted a ship. It could have been any one of those reasons. Teach was indeed a brigand and a thief, plundered the rich to feather his own operation. But in the Islands he was known for picking on slave ships because in releasing them, in some way he felt he paid his debt to society for robbing those powerful Europeans who’d banished him from serving as a genuine officer in the British Navy. Queen Anne would suffer for ignoring him. He had become a presence to be reckoned with. He would soon have a fleet of ships which would rule the seas between Bermuda, the Bahamas and the South Carolina coast.

Evangeline stood tall. She felt no fear. She’d heard of the pirate and thought life as a free woman in the islands might not be as wonderful as life had been back home — long ago when Father was alive — but preferable to that working long hours in the dust for an alien white lord. At least they said in the Islands you could work your own property, find a new love, build a new life in a wooden shack and, if the fates favored her, she might even meet the great man Teach himself.

'Blackbeard', Captain Edward Teach of pirate fame

She too had heard the rumors. How he burned firecrackers in his beard and hair to terrorize the crews of the ships he boarded and plundered. But those were merchant ships, carrying gold and jewels and with possessions in the hold belonging to the rich, bound for a new life in Carolina, Virginia and even farther north on that great continent. That’s where the British were fighting for their colonies in America. It was a land for the white man. The black man must find his own future elsewhere. Some day they, too, would have their own empire and way of life — remember the beauty of the old country, the old life and old traditions.

For now she would remain calm. She would allow her fate to unfold before her. If this was indeed Blackbeard’s ship, she would go along with her fate and ask him for mercy.

Looking back on that night in the balmy waters off the Carolina shore, she had no way of knowing how her life would end up in the Bahama Islands, how gentle would be her fate. How kind would be the pirate captain, and how fortunate her life was to turn out.

Evangeline sighed and added another row of stitching to her sampler. She raised a glass of pomegranate juice and stretched her eyes to the horizon. Even Blackbeard was gone now. But those had been the days. She smiled, picked up her fan and cooled her aging brow.
©2010 Marian Youngblood

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November 25, 2010 Posted by | authors, fiction, history, novel, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 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