Archive for April, 2022

THIS IS A GREAT WORLD

April 18, 2022

The campsite had not looked special, on a point along a channel of Basswood Lake, a mile south of the Canadian border in the Boundary Waters.  The site we had set our mind upon in the bay was occupied, and another had a difficult climb up from the water which was fine, if one were having lunch, but not so fine if one wanted to go places and come back. Or just get water for dinner. Long climbs carrying water or packs get old. The site we were on had one good tent spot, all we needed, and had views north to Canada and sunrise views over American Point.

The first night a pair of beavers swam by about 5 yards off shore, on their way to the swampy area right off the east side of the site. This would be repeated every night we were there, and one morning we watched as a beaver felled a tree. Pretty neat. On the second night, we saw an aurora, and while it wasn’t as bright the green curtains I saw hanging in the Canadian sky a half-century earlier, any aurora is worth seeing.

The third day, we saw an otter as we travelled out of the bay on a day trip. He was having a great time going in and out of the water. That night, we heard wolves howling, too far away to try to find—but we wouldn’t have seen them anyway.

The final day, we took a trip to the Canadian border and Basswood Falls, passing a campsite where we had stayed in 2004, a day after a bear on Crooked Lake got our food during a howling storm. Eating our fifth consecutive meal of mash potatoes, I had seen something that looked like a windmill churning water moving across the lake from Canada. I had no idea what it was for about five minutes, then realized it was a moose swimming with a large bush stuck in his antlers. Nice memory. 

After we returned from the border, I sat in camp and said to myself the only thing we hadn’t seen on this particular trip was a moose. I had no complaints; it was a great trip.  An hour later, I heard a noise in the marsh behind me, turned and there he was, a bull moose, fifty yards away, chewing on a bush. We stayed quiet, and he didn’t leave for a good ten minutes, then disappeared through the back of our campsite.

What a great world we live in!

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Eight years ago in late January, the 28th according to the picture I have of it, back when I lived in Arizona, there was a brief rain storm, and near noon, the Sun came out.  Recent rain and sunshine mean rainbows, and I love them, both the colors and why they occur, which makes me doubly lucky.  I have seen a rainbow after sunset, when the zenith is still getting sunlight, and the rainbow spans the entire N-S plane of the celestial sphere over us. Astronomer Steven O’Meara has seen them up to I believe 14 minutes after sunset, but he lived in Hawai’l and had a lot of practice. My record is still seeing one 7 minutes after sunset.

The Sun has to be fewer than 42 degrees elevation to see a rainbow. That’s why we usually see them early morning or late afternoon. The sun is usually too high at noon, unless it is winter.  I did the math in my head: In late January, the Sun is at declination (sky latitude) minus 18, or 18 deg. S. The North Star is at 32 elevation in Tucson, so overhead in Tucson is 58 deg N. On the solstice, the Sun was 23.5 deg south latitude, and 23.5 from 58 was 34.5 degrees above the horizon at local noon, which in January is about 12:35-12:40 pm.  Add in the difference of 18 deg S from 23.5 deg S, and the sun would be about 40 deg high at noon. This was going to be close, but I thought it ought to be possible to see it.  I went out to the driveway, looked north towards the top of Catalina mountains but saw no rainbow. Hmmm. Then I thought, silly me, it’s on the ground. I looked down right to where the base of the mountains met the desert.

There it was.

A beautiful rainbow was flowing along the base of the Catalina mountains. That was SO COOL to see. I found something I would have missed otherwise by knowing a simple fact about rainbows then when the time came remembering that I just might see a rainbow at noon.  I did, on the ground against the mountains.

Is this an interesting world, or what?

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In 2007, I hiked the South Rim Trail in Big Bend National Park, out to where the cliffs drop into the Chihuahua Desert. It was humid, late June, and Big Bend was part of my national park odyssey.  It was an 11 hour drive to get there, during which I saw my first Scissor-tailed flycatcher. You can’t miss them. I left the Chisos Basin early, nobody was out there, and when I reached the cliffs, I could see the desert a couple of thousand feet below me. A south wind was blowing into my face, which was pleasant, after all the climbing.

Up ahead I saw what I first thought was smoke, then realized it was water condensing into a cloud. It’s the same phenomenon I saw 20 miles from Victoria Falls from a train back in 2001 when I went to the Zambia eclipse. I couldn’t figure out what it was until I realized the sheer amount of water formed a cloud.

What I saw at Big Bend that day was a demonstration of orographic lift, the phenomenon that explains why mountains get so much more precipitation than valleys. The water vapor hits the mountains, is forced upward, cools, and condenses when it cools to the dew point. That day in Big Bend, the south wind was ferrying humid air that struck the cliffs, forced upwards, and condensed right in front of me. It was incredible.

It truly is a remarkable world.

Cloud formation, Big Bend National Park, June 2007

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I read last week about the shock wave that went around the world for 2 1/2 days after the Tonga eruption. What I didn’t know was that the wave was measurable, and we have proof of the compression and the expansion of the atmosphere when the wave passed.

The graphics in the New York Times were excellent, and when I read about the barometric pressure changes, a couple of mb or a few hundredths of an inch, I decided to look on my own.  Not every place had a clear brief rise in late morning of 15 January, or a brief clear drop that night, and some places had active weather occurring that would have overwhelmed any small signal from the shock wave. But I was enthralled by barometric pressures in places \that showed a clear brief rise followed by a drop in the late morning and a clear brief drop, followed by a rise around midnight the next day.  This absolutely fascinated me, enough so that I showed my wife, who doesn’t share my rabid enthusiasm for such trivia. She liked it, too. How could you not? 

Moose, wolves, beaver, otter, and an aurora, same trip.  A rainbow practically on the ground at noon in the desert, because that is where it has to be. Orographic lift happening right in front of me.  And barometric pressure showing a change from a shock wave from a south Pacific volcanic eruption many hours earlier.

Tonga Volcano shockwave in Chicagoland (SOURCE: NWS Chicago)

Minneapolis

8:53 AM4 °F-2 °F76 %E6 mph0 mph29.64 in0.0 inFair
9:53 AM5 °F-1 °F76 %VAR3 mph0 mph29.65 in0.0 inFair
10:53 AM7 °F2 °F80 %VAR3 mph0 mph29.64 in0.0 inFair


Eugene

7:54 AM42 °F39 °F89 %ESE6 mph0 mph29.95 in0.0 inCloudy
8:45 AM42 °F40 °F92 %CALM0 mph0 mph29.95 in0.0 inCloudy
8:54 AM42 °F40 °F92 %CALM0 mph0 mph29.96 in0.0 inCloudy
9:14 AM41 °F39 °F93 %ENE5 mph0 mph29.96 in0.0 inMostly Cloudy
9:54 AM41 °F39 °F93 %SE6 mph0 mph29.95 in0.0 inMostly Cloudy
10:25 AM40 °F38 °F93 %SE5 mph0 mph29.95 in0.0 inMostly Cloudy

LIFE IS DIFFERENT WHEN YOU ARE IN CHARGE

April 3, 2022

The first canoe trip I led in 1967 was to Little Island Lake in Algonquin Park, where I was responsible for 3 other staff and 8 campers. I wore the red neckerchief signifying my head man status, a big deal for me. I was 18.

What I remember most about that trip, however, which I didn’t foresee, was swim time. When the campers started playing in the water, I stood on shore counting heads, over and over.  If I didn’t count enough, I stopped the play until I was satisfied. When they got out of the water, I was relieved. At night, if one cried out, I awoke and lay awake wondering it I needed to get up. 

They weren’t wearing life jackets or PFDs (personal flotation device), either. We didn’t do that back then; it wouldn’t be until I was working for the Forest Service in Minnesota in 1992 that I wore one, far too late in life to start, but alive to do it, and I have never since been in a canoe without wearing a PFD.

I thought I knew what responsibility was and that being a head man would be great. I was humbled and often frankly scared at times at what I was doing. On my fourth and final trip as head man, on the Tim River, I still remember carrying a canoe on my head and a pack on my back on portages, 140 pounds. Nine years ago, back at Pathfinder for a reunion (where I would again go to Little Island Lake for a day trip), I carried one of those Old Town canvas canoes a mile. It was so difficult; the previous century, when I carried a canoe across that portage, I trotted. 

Back at Pathfinder for the first time since 1967; August 2013.

Recently, I was Crew Leader for a work party in the Willamette NF. This was my fifth time doing this, but the first time where I had no past supervisor with the Forest Service, BLM, or NPS along. I knew the each of other six had more experience than I, but none of them chose to lead the Crew that day, and I did, because I wanted to be in the woods the week the regular leader was out of town and nobody else stepped forward.

It was different being in charge. Right away. We needed to power brush the Oregon grape, Sword ferns and Salal off the trail, and I asked two people whom I knew had experience with the brusher to start. I offered myself at any point to help out. In the meantime, I and another went the other direction downhill to a stream. I let him put in drainage spots on the way down; I wanted to go directly to the end, see the bridges, including a failed one, and then started working my way back up. We soon met and hiked back out, noting that this section needed brushing as well, I was supervising more than working, and it felt odd.

As we rejoined the other group, there was an issue with the brusher’s idle that was an annoyance, but we didn’t have the tools to fix it. I moved on, deciding that we could probably finish this trail early and maybe continue part way up the next section, but I would have to scout that. I could afford to be absent for a half hour. I went further and saw Mary, asking her if she could go back to the brusher and take over from Sam, who didn’t tell me he needed a break, but he looked like he wouldn’t complain if he had one. Mary said she would go back, and I walked quickly to the end of the trail, up the road, and uphill on the next section.

I wanted to get to the top of the switchbacks, but after a couple hundred feet elevation gain and a third of a mile, I had seen what I knew I needed to, and by the time I returned it would be time to take over from Mary. So I retraced my steps, down, across, and up to reach her. Mary needed her pack, so I went back to get it, while she continued brushing. 

I hadn’t planned on brushing, but nobody was nearby or interested, the work wasn’t too difficult, and I finally stopped at 11:30, a couple hundred yards from the end of the trail. My pack was well back up the trail, and I was hungry. Fortunately, Jim, who was back raking had been kind enough to move my pack forward. When brushing, whoever is in back raking should bring the packs forward.

After lunch, when I finished the trail, Mary was working on the tread near the end, but three others had gone ahead to work the next section. I still had to brush the western part of the trail where we entered, which meant a mile walk back and then more brushing. I asked Mary her thoughts about who should do what.  We decided we would all meet at the cars at about 2. She offered to go after the others to bring them back. I would then walk back to the cars, up to where we began, and do the brushing on the west side of the trail.

Finished power brushing sword ferns. Not exactly Leave no Trace

When I finished, at 2, nobody was present. So, I broke down the brusher, put it in the trunk, then drove to the other end of the trail, passing 3 of the crew coming towards the cars. They hadn’t seen anybody, and that bothered me, since one of them had been with the group. 

Now I’ve got 3 people I need to find, and probably will, but at least 2 of them know we were supposed to be at the cars by 2, and it was after 2. I’m in charge, and that sort of stuff bothers me. It should. I don’t know with certainty where my crew is. Not good. About 200 yards up the trail (and quite a bit of up, my second time doing that today), I found them. They had misjudged the time it would take to get back and the leader of that group saw a yellow hat in the woods and thought it was one of the others, when it turned out to be a hiker. They wanted to walk to the cars, not realizing it was uphill and nearly a mile, and others were waiting.

It’s different when you are in charge. Minor communication problems don’t seem so minor, and you are responsible. It’s one thing to be in a clinic and have an attending physician around. It’s another thing to be moving away from the California coast at 20 knots, 1500 miles from Hawaii, way out of help range, and a sailor tells you he has bad abdominal pain with tenderness in the right lower quadrant.

It’s different when you are leading a hike and somebody is lagging behind, so you have to decide whether to turn them around, turn around the hike, or stay with the individual and let the hike continue. One person I knew posted my picture on Facebook several years ago saying, “Mike never smiles.” Could be true.  When I led a trip, I couldn’t just drive up and hike, carefree. It was and is responsibility for the others there.

It’s different when there is a diabetic woman with a stiff neck and fever, and she is too obese to do a spinal tap. It’s 2 am, no attending physician to call, and you need to do a cisternal puncture to prove or disprove the diagnosis. 

It is so different when you are working on the trail, an 80 year-old slow-motion falls to the ground and seems a little dazed, and you are a retired medical person trying to figure out what is going on. It seems straightforward on paper; it’s not that way when you are a long way from a road, you don’t want to call in a very time and person-intensive emergency if it isn’t, but you don’t want to lose time for a golden hour, clot buster drugs, or daylight, either.

In short, it is really easy to play expert and opine on a variety of topics. It is quite another to be in a difficult situation, alone, with only your judgment and your knowledge to deal with it. 

I’m going out to brush Winberry Divide Trail this Thursday. I walked it today, I know what needs to be done, and I can do any job that needs to be done on it. But I want the others to do the work and I will both supervise and help.

View of some of the Lane County Cascade Foothills from Winberry Divide Trail, part of the E2C or Eugene-to-Crest trail.