Monday, August 31, 2015

Meltemi winds of Greece and Turkey

Image from radio kreta

Between May and October, these annual etesian winds, part of the Asian monsoon system, may reach gale force as they blow across the Aegean from north to northwest. In the mountainous regions of Greece and Turkey and among the Aegean islands, they are channeled into gusts, forming eddies and katabatic winds that roar down mountains.

A meltemi brings dry weather, clear skies, and high pressure. Its arrival may be heralded by altocumulus clouds on the lee sides of islands.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Image from BBC

Monsoon winds are seasonal changes in the direction of the prevailing winds of specific regions. They are caused by the unequal heating rates of oceans and continents.

These winds blow from cold to warm areas. Summer monsoons, accompanied by torrential rains, cause the rainy season in the tropics, especially around the Indian Ocean.

Winter monsoons bring dry cooler air from China and Mongolia. However, this air flow is reduced by the Himalaya Mountains, keeping southern India and Sri Lanka warm year-round. Winter monsoons may be associated with drought.

The North American monsoon happens once a year, in summer. When warm, moist air from the Gulf of California meets warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, rain falls on the Sierra Madre in central Mexico.

Nearby desert regions get moisture from this system, which can aid firefighters as they combat wildfires in Arizona, where summer temperatures regularly reach 38 degrees Celsius.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Trade Winds

Image from global sailing weather

The Trade winds blow over the ocean in the torrid zones north and south of the equator. In both hemispheres, these easterlies blow toward the equator, the zone of convergence.

Back in the days of sailing ships, they were so named by Christopher Columbus, because they drove the ships of trade.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Santa Ana and Diablo winds

Santa Ana winds graphic from usgs

The Santa Ana winds are fast easterlies that blow from the desert over southern California each winter. Warm or hot and blustery, they dry out vegetation and increase the danger of and from wildfires. They also lead to choppy surf and cause turbulence and wind shear that endanger aviation.

In real life and legend, the Santa Ana winds also fray human nerves. Writers including Raymond Chandler (Red Wind) and Elizabeth George (A Place of Hiding) have portrayed them in connection with stories of violence.

In northern California, the hot, dry Diablo winds originate in Diablo Canyon. Every 10 to 20 years, according to Catherine Traywick, these winds, hot and dry after passing over the desert, combine with drought and flammable foliage like eucalyptus to cause damaging wildfires east of San Francisco Bay. They blow fast at right angles to the mountains and are funneled down canyons at great speed in their rush to equalize air pressure.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gorge Wind or Coho

Topographical image of the location of the wind in the Columbia River Gorge from nasa

The Gorge wind, also called a Coho, is an easterly that hurtles down the Columbia River Gorge at speeds up to 80 miles or 129 kilometers per hour.

At Portland, the Columbia River bends at almost a forty-five degree angle, causing this wind to dump blizzards and ice storms on the city.

Needless to say, the Columbia Gorge is a favourite place for those who love wind sports, and special sites report on the state of the wind there.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Chinooks -- winds of the Canadian Rockies

Image from the Huffington Post

Between November and April or May, warm westerly winds called Chinooks blow across the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, bringing a welcome break from winter from the foothills across southern Alberta.

These unusual winds can infuse the air with a positive charge so strong it electrifies wire fences. Though they push heavy chinook arches of cloud, they rarely bring precipitation.

Chinooks can change the temperature fast. In 1983, for instance, in just four hours, Calgary temperatures rose from -17 to +13, an increase of 30 degrees C. Nearby Pincher Creek once felt a precipitous rise of 41 degrees in a single day. In Claresholm, Alberta, a Chinook brought sudden record balmy 24 degree weather in February.

Chinook winds are fast and strong, and may break trees. In 1962, Lethbridge experienced  a strong Chinook that gusted to 171 km/h. Driving during these winds can be extremely dangerous, as driven snow blows swirls across roadways. Occasionally, large trucks have been blown off the highway and trains derailed by Chinooks.

Because of sudden changes in air pressure, some people suffer from headaches or migraines during Chinooks. Others suffer from earaches, irritability or sleeplessness when these winds blow.

The word Chinook is said to  mean snow eater in the language of a native nation of the same name.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hurricanes, typhoons, and tornados

Hurricane image from wikia

With winds over 72 mph, a hurricane is a violent spiral that originates over tropical seas. This name is used in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. The Pacific term is typhoon. Over land, severe thunderstorms can produce whirling funnel- cloud storms called tornadoes or twisters. Winds may blow up to 300 mph (480 kph) and can lift animals, cars and even mobile homes into the air.
Tornadoes sometimes come with little warning;  they are often preceded by a period of stillness, and clear air may be visible behind them.

They may be accompanied by hail, thunder and torrential rains, and the sound of roaring.They are measured on the EF scale, 5 being strongest.

Over water, they are called waterspouts. These winds are seen mostly in a swath of central North America called Tornado Alley.

Right: a 1999 tornado in Manitoba from whyfiles

Monday, August 24, 2015

Horse Latitudes

Image from atp forum

The horse latitudes are the regions above and below where the trade winds blow. Located around 30 degrees north and south, these areas are characterized by calm skies and minimal precipitation. 

In these high pressure zones, the easterly trade winds diverge from the prevailing westerlies of the temperate zones. 

Legend has it that the name horse latitudes was born when sailing ships bound for North America carried horses as cargo to the New World. Becalmed in these areas, sailors would throw the poor animals overboard. This conserved drinking water until the ship could get moving once more. 

Sitting becalmed and waiting for a wind was a terrible situation for a sailing ship. This is well described in the weird tale "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," by the British Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

Day after day, day after day, 115
 We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
 As idle as a painted ship
 Upon a painted ocean.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Prevailing winds

Image from seos project

The rotation of the earth creates patterns of prevailing winds that follow the shape and movement of the earth.

The equatorial region is low in wind. In the era of sailing ships, crossing equatorial regions where there was insufficient wind to fill the sails entailed the grave danger of passing through the doldrums. Today the idea of being in the doldrums is used metaphorically.

Winds are named for the direction from which they blow: easterlies blow from the east, westerlies from the west and so on.

North and south of the equator, the easterly trade winds blow through the sub-tropical zones. Westerlies blow over the temperate zones, while the predominant winds that blow in the antarctic and arctic regions are easterlies.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Large chess and checquers at Lonsdale Quay

At a very large chessboard at Lonsdale Quay, a player moves his knight while his fellow-player looks on.

Seems that nobody wants to play with the giant chequers at this moment.

Perhaps that is because the "men" are too plain. The kings, queens, bishops, knights, rooks and pawns of chess are far more fetching.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Kale and chard in the flower beds?

Strolling through Bear Creek Gardens, I did a double take. Where I am accustomed to seeing summer flowers, I saw kale and chard.

Both are beautiful plants, but it's the first time I've seen vegetables in the flower beds.

Is it the drought? Perhaps these need less water than the flowers would.

By the look of the picture though, I'd say the wilt is setting in. Someone is going to have to water them soon.

And if someone pinches some chard, the park gardeners shouldn't be surprised. That and the kale look so tempting. To those who recognize these vegetables, that is.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Wasps, lamb leftovers and fig pollination

Wasps love meat and they come round every time we barbecue. This one is digging in to enjoy his share of the lamb bones.

In addition to controlling populations of other pesky insects, wasps can do pollination work too. In fact, the fig wasp specializes in pollinating fig trees.

We have taken a live and let live attitude toward them. They buzz around when we eat on the back porch, but not aggressively.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Humans attempt to improve on nature -- again

For eons people have tried to improve on nature, using lipstick, powder, rouge and more. We know that eyeliner goes back at least to the ancient Egyptians. These days, non-facial skin is often seen as a too-plain canvas that needs to be decorated with tattoos.

Nature provides an astonishing array of colourful flowers, but still humans are not satisfied. They want more varied hues than Nature provides. We've all seen the white chrysanths and daisies dyed by being placed in coloured water, which is eventually absorbed into the blooms.

But this one had me fooled. A blue orchid! I had to have it, and when he sold it to me, the nursery man didn't mention that it had been spray painted. I suspected later, when I took a close look, but only found out for sure when the last buds unfurled in pristine white. It's lovely all the same.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fluterrific trio inspires tiny ballerina in Bear Creek Park

Monday evening a trio of flautists entertained a crowd in the beauty of Bear Creek Gardens. Thanks, Lois Peterson, for inviting us to your birthday picnic here, to enjoy conversation, food, and music in the great outdoors.

The musicians inspired the crowd to sing and these little people to dance. The young lady in purple below danced the evening through.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ed Griffin send-off was one for the books

Last night a group of people came together in a Surrey hotel ballroom to eat, drink and celebrate the a man whose life touched many.

At different seasons of his life, Ed was a priest, writer, writing teacher, local politician, gardener, and nurseryman.

He was also an early adopter of using computers as tools to help writers comment on one another's work, and a supporter of the John Howard Society.

He marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King, and when he needed to talk to someone about whether he should leave the priesthood, he sought out Ivan Illich, a fellow proponent lifelong learning. Ed was also a husband to his wife Cathy, and father to a daughter and a son.

Some of Ed's most important jobs were volunteer positions. As local writers know very well, he was one of a small group who established the Surrey International Writers's Conference. With its emphasis on writers helping writers, this October event grew until it filled the Sheraton Hotel in Guildford. It now sells out every year and is considered one of the world's top writing conferences.

Ed was also a writing teacher who taught prisoners to express themselves by writing their stories. For many years, he went to Matsqui to connect the prisoners there. His calling was to help people express their personal truths, a theme that came up again and again as many at the celebration stood to speak words of praise and fond remembrance for this remarkable man. 

The MC for the evening was Mike Oulton, former prisoner and co-writer of the book Dystopia with his friend. With great respect and affection, he spoke about Ed's positive influence on him, and the deep connection he felt on the first day they met in prison. Ed had great faith in people, he said, and would go out of his way to attend parole hearings and speak on behalf of prisoners he believed in. In a lighter vein, Mike added, "Ed was a smuggler." He brought in fried chicken and donuts.

Rollie Koop, an old friend of who was also at the founding meeting of the SIWC, spoke of Ed's "boundless passion for helping others find their voice." Now a Superintendent of Schools in Parksville, he praised Ed as an inspiration in his educational work.

Surrey was by no means the only place Ed left his mark. He grew up and entered the priesthood in Cleveland, and fond family members travelled from Ohio and Wisconsin to pay their respects. One man came from Washington, DC to speak about Ed as his "first mentor," who set him on a lifelong positive path. This "white tornado" was not in the neighbourhood for long, but his influence was immortal. The people of this young priest's parish loved him. When the church moved him along, they took up a collection from their limited resources to buy him a car for his journey.

I met Ed in his Creative Writing classes, offered as part of Surrey Continuing Education. I got to know him better when I joined his writing group. Rest in Peace, Ed Griffin. You were a good man.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Every drop of water counts

The flowers in front of the door, the green plants of our gardens, parks and forests are are receptive to every drop of rain. It all counts.

This year, the rabbits in the park have moved their foraging area away from the swathes of grass by the trail. Normally this area is green year-round; now it is brown as old hay. The bunnies can be seen in the shadier crannies of the park now, seeking nutritious greens where there is shelter from the punishing sun.

The flocks of  birds that live in the Serpentine marsh are glad of every drop of moisture. Their series of interlinked ponds have become great swathes of mud this year. In Bear Creek, the ducks huddle closer together as the waterway is reduced to a trickle.

It's hard to believe that as recently as January, we were concerned by the rising water in that same creek where it flows some distance behind our house. For only the second time in the more than two decades we've lived here, we could see the swollen creek from the windows.

Where is all that water now?

The good news is, awareness makes us want to conserve. Two simple measures: Turn of the tap while brushing teeth, and catch the water in a bucket while the shower warms up to use on the garden later.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The wake does not drive the ship

As ships pass through the medium of water, they stir up a wake, a long trail left by the moving vessel.

This wake, near Hubbard Glacier in Alaska, looks thick and heavy.

Still, it does not drive the boat. In the same way, as Wayne Dyer reminds us, our past does not have any power to push us into the future. It is simply a receding trace that we are constantly in the process of leaving behind.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dry weather parches park ponds

A summer of unprecedented dryness has turned the elegant ponds and streams of Bear Creek Park into dried mudholes.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Natural Harmony

Astonishing, isn't it, how a single leaf turns red before the season?

Even more amazing is how beautifully it coordinates with the colours of the flowers that have been planted nearby.

This was observed as I walked in Bear Creek Park in Surrey.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The magic of a woodland path

There is nothing like a woodland path in summer dusk to conjure imagination in all its forms.

And for seeing animals. This summer we've seen rabbits, now so camouflaged against the browning grass, and many birds. One evening, we got a close look at two brown owls in a low tree. There was a dead mouse on the path below, and we wondered what the story was. They'd got the mouse and dropped it, maybe. Waiting for the humans to go away.

Some girls were taking pictures. Quite unconcerned, the birds swivelled their heads nearly 360 degrees to take a gander around from their very wide and alert eyes.

The background of forest muffles city sounds and creates a blissful and contemplative silence.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Evening sky

The beauty of evening clouds and the scent of fresh grass makes an evening walk in the park delicious. High above, an airplane flies toward the airport, preparing to land.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

John Lawton thriller skewers tribal culture and WWII mythology

Cover image from Amazon

Although it came out 12 years after Black Out, Second Violin is the earliest of John Lawton's WWII detective series featuring Frederick Troy. The maverick Scotland Yard Detective is the younger son of son of a wealthy newspaper magnate.

His father, Alex Troy, an eccentric self-made Russian emigre, chose to settle his family in England some years before the Russian Revolution. Now the family is grown and Alexei Troy is a powerful figure in the world of journalism.

"Freddie," as he's called at home, has a brother Roderick, also a journalist, who, against his father's advice, chose not to get himself naturalized as a British citizen. He enjoys the romance of having been born elsewhere.

Thus Rod is interned when the British government rounds up possible enemy aliens. He explains to a fellow inmate, a German orchestra conductor, that he is "the ambiguous Englishman. The Home Counties, Harrow and Cambridge...a plum in my voice, a striped tie at my neck, the label of a Mayfair bespoke tailor on the inside pocket of my suit...but born in Vienna as my parents passed through from Russia, to London."

This is partly Rod's story, as he finds himself imprisoned in a former school for girls on the Isle of Man with a lot of European emigres, including Polish-born Billy Jacks, a tailor who is almost more Cockney than the local-born Cockneys.

The story progresses as Sergeant Troy works to solve the murders of several East End rabbis. Oddly enough, all were signatories of a missive that appeared on Alex Troy's desk. Sent on the eve of WWII, the letter calls on the British government to imprison a dozen British Nazis including Sir Oswald Mosley, a Cambridge professor, and two  Members of Parliament.

Though Troy and other newspapermen are asked to publish it, the government asks them not to. The author seamlessly weaves real history and characters into his tale, and his literary references are elaborate and well-considered, as Peter Rozovsky points out on Detectives Beyond Borders.

John Lawton, self-described as a "degenerating misanthrope," is not only a dab hand with history, but is keenly aware of the social mores of the era he writes about. He's a brilliant creator of terse descriptions of people and settings and darkly humorous truths. One character allows a stubby moustache to "brutalize an otherwise pleasing face," and as a London-bound train leaves the countryside behind, the city "wrapp[s] the green world in her grey winding-sheet."

"Spookery baffles me," a policeman tells Troy in reference to MI5. Later, when Steerforth visits the Troy family home to inform Rod he is about to be detained, Lawton tells the reader that the secret service man was out of his depth; "Rank was no match for class." Later on the same page, we learn that "Rank took over from class."

As the detainees leave St. Pancras, Lawton lays out a hilariously dark description of their behaviour in terms of correct procedure for train journeys. "The parting was over, the adventure had not yet begun -- far too early to look at one another. One would not do that much before West Hampstead, and one would certainly be un-English to speak before St. Albans -- and these men, foreigners all, are all keen to be English."

Like his mother, Troy plays piano. When she learns Rod is about to be detained, Troy realizes that her music is "her way, one of her ways, of administering morphine to the soul." Later she passes her son in the hallway "trailing her mood in a rough wake that only his father would not feel." 

In a conversation with his daughter one the eve of his detention as an 'enemy alien,' Billy Jacks tells her he doesn't feel Jewish. Nor has he ever identified with Poland, his birthplace, or Germany, where he lived as a baby. He explains that his family lived "wherever your zayde laid his hat. Pogromed here, pogromed there, old Macdonald had a pogrom..."

I found this book is an enormously satisfying read. Recognizing that blood and gore are necessary tropes allowed me to enjoy Lawton's linguistic precision as well as historical and sociological references. With a deft hand, he skewers tribalism, snobbery, stupidity in high places and the false romance of war mythology. Indeed, Lawton precedes the opening of Second Violin with a quotation from a wartime memoir by Rose Macaulay, who does a little skewering herself.

I've read three Troy novels so far, and plan to read the others soon, while the atmosphere of Troy's time and place is still upon me.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Rain streaks vintage car

 I love how the rain falls from the rounded roof and hood in patterns not seen on the newer, squarer cars.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Rain as figure, no longer ground

Image of figure/ground illusion from psychologie

I've spent most of my adult life in the Vancouver area, but it was only this recent exceptionally dry, hot weather that caused me to move rain from the position of ground to that of figure.

Now that the constant background rain can't be assumed to last, or even to come at all, we begin to perceive it as figure, no longer ground.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Home Home on the deck

In the unprecedented heat of this summer, the back deck is the only place to be.

The sky is blue as blue and the new brolly is ever so orange. Summer colours.

Happy family time, with almost every meal outdoors, yard work and projects ongoing.

Nice to read under the umbrella too, listening to the birds and the wind in the cottonwoods.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hydrangea Collection in a South Surrey display garden

Ah, the lovely hydrangea. At the Display Garden created and maintained by Barry Roberts, the red, white (oak leaf type) and blue are just a small sampling of tremendous collection of hydrangeas, some rare, and all beautiful. Many are growing in the shade of enormous cedars that have been there for a very long time!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Door into summer


Whichever way you look through his doorway, it's magical. This is one of many unique features of the Bentley Garden in South Surrey, which was opened recently for the Master Gardeners of Vancouver.