Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Travelling Companions

Sitting huddled in my waterproofs, tucked behind the low cabin , my sea boots braced against the opposite cockpit seat, listening to the wind slowly piping up. A wind already strong, already a reef in the main, already cold salty spray rattling from time to time on the back of my orange hood. I thrust my hands deeper in my jacket pockets to keep them warm against the cold of the wind. I sat on the windward side of the cockpit, the high side, the port side, as we lurched over the crest of the waves before sliding swiftly into the troughs, dark and unseen in the velvety black of the ocean, sometime after midnight three days from the nearest shore. I was alone on deck, harnessed to a strong point, a thick stainless ring bolted to the mizzen mast. The old timber boat lurched hard and unsteadily over a big one, foam racing down the lower leeward deck and I knew it was time to reef the headsail. I looked over the coaming, felt the salty sting of the strong wet wind in my face, and pulled myself up. But just to my knees. The boat was a bit active to chance standing. I reset the autopilot so we were running before the wind, eased out the sails till we were sliding slowly and comfortably down the waves. I crawled down the side deck, moving the harness from strong point to strong point until I sat on the bowsprit, my legs either side, dangling over the rushing sea. I had already eased the halyard so the front of the sail was slack and manageable. I unhooked the base of the sail from the end of the bowsprit and pulled the sail down hand over hand until the reefing cringle could be hooked back on. All the while the huge ocean swells passed under the yacht, at first lifting the stern and pushing the boat forward, and then sliding under the bow in a flurry of foam, the warm water rising up my sea boots as the crest passed beneath. All around green phosphorescence glowed in the spray and broken water.
I wrapped the foot of the sail in the reefing ties, retied the sheets , re-tightened the halyard and crawled back to the cockpit. Sitting on the starboard side I winched in the sail as I reset the auto pilot, till we were once again heading north-east on a close reach. I was leaning over the coaming on the low side, checking the set of the sails and watching the green starboard running light reflecting from the troubled sea, when I noticed our passenger. “How long have you been there?” I said softly. There, inches from my face, was a small brown bird huddled in the corner between the cabin and the coaming. A land bird, here in a wild night hundreds of miles from any tree to rest in.
He looked up at me, frightened eyes taking me in, exhausted beyond moving even in the face of danger. I wanted to pick him up and place him inside the coaming, where it was dryer and safe from the green swirling water that sometimes rushed down the side deck when the yacht lurched to a large sea. But I was frightened he would panic, and with his last ounce of strength launch himself into the night where there was no other place of refuge. So I gently moved away, and after making a few a slow scans of the horizon to see if there were any other ships, huddled back behind the teak cabin trying to stay dry and safe.

An hour went by and I checked the stowaway. He was still there. He didn’t look up this time. I checked in another hour. Still there. Where had he come from and where was he going? Was the sea full of these birds at this time of year migrating to who knows where? Perhaps. To read in books of these amazing journeys is one thing, to see this tiny bird huddled exhausted on my deck on a wild night on the deep ocean was another.

There are no landmarks out here. Just the brilliant stars and the restless sea, the spray and the wind, the moving hills of water. One can only imagine what it must be like, tiny and frail, buffeted by the wind, driven by nothing more than the conviction that you have to go on, have to find the distant shore where everything will be ok again. The arriving would have to be really worth the journey. That philosophy flew in the face of my lifetime conviction that arriving was nowhere near as important as the journey, as the travelling, as the sights and scents, as the breeze on one’s skin and the soft spiritual and physical caresses of fellow travellers.

I checked one last time before I shook awake the next watch, but he was gone. I dearly hoped he had rested and then flown off into the night. But he could have just as likely been washed overboard. I hope he had some luck. We all need it.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Things that go bump.....

It was the sad bad dog days of a marriage. The time when you know it is never going to work, but you really can't go through all the pain of a parting. I needed time to think, or gird my loins, or simply to hide from a situation I didn't want to face. So I took my horse to a friends property some two hours north from here, out into the hinterland, amongst the escarpments and wandering valleys and slow moving creeks. It was winter, a subtropical winter. No snow or blizzards, no grey skies and dark brown frosted earth and leafless trees. But cool all the same, with starry frosty nights. In the mornings I could hear Soda, my grey, crunch around the paddock, waiting for me to break the ice on his water so he could have a drink. Typically I couldn’t have bought a normal horse, a quiet hack to learn to ride on. No. I had bought an Australian Sports Horse, a Polo horse, spirited and fast with an eye popping ability to turn in his own length at some speed. I had been thrown a few times ( after one fall I limped for 18 months), but at last mastered the beast, and could now ride with a fair degree of confidence. So the two of us climbed the hills and rode down the timber trails and along the creek beds. And I am still amazed why a horse can be very skittish at some harmless object in a field twenty meters away, but quite happily ride into a creek where he can’t see the bottom. I know they are prey animals, and anything different in their domain could be a threat. But surely an unexpected hole under the muddy water could lead to a broken leg and a certain death just as easily. Another of Life’s fascinating mysteries. Along with Quantum Physics, black holes and women.

So alone in a timber cottage, high set in the Queensland style, as cold inside as out on these bone cold nights. And lying huddled under the quilts inside a sleeping bag, breath steaming like a kettle intermittently boiling. And then the sudden sound of something tearing in the room across the hall. A sound clear and distinct breaking the country-deep silence. A ripping noise like tearing a fly screen, or coarse sun-damaged hessian. Followed by a thump. Quite loud. Quite distinct. So I got up to investigate, turning on all the lights, wandering from room to room. Nothing. No torn fly screens, nothing dropped on the floors. Nothing. So back to bed, closing the door to keep any heat-excited air molecules trapped in the room with me. And after a few minutes, the door flings open. Dramatically. I burst out laughing. ‘you’ve got to be kidding!’ So back up again, more switching on of lights, checking of door locks, windows etc. Nothing. Back to bed with no further incidents.

And two other nights, late, dark, windless, thumps on the side of the house. Like a padded ball being thrown at the wall. Irregular, every few seconds. Like a small flock of birds flying into the house. I heard it again, a couple of years later, again late at night, on the side wall of my inner suburban house.

But that is not the strangest thing about the trip.

A few days later, I drop the keys off to my friend, have coffee, say thanks. And then we walk outside and chat at my car. And suddenly I can smell cat piss. Strong and insistent, like a Tom has sprayed my car. I walk around looking for the cat, or wet piss on the side of the car. My friend stands quietly staring at me with a decidedly odd expression. Finally the smell fades. I look at his strange expression. I ask him if he had smelt it. He says no.

Then he tells me the tale. When he and his wife bought the house a year or so before, they had spent some time cleaning etc. And occasionally there was a strong smell of cat piss in the room where I had heard the noise. His wife and his brother could smell it. But he couldn’t. They had cleaned the room several times with disinfectant , but the smell still came and went. It was strange that the smell was there sometimes, and not at others. They had no explanation. And I hadn’t noticed it when I was there.

So what is the explanation? I don’t know. I decide the world is a very interesting place and one could go quietly mad trying to make sense of it. 'There are more things in heaven and Hell Horatio...'

Monday, 26 November 2007

The Mysterious Oceans

Some years ago, before I got divorced a couple of times and lost most of the toys that make life fun,I used to have yachts. And I used to buy yachting magazines. Once, I came across this article which has never left my memory. I turn it over from time to time, think about it, marvel at it, just for the shear joy of it.
It seemed that the writer of the article had noticed that there seemed to be a lot more boats getting into trouble off the New South Wales coast than normal. And the weather didn't seem to be any more inclement than expected for the time of the year. So the correspondent got in touch with the Australian Navy and asked them if they had any clues. Yes, apparently they did.
It appears that a huge amount of water had welled up from the deep ocean and raised the water levels around the Solomon's (I am pretty sure it was there but don't mind being corrected) by about 30 cms. Yes. A foot. And all this water had to go somewhere. So it joined the East Australia Current. Shouldn't need to explain where that is. And this unexpected water had increased the current from 3-4 knots to 5-6 knots. And since the prevailing winds were from the south east pushing against an increased southerly current flow, the waves were much bigger than anticipated given the wind strength. So Boaties got into strife when they shouldn't have. It took a month or two for the current to slow down. There was that much water. Where the hell did it come from?
No-one seems to have any theories except those that resemble guesswork.
Don't you love stuff like that?

Of Shooting Stars and Perception...

Gathering information is a dodgy process. We have so much preconceived notions of the world, both conscious and subconscious. And our senses make things up when things happen fast or under duress.
This happened. I was there. It was slow enough not to be confusing. But see what happens when evidence threatens a comfortable view of the cosmos.
We were four or five teenagers, probably 18, no women present to rattle the hormones, lying on the bonnet of a car gazing up into the universe about 10 at night. This immediately imparts a fair bit of information. The car bonnet was strong enough to take the weight without buckling or taking a permanent imprint of the brand of our jeans, and the street lighting was so bad, we could actually see the stars. So the mid sixties. And we hadn't partaken of any substances to mess about with brains already delicate biochemistry. Then we all say "look, a shooting star.' And watch the shooting star, small and bight move across the night directly above. Then, and I am as sure I saw this as I am sure what I had for breakfast today, the star did a slow and fairly tight U turn, before moving back the way it had come and disappearing into the night. There was a silence before the explanations started. The first was that it must have been a satellite. Everyone agreed that it must have been just that. But then people realized that that didn't make any sense. Not in the nature of satellites to do U turns. Then a UFO. But that was way too uncomfortable. So gradually, one by one, almost everyone decided that they hadn't seen the star do a U turn at all. Except me. I knew what I had seen, but had no explanation. And I was, and still am, comfortable with that. And after a few minutes of everyone convincing themselves and each other that all they had seen was a normal shooting star, the conversation moved on. Probably to women. As my friend from across the street and I drove home, I asked him what he had seen. Had the star done a U turn. He thought for a while, and then said he wasn't sure.
People don't like uncomfortable truths, deny they exist, even when they have actually observed them.

Global Warming 2

There are some interesting ideas floating around on this topic that tease the mind, fire up the imagination. One is the problem of water vapour verses CO2. The atmosphere is about .03 to .04 percent CO2 while water vapour seems to run at about 2-3 %. About 70 to 1. We are told that CO2 still has a greater green house effect per %. I have searched but can't find where that data came from. I am still looking. It should be there somewhere. Now ask a meteorologist if cloud cover significantly keeps the earth warmer at night than a clear sky, if you hadn't noticed all ready. Isn't this a greenhouse effect ? Perhaps a little simplistic you may cry. But not really. It is one of the effects of water in the atmosphere.
There are people who say higher CO2 levels cause the warming. Others that the warming causes CO2 levels to rise; that we have caused the warming and that has caused more water in the atmosphere which in turn causes more warming. Which is correct? Who knows.
By the way. Have you noticed that the satellite images showing the shrinking ice caps are of the north pole. Did you know that the south pole has actually been getting colder for about 40 years?
The earth is a very complex system. I think that we show an unbelievable arrogance in claiming we know how it works from data largely gathered in the last 50 years. I have been studying women that long and have absolutely no idea how they work. That is part of their attraction.
The earth will do what she pleases with or without us. Conservation is about looking after our environment for the greater good of our species and all the other species on earth. It is the least we can do. But the final arbiter is the earth herself. She will decide our future. She and the universe.
This is a reply I wrote to RobC and I have decided to add it to the main area.
Hi RobC,
thankyou for your comment. I checked out you information and a lot of your bibliography. It seems you are affiliated in some way with the Nuclear Industry. Not that negates you comments, but does mean you may have an axe to grind. (Get rid of fossil and go Nuclear.) I have seen a lot of that data before. And I don't have your cavalier attitude to proxy data. The gist of my argument is that a lot of our information gathering technology is very recent and long term trends are impossible to predict from such a short sample period. We all pick and choose statistics to bolster any position we might have. I have tried not to be biased, but acknowledge that that is pretty well impossible to some extent . I have gone back to original sources whenever possible. For example, the sea levels are supposed to be rising globally. But I checked the raw data provided from a link provided by The Australian Weather Bureau. Looking at that data, one would have to be very brave to draw publicly any conclusion at all.
The press doesn’t help either. There was a story several months ago, about an island in the Pacific that had waves crashing over the roads and peoples gardens. The story said that this was an example of what was happening because Global Warming causes increased sea levels. The real story was somewhat different. The locals had built a causeway out from the island. When the monsoon winds arrived early (please don’t blame that on Global Warming!) they unfortunately coincided with high spring tides. The result of the wind pushing these tides against the newly built causeway was flooding. But that doesn’t make as good a story as G W.
As I stated initially, I am a conservationist. I believe that Thorium reactors could solve a lot of our energy needs.
Imagine a world where non-carbondioxide producing power stations provided enough power to run cars on compressed air. The technology is there. But it seems the political will to stand up to the oil companies isn’t.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Global Warming

At the risk of sounding like an idiot, I am still not convinced that man is causing climate change.

Below is a graph from and below that, another graph from Illinois State Museum.

Earth Ice Over Last 700,000 Years

Over the past 750,000 years of Earth's history, Ice Ages have occurred at regular intervals, of approximately 100,000 years each. Courtesy of Illinois State Museum

These are both very interesting.

The top one shows that the day to day temperature (a thousand years or two is really only few days in the time scale of the existence of weather as we know it on Earth) is influenced by all kinds of things, from volcanic eruptions to solar activity.

This has been going on since Earth existed.

The climate changed so dramatically 74,000 years ago, because of a huge eruption of Mount Toba in Sumatra, that man’s population crashed to fewer than 10,000 adults. (Basically, a six year nuclear winter and a 1,000 year ice age. Now wouldn't that would be fun with Earth’s present population levels.)

And I don't know where you live on this still wonderful planet of ours, but in my area, weather forecasting is interesting. Maybe accurate over the next 24 hours. Interesting for the next 2 days. But after that, it's a bit shaky.
But Climatologists have these fabulous computers that tell us what is going to happen over the next hundred years. Accurately! Don't they?
So why don't they lend them to our forecasters to see what is going to happen tomorrow? Or next week? And then we could see how accurate they would be for the next hundred years.
(Is that my tongue in my cheek, or did I eat something that wasn't dead yet?)

And it seems that water vapour is responsible for 95% of the greenhouse effect.

Not Carbon Dioxide. Really ? Yes, really.

But the long term trends are the coming and going of the Ice Ages every hundred thousand years or so. And we are due for another one. And I don’t think driving your car or not can influence the next one.

Get an Ice Age in you back yard and see how you like it.

Bugger Global Warming.
Lobby the Government to stop the next big freeze.

And if there is an election due they’ll promise to do just that.

(It won’t be a ‘core’ promise of course. But a Politicians Promise'. Funny how normal people and Politicians both use the same word to mean different things. Like Truth in Advertising. And there's an oxymoron if ever there was one.
I guess it is the same as when we talk of morality and truth , and when a lawyer does.
Same words, different meanings.)

In my whale huggers heart, I believe we should be planting more trees, stop clearing the jungles, use less fossil fuel.

Because we need to preserve what we have left.

A richer, more diversified Earth is a better Earth, a better place to live.

Til the next Ice Age.

Isn’t it ?