Fragments from Floyd Photos and Front Porch Musing from Floyd County Virginia Mon, 26 Jan 2015 13:22:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Life After Carbon Mon, 26 Jan 2015 13:22:29 +0000 I’m pretending, as a fumbling fiction writer, that there will be a life after carbon. It is a thought and a hope I’d like to hold up as a possibility, though I hold serious doubts, because I do not think it possible any carbon will be left in the ground if we can get it out–up to the point where it takes a barrel of oil to produce a barrel of oil.

One might think that this run on “unconventional reserves” of carbon in shale and tar sands that we’re sadly witnessing now represents that last possible source of carbon-derived energy. It might appear that when that is tapped out, we’ll have no alternative but alternatives for energy.  Not so fast, bucko. Big Energy never says die.

In the research to understand my “turning point” that will involve the Arctic sea and ice melts AND methane-based cause and effect, I’m finding all sorts of great information, including the following just this morning. (And joy! I can give away my book bits because my three readers are not likely to steal my story because I know where they live.)  Sample link:

Now Siberian craters could provide energy of future from the Siberia Times.

► There is more energy in methane hydrates than in all the world’s oil, coal and gas put together
► Russia, Japan, Norway and others tend to mine “fire ice” and get rich. In the process, they also commit us—should there be an us—to even more CO2 and atmospheric warming well past the point of no return.
► Remember those astounding craters that appeared suddenly on the Yamal Peninsula within the past year? More such are likely (I’m imagining for chapter 7 a whole chain of them within a matter of days), and it can’t be ruled out that they might happen under an oil refinery or Siberian town. Yes, Siberia is a happening place now, and not just for gulag fans.
► The same physics, chemistry and earth phenomena that gave rise to the Yamal Craters is being hypothesized to explain the disappearance of ships and planes over the so-called “Bermuda Triangle.”

So fact is getting way weirder than fiction, so why not ride the fiction of it all to make an interesting read—with a conclusion of life “post-carbon” that will likely never make it to the history books?

]]> 0
Creek Jots 01_22_2015 Thu, 22 Jan 2015 12:48:52 +0000 ► I have not written in depth about synthetic biology here because the subject is not of interest to most regular visitors (yes there are certainly exceptions) and the topic is just becoming enormous in breadth, depth and relevance to life on the ground. Suffice it to say there are some encouraging signs that public (and scientific) concerns about escape into the wild of novel lab-created organisms may have an answer.

► The MacPro has a new home. It took about an hour on FB. I did not want to have to resort to eBay or Craigslist so I’m pleased. OTOH, it will be in the possession of a friend; selling to a distant stranger severs the nerve of remote dread that an “as is” sale will go wrong for the new buyer. I can sell this system in good conscience. And should the motherboard give put the ghost, this system is worth its price in parts, especially the new 3TB internal drive that is six months old.

► I am enjoying the “easy part” of novel-writing: background research–and it is in fact very likely the only part of this book I’ll actually complete. And yet, I am compelled to have a voice and obtain a reach that this blog does not provide. I’m conflicted about whether or not to “bring readers along” to any extent as this book does or does not progress. That ‘over the shoulder’ sharing of Slow Road Home, and to a lesser extent, What We Hold in Our Hands, was part of the joy of pulling those pages together.

► Related to the last paragraph, I’m following “arctic sea ice” via a google alert. This progressing phenomenon is seen in its early  state in the opening of my book storyline. Out there in the real world this open-waters process is way ahead of earlier predictions, and is already playing a major role in future warming.

There are many who think ice up in that “frozen wasteland” is just a hindrance and good riddance after all, an ice-free arctic is the best thing that could ever happen. Decreasingly-ice-bound northern oceans contain 15% of the oil and 30% of the natural gas on the planet. Now, with the fox guarding the hen house, watch how fast the deregulated Northern Seas gold rush happens. Drill (but baby it’s cold outside) drill! I may share an excerpt from the manuscript along this topic path at some point. Or not.

► IMAGE: My daughter takes lots of images lately, but six months worth of shots are still on her camera card. She is pre-photoshop. So I uploaded a gazillion of her images onto my hard drive to play with. This was one of them. I stole it. So sue me for everything I’m worth. And enjoy your pizza.

]]> 1
What Goes Around Wed, 21 Jan 2015 12:38:22 +0000 I would have been inclined at such junctures in blogging years past to put up a “randoms” assorted bag of things I’ve been reading, researching or thinking about. Meh. I already have that kind of stuff stored where I can get to it when the time comes, and links are generally not clicked with this kind of potpourri post.

So you get dog. Two, actually. Going round and round and round. Until (wait for it) they are instructed to do otherwise.

The source of my greater-than-usual distraction is the fact that I am in the early stages of gathering information for a book of fiction. While I seriously doubt it will ever see the light of day, its construction is giving me an excuse to explore current events related to methane hydrates, Black Snow, thermal expansion of the oceans and an ice-free Arctic Ocean.

Then, as they say, some other stuff happens.

Today’s fact is stranger than yesteryear’s fiction. Amazing details of the workings of the world and of nature that we now know, and more amazing what we now know that we don’t yet know.  In my novel, we come to our senses. Also fiction.

]]> 1
What Goes Up: Doing the Math Wed, 14 Jan 2015 14:18:59 +0000 I give you exhibits A and B–just two of literally thousands of pieces of information making it clear that, in the very near future, we need to be MORE rather than LESS open to what a wide mix of sciences tell us about trends regarding our oceans, soils, forest, and atmosphere. Failure to do so will be the most egregious act of folly of any disappeared civilization to date.

The Methane Monster Roars  with Fred’s highlights.

How Many Gigatons of CO2? An infographic

Exhibit A: The link to the methane piece shows my copious annotations. It is the kind of article that, at some point after I got into it this morning, I had to just mark as wholly worth reading and give up highlighting.

The most startling possibility in this article is one I’ve known for some while, put forth by methane researcher Natalia Shakhova. She (and others) think it entirely possible that a 50 gigaton methane release from permafrost and ocean hydrates could erupt over a matter of months or less, once it is triggered. Some refer to this as the “methane burp.” This event might even get the attention of  the most hardened science deniers.

Do the math:

Over the short term (25 years) every molecule of methane exerts about 100 times the greenhouse gas effect of a molecule of carbon dioxide. So 50 gigatons of methane has the atmospheric impact of 5000 gigatons of CO2 for long enough to be of geologic time scale importance to living things on Earth. Past periods of mass extinction were triggered by lesser events. See exhibit B.

Exhibit B: take a look at this infographic. A sudden increase of 5000 gigatons of greenhouse gas far exceeds what it will take to increase global temps to 6 degrees C above the current 0.8 degree rise–which is already wreaking no small degree of havoc in ways with which we are all, by now, too familiar. And this cataclysm would take place in the geological blink of an eye.

Meanwhile, back at the hen house where the fox presides, it’s business as usual, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, and without the pesky limits and profit-capping regulations and no longer wasting time with all that messy science mumbo-jumbo.

I’m sorry about this, science shunners, but not matter how much you don’t want to accept facts, what goes up still comes back down.

The Incas and Mayans can be forgiven their inaction before they disappeared.  THEY couldn’t have known. They didn’t see it coming.

]]> 1
Longing: The South West Coast Trail Tue, 13 Jan 2015 13:08:06 +0000 Totally opposed to my notion, nay my resolution–to use my time more wisely in the mornings, I once again found myself browsing at random by way of Google Earth. This is  a lens on the planet through which I could gaze–and learn–for entire days if I (or she) let myself.

Thankfully then I suppose  it was a good thing that my old computer was sluggish touring the world through Google Earth. Unfortunately then I suppose it is not to my advantage that the new iMac with much more internal memory and much faster video card makes Google Earth seem a spontaneous extension of my hand – – as if I were in real time traveling along one of the world’s great rivers or over its highest mountain peaks.

The latest exploration this early morning arose out of my curiosity about the filming location for a Netflix series we have been watching called Broadchurch. [Rated 8.4 on IMDB.] I was able to find out that Dorset on the coast of  Great Britain was one of the filming locations, and that is what I plugged into the location bar in Google Earth. The experience of traveling the Dorset and adjacent coast has been strangely bittersweet.

The bitter bit of this experience is acknowledging that I will never be on the ground to explore the territory, and only know it from the map. Walter Mitty experiences remorse on accepting as real the fact that he has been pretending. In particular, it is the South West Coast Path that has caught and held my attention this early cold morning, and created a feeling I can only describe as longing.

[I’d be shocked if anybody did, but just as a starting point for exploring this trail, you can input into Google Earth the following:  Start Point Lighthouse, Dartmouth, United Kingdom. ]

Of course you know if you have visited this blog many times at all over the past 13 years that I am very happy to be where I am. And yet, there is a part of me that grieves and regrets that it is so very difficult to avoid ugly, busy, overbuilt and artificial in eastern half of this country. Frankly, I’m ashamed and disappointed in what we’ve done to both natural and built environments. No wonder we are held in low regard by so many in other places that have honored their history and the land. But that’s another riff.

I hold no illusions that the southern coast of Great Britain is pure and devoid of such things. And yet, the very fact that this footpath courses through mostly small villages across 630 miles of countryside, close enough in most places to see the sea, often from the very bluff’s edge–this is quite different, you likely agree,  from east-coastal America–which is for the most part rather newly “developed” and ugly, busy, overbuilt and artificial. I know there are exceptions, but you’ll be hard pressed to travel two miles on the eastern seaboard south of Maine without asphalt, neon and traffic. Except in remnant snatches, we gave that kind of coast away a century ago.

I guess I always imagined that the time would come when I would travel. Now would be that time of life I imagined. There will not be the hiking and climbing and sleeping on the ground I found no challenge at all long years ago when I was imagining knowing the world upon retirement. We could still be tourists somewhere I suppose, but that does not conform to Mr. Mitty’s travels into his future. Imagination’s current abode is in a different chassis with worn wheels and shocks, and small gas tank.

I realize every day some new “never again.” The fact that I have just discovered but will never set foot on the South West Coast Path is, oddly, just one newly-plucked item fallen through the wide wicker of my bucket list.

But you, dear reader who has stumbled here by accident just to find this post–check it out. Maybe this is one you can both imagine and do. Tell me about it when you return, won’t you?

]]> 4
Nameless On Ice Mon, 12 Jan 2015 13:05:29 +0000 Thankfully, we are well into the double digits this morning, in contrast to the single digits near or below zero for an unrelenting week of wind, gray clouds and eyeball-freezing weather.

But it has been good for ice viewing–less so for bringing hands out of pockets, then out of gloves, to take pictures of creek ice–about the only subject worthy of such suffering for another six to eight weeks.

I suggest viewing the larger image on Flickr. The ice along Nameless Creek really does make for some crisp cameos of the season, with color added by oak and especially beech leaves trapped in cloudy or clear ice.

For anyone paying attention to such things (mom?) I will likely be posting to the blog closer to mid-day a couple of times a week only, saving the early hours for some projects I’m trying to pursue with greater discipline, and blogging and responding to emails later, when I’ve exhausted the muse with writing that takes optimum attention–such as it exists these days.

]]> 2
The Sky is Falling. And It’s Your Fault Fri, 09 Jan 2015 11:14:21 +0000 The house of cards known as the western economy is teetering precariously. The gusts are coming from all directions against an edifice built on speculation, greed, hype and corruption. There will be winners and losers. But the “warmists” will likely get the blame.

The fracking boom is in big trouble. Increasing resistance to production and delivery is the least of the industry’s worries (and I’m not saying that resistance should let up one bit!)

Fields are failing, production volumes struggle to stay up. The industry is over-hyped, over-sold and over-valued. And the price of  competing energy sources has dropped to rock bottom (no accident. Poor Russia. We wish we could help, but hey…) So I’d venture that our pipeline threat is reduced, especially for three of them through Virginia to reach construction.

But don’t get too giddy just yet. As the fracking investment bubble pops, so do the too-big-to-fail banks bursting with carbon-monies that have access to your nestegg, and have a way to get it, to prevent their own implosion. We surely wouldn’t want any of them to suffer the consequences of their folly, now would we?

Of course nobody can predict with 100% certainty how or when markets will rise or fall. But I’d bet my money (buried in a sock under the hen house) that we are soon to see a market “correction” that responds to the recent convulsions of a dying Big Bank / fossil fuel post-peak all-systems failure.

And then there’s the blame game after the storm. You know who is guarding the hen house next year. The next crash will be blamed on those damned tree-hugging anti-fracking pinko nature freaks in Floyd that kept crying that the sky was falling. Be sure Senator Inhofe will be wagging his righteous finger in your face through your six-o’clock television along about June of next year.  You should feel so ashamed!

If the last paragraph of “Russia Blamed, US Taxpayers on the Hook, as Fracking Boom Collapses” quoted below holds any interest for you, go back and read the rest.

The pundits on Fox will likely play on the patriotism of the right and use their Big Lie ploy (say something enough times, it becomes the truth) to the hilt. Six months from now, while studiously avoiding mention of our “allies,” the Saudis, or the Wall Street banks, they will likely be vociferously defending those poor “beleaguered US oilmen” who could have made our country strong and independent again in energy, but were broken by the Democrats and those “commie environmentalists” working for Putin. The market crash will be blamed on the “climate hoax.”

And  as a paradoxical footnote,  the winner (if money can buy a win–not there has been any evidence of such a thing) may be the OIL INDUSTRY.

Tomgram: Michael Klare, Perpetuating the Reign of Carbon

]]> 3
How Not To Boil a Frog Thu, 08 Jan 2015 13:21:41 +0000 I was remembering recently an adult object lesson one of my parents taught me long ago. In the way of many moral lessons we learn as children, the physiological facts of the tale are flawed but the point is nevertheless worth heeding. It is that we can slip into bad circumstances by degrees, so slowly that we don’t even notice the slide until we’re in too deep to pull ourselves out.

The main character in the story as I was told it was your average everyday frog. In a pot. You probably know where this is heading. The water at first is room temperature. Copasetic. Frog fat and happy. And then, very slowly, the burners glow a bit redder and the frog just settles into the new normal.

Again the flames get hotter by a few more degrees, and the frog, he just reads a magazine. I bet you know how the story ends. The frog basks blithely, kicked back in his hot and hotter tub until he becomes a boiled bag of bones, never noticing the slow shift toward death by crock pot.

I’m sorry to tell you, fellow elder-frogs, but the soup is served and it is us. Our species (like real amphibians everywhere) may have a near-future place on the endangered species list, and this has happened on our watch. We senior types, more than the tadpoles, bear the weight. We should have noticed the changes from tepid to near-boiling over our too-comfortable soaking of decades in the pot of American environment and politics.

Our juniors counted on us to be paying attention to the world that contained and sustained them and us. Now we’re all in a stew. How could we have become so brain-dead and numb? Were we drugged? Hypnotized? Pithed? (Sorry. Biology frog joke.)

Just think back a few decades. We’re not that far beyond the notion of “any man can be president” and promise of  “a chicken in every pot.” Remember The Great Society? A thousand points of light? We listened. We had hope; vigor; plastic; ambition; television. The world was our oyster. But I bear some sad news: we’ve been shucked.

Because in fact, it is no longer our oyster. Even as we heard it and recited it and pledged allegiance, the water got hotter, we somehow continued to lie to ourselves that the government was of, by and for—US. The people. Once the cooks in this kitchen,  we’ve slowly but surely become nothing but ingredients. And the pot—the surface and stuff of the planet—is a commodity; a mere resource. It belongs not to all of us for our future, but to some few Citizens United to use up without limit or law, for their present ease and profit. And we have become victims of their recipes for stockholder success. Here’s just one from that cook book:

Haliburton Frog Soup
“Take immense volumes of perfectly good, sweet water on and under the ground and available to all as an unalienable right. Break and discard the Clean Water Act. Stir with the Halliburton Loophole. Makes tens of millions of gallons of chemical-dense water perfectly good for fracking; otherwise toxic. Dispose ad libitum into deep injection wells or leaky ponds. Serves no one.”

Who owns the land? Who drives The Economy and ecology and toward what end? Who is in charge of the fate of the water, the topsoil, the minerals under the ground, the pace and scale of life, the food economies in communities in  Floyd or Montgomery or Roanoke County? Should we the people in real places on the ground–or someone else–determine the course of the future here where we the people live?

The frog story is one of “shifting baselines.” It speaks to chronic, slow changes within a life memory of the standards by which we measure the social, political and environmental quality of our lives. We tend to compare the present only against the recent past. We can’t remember that the water was once only warm.

But we are caring and intelligent and responsive Floyd frogs. There has come a day when very many of us across the nation acknowledge the shift, feel the pain and cry out because conditions are no longer tolerable.

And as we act on that choice, if we recommit ourselves together in time and place to this democratic ideal, we can return to being cooks in our own kitchen again.

]]> 2
Consider the Lily Tue, 06 Jan 2015 12:33:07 +0000 IMG_3742turksLilyPodsFlower480Consider the lily, how it grows. It toils not, neither does it spin. And yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these.

Something like that. It comes to mind after a misspent hour becoming anxious, angry and perplexed at the state of the world.

And yet, life goes on. I have to remember that. I should change my early morning habits, and not first thing  check email, follow updates or read the news. I should put off such “spinning” until noon. Remember the lily. Think first on these things, and remember who and where I am. Yes, I’ll do that. Was that just a resolution?

SO here’s my natural world perplexity that centers on the familiar Turk’s Cap lily, Lilium superbum, that blooms in the middle of the summer and whose candelabra seed pods are evident in the late fall when all other green vegetation has died back.

The large orange flowers are distinctly suspended by a pedicel, a stem that hangs the flower upside down. Its  exerted anthers waggle on long filmanents below the recurved speckled petals. I have better images of the flowers but for the life of me cannot find them.  But take a look at a wide assortment of images via Google to see the plant in a better growing habit.

And here’s the deal–a new trick this old dog just observed this year after 15 previous years admiring these lovely wildflowers.

Take a look at the seed pods (much easier to see in a larger image I uploaded to Flickr) that are born UPRIGHT on the pedicel, which makes a sharp 90 degree bend just near the pod itself. See that?

So what this must mean is that after the flower has done its job of attracting hovering pollinators (moths?) and the plant bears fertile seeds, the flower stem twists or bends 180 degrees. The flower faces the ground; the seed pod faces the sky.

Is this right? Are there other flowering plants that do this? And what would be the advantage to holding the seeds upright in the pod vs dropping them directly as the pods mature ready to spread the seeds? Are seeds spread farther from the parent plant by a sway stalk than they would be by dropping into the growth zone of the competing parent?

So you see, there are more immediate, local and curious things to worry about that what the Republicans are going to do to the air we breathe.

Consider the lily, how it grows–from the Sermon on the Mount, just as fitting for the valley of Goose Creek.

]]> 4
Life on the Other Side Mon, 05 Jan 2015 14:19:23 +0000 It is like coming up for air after a month submerged in holiday busyness. Finally, the first business day after New Years, and things start to resume the usual schedule of meetings and events in Floyd.

OTOH, not exactly usual, as a number of local businesses close down in January during the off-season, a fact that makes Mondays in Floyd more of a ghost town than usual.

Meanwhile, we walk our walks and haul wood, and today, prep for the numbing cold expected for mid-week during which it will be full time work just keeping the house warm enough for the one who wears long-johns year ’round.

So I’m scratching my head trying to remember what I might find to toss up on the blog this morning, and as I often do, I go to the image archives from the past few weeks–a usual off-season photographically unless we have creek ice or a significant snow. We’ve had neither for a while.

But here is an ordinary picture of an ordinary winter ever-green fern. If you know one wild fern, it is probably this one, called Christmas Fern–Polystichum acrosticoides. Why the common name?

Maybe because it is green for that holiday and finds its way onto table and mantles representative of the fact that, even if weakly, life goes on outdoors.

Or some say the name derives from the shape of the individual leaf-lets or pinnae. Squint a little and it looks (against Ann’s gloved hand) like a tall Santa’s boot.

What was remarkable about this particular moment was the color. On a somber day of thick low clouds, the sky momentarily opened partially to let a weak, flat light flood the forest floor. In that instant, the color dazzled. Then the clouds closed in like water rushing into a hollow in beach sand, and life went back to the off-season shades of gray and brown.

]]> 1