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As A Large Complex System Destabilizes…

A ‘Perfect Storm_ Extreme Winter Weather Bitter Cold and Climate Change Climate Reality

You really want to read this article. The author knows about a billion times more than I do.

…extreme events become more common. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing in the weather, and more every year.

Assuming the world manages to turn our mass CO2 pollution around and stop anthropogenic climate change, I’m going to guess as an interested climate layperson that we’re looking at decades for current temperature and weather trends to turn around, and more decades for the chaos we’re causing to calm.

Buckle up, folks. And buckle up your grandkids and their grandkids. Even in the best case it’s going to be a wild ride for a couple of centuries.

Longer if we screw this up. Maybe forever.

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Snow Time To Panic

Snowpocalypse Raleigh NC

No, this isn’t Norfolk, Virginia where I live. This is Raleigh, North Carolina a relatively short drive south, a few years ago. But we react to snow about the same way around here. Our AT-ATs are a touch smaller, though.

So today (Wednesday the 3rd of this brave new world of 2018) I had a mental healthcare appointment to keep (no emergencies — in fact, I’ve been feeling better than I have for the past 3 or 4 years). I first set up these appointments when the family car was working, but because I am a prescient prophet capable of seeing that driving 20 year old cheap beater cars means we’ll be carless from time to time when one dies, I chose a practice in walking distance.

And of course it’s winter when the car chooses to die, the jerky little bastard. And of course the Earth’s hat of cold air has lately slipped rakishly to the side and we’re under all that fine polar air right now while the precious icecap continues melting in frickin January.

But the walk isn’t so bad because it’s over freezing unlike the walk I had to take for yesterday’s appointment, and the legacy of a Wisconsin childhood is knowing how to dress for cold. Only my cane hand gets truly cold, and maybe my nose.

My appointment was on one side of a rectangular route with one of the two grocery stores in walking distance on the other side of it on the way home, so instead of taking the shorter route back home I figured I’d stop by the store as long as I was already walking and pick up a few odds and ends like some apples and pears for the children who, I am very happy to report, can chow fresh fruit like champions and do at every opportunity. Yay, nutrition!

I wasn’t planning on picking up enough things to justify taking along the collapsible cart I recently bought thanks to my Patreon patrons, so I brought an empty backpack. All good. Planning ahead.

But what I did not plan on — and I should have known better given my past experience as a manager in the grocery biz — was the forecast of 8-12 inches of snow in the forecast for tonight (there’s a bit less than an inch on the ground as I type this, and the snow is beginning to come down again after taking a break for nightfall) and what it would mean for my mission.

In Norfolk, Virginia where close proximity to the ocean gentles the temperatures, this is a MASSIVE BLIZZARD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE OH GOD.

The grocery store was clotted with swarms of half-crazed customers. Like, a no shopping carts available, I got one of the last 6 or 7 handbaskets swarm of shoppers — and at that point, not a single snowflake had fallen yet.

Ew, a handbasket. I don’t like using them anymore, because they unbalance me due to my limp and bone-on-bone hip, and I already limp heavily enough even with the cane thankyouverymuch.

I almost decided to say screw it and head home. But, the kids want apples. And the wife’s upset tummy craves full-sugar Coca Cola (which horrifies me; as my grandma’s good little boy I cleave to her teaching that 7-Up is the magic tonic that soothes all ills).

So I shop.

Weather panics are weird.

Some of it is predictable. Half the bread aisle is blown out, as it always is when bad weather threatens. Apparently there’s something about blizzards and hurricanes and nor’easters that makes people crave sandwiches and toast.

The bottled water is also half blown out. Because if anything is scarce during a blizzard, it’s water which is LAYING ALL OVER THE GROUND A FOOT THICK JUST SHOVEL A FEW DRINKS INTO A BUCKET AND BRING IT IN TO THAW FER CRISSAKE. Also, since when does a blizzard knock out the water supply? Your pipes shouldn’t be freezing, because you should be running your water if it’s that damn cold. And the snow will insulate the crawlspace under your home. It’ll actually be warmer under there than it has the last 3 or 4 nights with the cold snap.

And, this is the one that really gets me, and I’ve seen it before (and it’s weirder than anything else I’ve seen in a storm except the guy who bought a whole cart full of frozen dinners because he was afraid the hurricane would knock out his electricity, or the woman who bought two dozen (!!) gallons of milk, also in the teeth of an approaching hurricane. WTF!) — the meat case is also half blown out. The hamburger is GONE. And three customers are standing next to the empty hamburger shelf asking each other if there’s any more hamburger anywhere else and when will the butcher bring out more hamburger?

People, if the blizzard comes and knocks out your power, I assume some of you have gas stoves. But not all of you! Are you planning on crouching in your dark living room gnawing a pack of raw hamburger like Gollum gnawing a fish? Do you figure hamburger will cook itself up if you toss it into one of the snowdrifts in your front yard?

Is there something about a snowstorm that demands you start a cookout?

Is there some theory I’ve never heard of that says you can save yourself from freezing to death if your home is heatless by covering yourself with ground beef?

People are weird.

Flash Fiction: Meet The Thunder

This is, uh, a thing. A thing I wrote. A thing that’s not really a story, thought there’s plenty of story suggested before it and around it and after it. And something, after all, happens in it. So it’s story-ish.

It felt pretty good to write it. It’s got a hefty dose of autobiography in it. S.A. Ophelia Barton, the Mad Scene (Sorry, Shakespeare. I don’t mean to imply I’m as interesting as one of The Immortal Bard’s characters. That’d be something like hubris).
It was originally posted on my Patreon page on August 10th, where it was exclusive to patrons until now.
 
Meet The Thunder
S.A. Barton
Copyright 2017
 
I came to the beach looking for Death. Not to confront it. Not to make demands. No, I hoped to be surpised. I wanted to schmooze up to Death like a fan buzzing around a minor celebrity at a party. I wanted to annoy death with my proximity until it snapped and swatted me.
In my last second on Earth, I wanted to protest that it was totally unfair that I was dying soooo unexpectedly and it wasn’t, really, my fault at all. I wanted it to be just one more indignity life had heaped upon me. Maybe I’d pass into the mysterious beyond and demand to speak to a manager. If I could screw my courage up to the sticking point as a ghost – a problematic proposition, as I had enough trouble doing that sort of thing with the benefit of a fleshly body.
It was the peak of summer on a long beach closed to tourists by main force of lack of parking and an irregular defensive picket composed of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sun-bleached towing company signs.
It was scorching hot, the shadows driven to their cowering minimums and only just beginning to creep longer into afternoon. In the distance to the west there was a different sort of shadow on the horizon: a black and blue bruise of thunderstorms rolled down the flat waters of the Chesapeake Bay, roiling them in its wake. Flicking white snake tongues of lightning shot out one after another from the boiling edge. Some of it was over water already, but the end nearest me was still over land to the west, land separated from the sand I lived on by a strip of bay. Soon it would cross.
Hearing the approaching thunder over the laboring of my overwhelmed window air conditioner unit (the fan had developed a metallic whine after a hurricane the previous year, but it still ran), I peered out the front window of my lonely efficiency apartment to catch a glimpse of that black horizon between the three story condos across the street – giants of the spit; there was virtually nothing taller anywhere near that beach.
Already a few herald raindrops spattered the window, squeezed out of the isolated puffy white clouds the storm drove ahead of it like frightened sprinting sheep.
The clouds were speeding; the front itself would arrive in minutes; the steady drumbeat of distant thunder and the gray smudge it dragged along under it like a density of jellyfish tentacles promised a wild downpour.
Suddenly an urgency came upon me and pushed my normal morbid lassitude out. I would meet the storm and see what it brought with it, like I said above. But I wouldn’t meet it at the convenient, tiny sheltered beach out back of the aging brick block I lived it, buildings that had perhaps once given young officers on their way to Korea a place to rest their heads while they waited for their ships and planes. No. I’d head across the spit, not a long walk, across its long doubled road that looped at the end where the sand finally gave way to sea and the bridge-tunnel that reached across from the end to the land to the west, walk though the spit’s lines of little houses and cabins and weather-bleached apartment buildings.
And then I’d walk down a block to the elevated steps of the beach access that arced over the long stiff grasses and wandering vines of the single line of dune that separated beach and street. On to the beach that faced the rushing storm, into the mouth of the oncoming winds, to the place where the main force of the black steamroller in the sky would  break on this single finger of sand thrust into the bay.
I did not dress for my meeting. I undressed. Off shirt and shorts and underwear. On tiny swim trunks and flipflops. And out the door into the freshening wind.
Outside the heat still lingered, but it was leavened with less-hot, not yet cool, heavy shoves of great invisible hands of wind. The few little trees scattered about the spit, already sculpted with heavy leans away from the beaches by years of weather, danced in spurts as the invisible hands slicked them back again and again.
I walked fast. I had a rendezvous to keep. I looked up every dozen steps or so, not pausing, just glancing to see the enormous black-robes I hurried to meet, spreading its cloak wider, wider, the gray rain spilling out of its hem behind the rows of houses and surely into the bay water now, drumming the waves and pressing the fish down deep with healthy fear.
The thunder rumbled louder now; I was beginning to feel it as well as merely hear it. The lightning had grown close enough to throw faint stroboscopic shadows. Ozone gusted thick like brash cologne in a young nightclub.
I didn’t run. It didn’t seem fitting or dignified. This meeting demanded a certain gravitas, one that apparently, somehow, was not offended by showing up wearing bathing trunks too short to hang all the way down to mid-thigh.
I crossed the road, two lanes each way, clover on the median making tiny respectful bows away from the storm. There were big empty spaces between the cars; most people had sense enough to be somewhere already when a big storm met land. At least, they did when it wasn’t rush hour, and it wasn’t. The few cars that passed seemed to hunch down low over their wheels, feeling the pressure in the air.
And then up the steep stairs and along the boardwalk of the arcing beach access. The bushes and grasses beat the wooden handrails as the gusts came faster and harder, and the wind still blew strong where there had been lulls only a few minutes before. The spike tips of a yucca whistled faintly in a hard gust that pushed me sideways despite the aerodynamic nature a small body and near-total lack of clothing gave me.
Halfway across. The storm hove in close, filling the left half of the sky as I speedwalked, flipflops ThwackThwackThwacking over the boards. Ahead, shrinking shafts of sun mottled a scrum of whitecaps the front pushed ahead of it, showing them down the bay toward open ocean.
plat
An enormously obese drop of rain made a big dark star on the wooden railing worn silvery-gray by years of sun and salt.
plat platplat plat platplatplat platplat
Constellations began to draw themselves all over the wood, the parched boards drinking in cool water after their long bake in the searing sun. A faint steam struggled to rise from them, curling back down upon itself as the meteoric raindrops penetrated it.
The cool splashed on my chest, my shoulders, my bald-shaved head, runneling down through my eyebrows and beard and the waistband of my shorts.
Waking me.
Thunder growled close, and now I could feel it deep in my chest, shaking my ribs from the inside.
Lighting pealed and now the bolts were glaring bright, leaving dark lines and blots in my vision, taking my photo again and again, flash flash flash, driving thought and fear and sense and guile from my head.
I wasn’t here to meet Death after all.
I was there to be. There to see. There for what happened. Whatever that was.
Down the steps fast, slowing into the sand, I walked halfway to the water that rolled and crashed harder than bay water crashed any day except a full-on hurricane before the quiet eye rolled over.
I spread my arms to the storm that filled the sky horizon to horizon now. Behind me the very last of the white cloud and sunlight shafts fled into the distance, but I did not turn to see them. I left it behind.
And the front of the storm rolled over me with a fusillade of thunder booms like I’d been caught in God’s wild bass drum. Great ribbons of electricity stabbed the water of the bay, some so close my scalp tingled and the thunder boxed my ears like a thug. Lightning struck the beach itself and I flinched. But my feet stayed put, and I did not turn away. I stood, arms still spread, the warm water scouring my face like the battering tongue of a lion so large it might plant its feet on either side of the spit with its trees and cars and not disturb the three-story condos that rose under its belly.
Rain poured into my eyes. The world blurred, a watercolor scrubbed with a sponge. The lightning blazed all around until the watercolor was more black afterimage than gray rain and tan beach and white water.
The lightning burned jagged skeins all around. I self the hairs on my arms and legs rise despite them being slicked down with gushing rainwater. The thunder was all the sound; the broken seconds of no-thunder were deafening.
And then, suddenly, it was past. The black rolled on by behind me, still growling and booming and hissing its wrath.
And in front of me was sand. All sand, and around it curling white-topped waves. The trees still leaned and the grass and yucca and vines were thick.
There was not a house or a road or a beach access bridge over the dune. No bridge spanned the water. No cars murmured.
Tears cut through the rain on my face and I did not know if I was weeping because I was dead, or because I was alive.