Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wonder Winterland

We got 2" of snow Tuesday morning.  Here's the view up the river, with the large cottonwood.  We like the black-and-white effect of these color photos.

Cottonwoods and saltcedars.  The two cottonwoods are clones of the big cottonwood.  Photos by Laura.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Another Roadside Shrine

Located on Highway 185 about 8 miles north of our home.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Attacking the Ivy

Laura flaunts her ivy-killing skills.  On the left side of the picture:  before.  Right side:  after.  Another example of my "if you've got it, flaunt it" philosophy gone awry.  Yeah, I flaunted it alright:  5 different kinds of vines on this one slope alone --  ivy, honeysuckle (2 kinds), silver lace vine, Virginia creeper.  The ivy is too succulent to be much of a fire hazard, but it proved to be highly invasive -- penetrating window screens, electrical boxes, etc.  Looking back, it's obvious that as a child I was deeply affectd by the story of Sleeping Beauty, the part when the briars grew and covered her castle.  I found that a compelling image.  I thought it would be cool to have a little hobbit house covered with vines:  you could walk right up to it and hardly know it was there.  I still think this is a cool idea on a philosophical level, but on a practical level, "live and learn" seems to be the name of the game here. 

Friday, December 25, 2009

Coldframe Update

With the exception of the potato, the plants in the Ark coldframe are doing very well.  The potato got nipped by frost before I insulated the lid, and never recovered.  The mustard (farthest away) has almost reached the top of the coldframe.  The plants in this coldframe benefit from the small amount of warmth radiating from the bottom of the Ark.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Another Roadside Shrine

This marker is at the base of Graffiti Cliffs, where we harvested the juniper branch Tuesday afternoon.  Brian Bruce Atencio was killed on April 11, 1993 -- exactly ten days after my father died. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Pagan Ritual

Laura and I started out (back in 1988) buying live Afghan pine trees for our Druidic solstice tree-decorating ritual, but after a few years we ran out of locations for new trees.  So in recent years, instead of a pine tree, we've been using a juniper branch ritually harvested from a nearby juniper tree.  At 4000 feet we are marginally in the juniper belt, and juniper trees grow only on north-facing slopes.  Our closest juniper trees are about a mile up the highway, on the north face of what we call Graffiti Cliffs, so named because of the graffiti that used to be spraypainted on the rocks.

Here is our Paul Bunyan, carrying his mighty bow saw, accompanied by his loyal wonder dog Sheila.  Our goal is the tree in the upper-left corner.

Here we find Paul posing next to the tree, giving everybody a good look at his mighty bow saw.

The deed is done.  Paul shows us the Chosen Branch, and an even better look at the bow saw with which he accomplished the deed.

"Holes in the Rock."  We do have some spectacular scenery around here.

View up the river from the tree spot.  It's quite a climb to the tree, but the climb is part of the ritual.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Coping with Copenhagen

As expected, the Copenhagen Climate Conference was a bust, showing once again the inability of government to cope with the unprecedented crises confronting us. The problem is not so much the concept of government per se, but the fact that governments worldwide have been captured by global exploitative capitalism. Governments serve their capitalist masters, not the people or the planet.

An increasing number of people correctly predicted an unsatisfactory outcome to the Climate Conference. This means that more people are waking up to the reality we are living under.

Predicting the future is simple in principle. The most important step -- and also the hardest one -- is to correctly assess present reality. Then you plug in whatever parameters seem the most likely to occur... for example, “more of the same,” or “slight improvement,” or “radically worse,” whatever the case may be in that situation. Since most people live in a delusional reality to begin with (believing, for example, that we live in a democracy), it’s no wonder that their predictions don’t count for much.

It’s gratifying to see that more people are seeing reality as it is, and are therefore able to see into the future to some extent. Not that this makes any difference at this point, but at least a few people are awake to present realities. Many people, for example, predicted that Oblahma would be a vast disappointment... and sure enough, this has turned out to be the case. In short, we was had. (Even though Obama has received many nicknames already, I’m surprised that nobody is calling him Oblahma yet. This seems like an obvious nickname for him, because when it comes time to assess his legacy, he will be known for three things: blah, blah, blah.)

I was struck by how the robo-cops are the same the world over, even in “enlightened Scandinavia.” This is because it’s a Global Empire, not just an American one. Every element of the Empire has the same goals: maximum profits, maximum resource extraction, maximum exploitation. They care not a fig for “survival of the biosphere,” “social justice,” and other such poppycock. They are the Masters, they rule, the rabble are now powerless (in fact the rabble barely noticed as the Masters of the Universe took total control during the 50 years after World War 2).

Back in the old days – 1968, say – cops were vicious in a hot-blooded way. If they didn’t like your demonstration, they would crack your head with a billyclub and throw you in the paddywagon and haul your ass the jail. Then you could all sit together in a cell and sing “We Shall Overcome” all night. But not these days.

These days, cops – or at least the anti-demonstration robo-cops – are trained to be cold-blooded torturers. At Copenhagen, demonstrators who got arrested had their hands handcuffed behind their backs, the first step in the arrest ritual. (Cops do this now as a matter of course... supposedly for the protection of the cops, but actually to reduce the arrestee to a helpless and uncomfortable state. It’s a dominance ritual.) Then, the demonstrators were forced to sit on the cold pavement for hours, to the point that some of them had to urinate on themselves. More dominance. (This might not seem like much of a torture, but I urge you to try this for a few hours, and let me know how it makes you feel.) When the demonstrators finally got hauled off to jail, they encountered facilities specifically designed to be as inhumanly uncomfortable as possible.

Modern-day demonstrations are ineffective, and don’t accomplish anything. No doubt getting beat up by cops gives demonstrators status points with their peers, but so what? If the demonstrators armed themselves and battled the cops on a more equal footing, so what? The Masters of the Universe would remain untouched. Why isn’t more monkeywrenching going on? It seems obvious that the Empire is vulnerable to some extent: its exposed flank is everywhere. Either the hot-blooded young revolutionaries aren’t desperate enough yet, or they’ve been successfully programmed into passivity. (Not only has the Empire colonized the entire planet, but our own minds as well.)

At any rate, once again we find that the politicians and bureaucrats fiddle while the planet burns. People – for the most part – still don’t dare to speak the most likely outcome of all this madness. After all, there’s not much you can do with “massive dieoff.” You can’t make a career out of it. People aren’t going to give you a standing ovation when you enter the room. It’s deemed better to be an Al Gore or Bill McKibben, fighting the good fight till the very end. Whatever. We’ll continue to do what we’re already doing, as long as circumstances allow us to do so. Then we’ll start doing something else.

In my case, my internal guidance is telling me to start thinking about dropping back out. I was pretty well dropped out at one time. It was a magical time of great freedom and relatively little impact on the planet, but I didn’t have any kind of act together back then. Now, seeing what’s coming, I feel like I’ve taken the “laying up treasure on Earth” routine to as ridiculous an extent as I can bear. It’s time to change my evil ways. Then maybe more guidance will come.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Denial Increasing

Here are the results from the latest Zogby Interactive Poll, regarding American attitudes towards climate change:

                                                                                2007      2009

Slightly or not at all concerned                      39%       49%

Highly concerned                                                30%       20%

Looking more closely at the 2009 data, 68% of Republicans were “not at all concerned,” compared to just 7% of Democrats.

Denial is a fundamental human characterstic.  There has always been survival value in keeping the blinders on, living day-to-day, in the moment.  The moment, maybe I can handle.  The larger situation is beyond my understanding, much less my control.

What we see in this poll is the effectiveness of the right-wing propaganda machine (which includes the corporate media).  The left wing has nothing comparable -- blogs and print media aren't enough to overcome global TV.  So it's to be expected that the worse the situation becomes objectively, the more delusional Americans will become.  But not to worry, Jesus will be coming soon, and till then, there's nothing to worry about!  

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Feeding the Finches

This is the first winter we've tried feeding the finches.  They sure do love those thistle seeds.

Skunk by the River

Winter is the only time we see skunks roaming around during the daytime.


For several years I've been thinking about compassion as regards the coming global catastrophe. When the shit hits the fan, it seems logical to assume that there will be an increased need for compassion, since there will be a lot of suffering out there. Perhaps this is the real value of the "shift in consciousness" the New Agers always talk about. But rather than engendering a new "heaven on Earth," the "shifted consciousness" of the "enlightened ones" will be to provide compassion to the suffering billions who will not be dying easily. Seems like a realistic perspective to me...

Monday, December 14, 2009


"It would be best to consider this a continuing 'revolution of consciousness' which will be won not by guns but by seizing the key images, myths, archetypes, eschatologies, and ecstasies so that life won't seem worth living unless one's on the transforming energy's side."
Gary Snyder
Four Changes, 1969

That didn't turn out well, did it?  We humans seem to have a Shiva Complex.  We seem to have a destructive side that will not be denied.  We seem to have no choice but to sell our divine birthright for the proverbial mess of pottage, and look at what it always get us:  a big mess of pottage, at the expense of our souls.  It's the usual Faustian bargain, and we're suckers for it every time.  The Woodstock Generation couldn't wait to abandon the "transforming energy" for our share of the pottage,  and in exchange we got a dying planet, a dying civilization, and a profound sense of helplessness.  It's a pity that the nihilistic philosophy of domination and exploitation dominated so effortlessly, but that's one way in which the Shiva Complex plays itself out.  We really can't help it.

Our civilization is fast approaching a breaking point.  We can expect the pottage to hit the fan in a major way before long.  Only when the stranglehold of the status quo loses its grip can we expect another opportunity for change (the first since the late 60s), and the most likely outcome will be a teabagger-enabled authoritarian dictatorship.  People will gladly trade their last shreds of "freedom" for a little security once they get a little taste of chaos and anarchy.  This isn't a happy vision, but it's a realistic one.

It's a shame that Snyder's positive vision didn't catch on.  I'm still plugging away at it:

"Master the archaic and the primitive, as models of basic nature-related cultural styles, as well as the most imaginative future possibilities of science and technology, and build a community where these two vectors cross."


"Our own heads: Is where it starts. Knowing that we are the first human beings in history to have all of man's culture and previous experience available to our study, and being free enough of the weight of traditional cultures to seek out a larger identity. - The first members of a civilized society since the early Neolithic to wish to look clearly into the eyes of the wild and see our selfhood, our family, there. We have these advantages to set off the obvious disadvantages of being as screwed up as we are."

I think it's time for another gardening post.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Brave New World

So we come at last to the “New Earth” that “New Earth Times” refers to – a planet without polar caps, without rainforests, with drowned cities and once-rich agricultural lands now barren. Future visitors, if any, will ask themselves what kind of terrible plague visited this planet?

Last week I made a couple of blog posts as an intellectual exercise. Assuming the worst-case scenario (which is where things are now headed), what will be the consequences, and what kind of issues are raised? Many subjects in our culture are candy-coated or not talked about at all. I’m attempting with these essays to at least start talking about some taboo subjects a little bit. Hopefully these essays will serve as a starting place for discussion:



I don’t have the statistics at hand, but I would suppose that most Americans can barely pay their mortgage every month. How many options do those people really have? Can they honestly be called “free?” (This, by the way, is one reason why I dropped out and went back to the land way back when – I saw the bogus nature of American “freedom,” and opted out.) (These days, I’m just a slave to my bees.)

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend. He said what we need are more “great conversations.” The people who are capable of doing so, he says, should be having significant conversations about who we are, what we’re doing, where we’re going. Fundamental stuff. I call this “ends and means.” Others might call it “meta.” I tend to get caught up in other peoples’ enthusiasms because I like to play, but when I get off by myself and start to process what happened, I tend to see things differently. In this case, I see “great conversations” as being a side issue. The main issue for us all is that we’re all terminally enmeshed within a dying civilization.

In short, we (as a civilization and as individuals) are paralyzed, and can only do what we already do. We are trapped by inertia; our pre-existing programming trumps all. The conversationalists have great conversations, the builders build, the TV watchers watch TV, the financiers scam, and so forth. We will continue our pre-programmed behavior until civilization as we know it implodes.

Creative solutions are closed to us, and the reason is obvious: because there are no solutions. We’re on the fast track to oblivion, though I think the process will take about 200 years to play itself out. (Let’s check back on Christmas Day 2209 and see if I’m right.)

It’s tempting to think that our human eloquence counts for something. We like to imagine that a great book, or a great speech, can change the world. Unfortunately for that point of view, events have been out of control all along, and we deceive ourselves (since we like to think highly of ourselves) that our words and thoughts carry more significance than they really do. We like to think of the physical universe as being the inert stage upon which we humans -- in all our power and glory -- impose our drama. But as usual, we overestimate ourselves. Hmm, who was it who called our human drama “sound and fury, signifying nothing?”

We are ruled by nihilists, who in the words of my friend have a philosophy that can be summed up in two words: “Me. Now.” They control almost all the wealth, own the news media and government, and have successfully indoctrinated the masses into a state of passive compliance. Our planetary life support system has, in my opinion, already passed the tipping point.

For years, I considered myself a virus, trying to infect people with the truth. When programming the mass mind, you can speak only in grunts; any verbal message is bonus. In my case, the two-word message was: “Earth, Good.” There were many of us spreading this message, and still are. We tried our best, but we were unable to impose a narrative that would enable us to save the biosphere as we knew it. Nevertheless, I’m inspired that young people are protesting for the Earth at Copenhagen and other venues. Because this is their fight now. We Boomers did what we could, but our time is passed. These days what we have to offer is money, and whatever perspective we’re capable of. We’ve certainly become experts in what doesn’t work.

My guiding principle has always been anti-nihilist. Summing up my philosophy, I come up with five words. This is a rather long message for the mass mind to assimilate, but it’s as succinct as I can make it: “Existence is its own reward.” In other words, life has a fundamental value to be discovered only through the living of it. In other words, Carlos Casteneda’s “Path with Heart.” Talking or thinking about it merely points the way to the lived reality of existence itself. “Pointing at the Moon,” as the mystics say.

To the nihilists in control of our planet, existence has no fundamental value. To them, the only value of existence is to exploit it for personal gain. “Me. Now. More.” is their philosophy. It’s unfortunate that the nihilistic philosophy has become so dominant at the expense of everything else. It’s impossible to ignore the overwhelming reality of destruction we have all helped to create. We – nihilists or not -- are all complicit, including us self-professed Earth-lovers.

As a scientist, I have always assumed that my personal little life will end when I die. In other words, I won’t know it when I die, because this little speck of consciousness that “I” call “me” is temporary. Let’s summarize this with a little story: The wave is temporary, but the ocean is eternal. “Fat lot of good that does me!” says the wave.

Plenty of people, not just scientists, believe as I do. Yet we’re not encouraged to share our disbelief in an afterlife. The mass conversation is dominated by people convinced they’re going to heaven when they die, or that their personality will persist in the ether somehow. If indeed humans are suffering from a mass delusion in fancying themselves immortal, that helps to explain a lot of human behavior. That, and fear of death. (Why should eternal beings, if they are really eternal, fear death?) (Another essay lurks in the wings.)

The point I’m leading up to is this: Life has a particular poignancy for people who believe that life is temporary. We are forced into the humility of: We. Just. Don’t. Know. But even though life seems to be temporary to us, it still has inherent value: Existence is its own reward, afterall. As far as I can tell, most people of my persuasion don’t particularly fear death: When the time comes to die, we will welcome it. (What choice do we really have?) We will become The Grateful Dead. And if, after I die, I wake up somewhere else, I’ll exclaim, “Well imagine that! Now what?”

These insights about death, which seem true enough to me (at least right now), seem applicable to the impending death of the biosphere. To be sure, even with the worst-case scenario, the Earth will persist as an inert hunk of dead rock and poisonous water; only the thin film of life will be missing. So when people say “The Earth won’t die; we humans are incapable of killing the Earth,” I just shrug.

Like I always say, everything in the physical universe is temporary. This includes ourselves, our planet, the stars, galaxies, even the fundamental particles themselves. Knowing this adds a certain perspective on our present situation.

I am reminded of Jesus’ saying in Matt. 6:19-20 – “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Of course, now we have to decipher what Jesus really meant when he used the word “heaven.” This is fodder for another essay. Suffice it to say that he was evidently pointing the way to something else. As usual in this context, words fail. Even the term “something else” is inaccurate. Because it’s not “something,” and it’s not “else.” It’s not really an “it.” This seems like a good place to stop, don’t you think?



A friend told me that she found my first essay “bleak.” This is understandable, because one thing I’m trying to articulate here is what I call the “nullity” of existence. By “nullity,” I mean that existence has no meaning or purpose that we humans are capable of understanding. We have to discover our meaning and purpose -- if any -- by living it. (I say “if any” because nothing is guaranteed. This might seem bleak, but also means that infinite possibilities are open to us.) At any rate, rather than “bleak” I would prefer to use the word “austere” in the sense of “simple and unadorned.” There’s no need for bells and whistles; it’s all right here, for free, right now.

We all grew up in, and still live within, a mega-culture from which vast universes of creativity have been strangulated. It’s a dying civilization, and it’s destroying our planet as it dies. It also has inflicted severe damage on the souls of most of Earth’s human inhabitants. One primary mechanism for social control, and source of soul-damage, has always been religion -- pre-packaged and not necessarily accurate “explanations” of reality, along with the codes of behavior imposed upon the believers. Most humans remain locked within the indoctrination patterns they received as children; only a relatively small percentage of us have managed to escape the shackles imposed upon us. Personally, I’m still escaping – this will obviously be a lifelong jailbreak.

The Copenhagen climate conference is a big item in today’s news. The big question: will humanity rise to the occasion? The conventional answer is always: “Yes, we will manage to overcome all obstacles; we will manage to prevail over our own limitations; we will triumph over human nature itself, and solve the problems we have created. Somehow.”

We humans sure do love our magical thinking, don’t we?

I’m glad I gave up my writing career back in 2000 or so, because not having a career, and not caring about it, gives me the freedom to, as Castaneda’s Don Juan said, “act just for the hell of it.” So I have the freedom to speak the truth as I see it, without caring about the consequences or lack thereof. It seems transparently obvious to me that humanity WON’T rise to the occasion, because humanity CAN’T rise to the occasion. And I’m really sorry about that. I take no pleasure in saying that. I’m a mammal loyalist. I enjoy the animal pleasures of life. I love the Earth and all it has to offer. I appreciate this incomprehensible reality with its joys and sorrows. But enough is enough. We have really screwed the pooch big-time. The piper will now be paid. And that’s the truth as I see it.

Now, I can’t say stuff like that and expect to have a writing career. Such talk is simply not taken seriously by the “serious” gatekeepers who have inserted themselves into the public discourse. Fortunately, we now have the internet, where all sorts of marginal information flourishes. The truth has a compelling power all its own. So, “just for the hell of it” I speak my truth, and lo and behold, a certain small percentage of readers find it compelling. (Because it’s the truth, after all.)

And that’s all I’m doing with these little essays – putting out a little truth, and people either respond to it, or not.

Like this whole “death” business. We live within a culture where the large majority of people are absolutely convinced that they are going to heaven when they die. How can they possibly know this? Personally, I’ll just have to wait and see, because I really don’t know, and I don’t believe the people who try to tell me otherwise. Christians and New Agers who believe in immortality aren’t shy about spreading their opinions, so I’m just adding a little balance here. I articulate the truth as I see it, and a certain percentage of people will respond favorably to it. All I’m doing is breaking, in my small way, the stranglehold of conventional thinking. And God knows our entire planet is being destroyed by conventional thinking.

The same thing holds true for science. Science is just a technique – make accurate observations, and draw logical conclusions from these observations – yet the scientists themselves, for the most part, live within a world of conventional belief patterns. “Science in service to the Empire.” For example, where is shamanism within their worldview? If scientists reject shamanism out of hand, rather than considering it just another phenomenon to be investigated, then they have an artificially limited worldview. As a scientist, I’m interested in everything. That’s why I’ve always been intrigued by the outer limits of human behavior – people who do weird stuff. Because that’s where we find out what the parameters really are.

Getting back to death: as I get older I find that I can’t ignore it as easily as I did when I was younger. It’s becoming my constant companion. Like Don Juan said, death is sitting right here on my left shoulder all the time. I think that the death of our species, and the death of our planet, are our own personal death writ large. Insights about our own personal death are applicable to the larger reality. Is life better than death? Is yin better than yang?

Sometimes I feel like a reality pioneer. Very few of us have internalized that the human species isn’t going to pull out of this tailspin. A larger percentage realize that our human personalities aren’t immortal. Some of us realize that space/time reality, the domain of traditional science, is temporary -- which is to say, doomed. But doom need not imply gloom. Why should it? Dance on our own graves, why not? We’ve been doing it all along anyhow.

Many insights can flow out of these realizations. It will be easy to freak out once our civilization breaks down, and some basic truth might help us to cope better. I like the ending of Gary Snyder’s “Four Changes,” written in 1969:

“[We need] to go beyond the idea of ‘man's survival’ or ‘the survival of the biosphere’ and to draw our strength from the realization that at the heart of things is some kind of serene and ecstatic process which is actually beyond qualities and beyond birth-and-death. ‘No need to survive!’ ‘In the fires that destroy the universe at the end of the kalpa, what survives?’ – ‘The iron tree blooms in the void!’ Knowing that nothing need be done, is where we begin to move from.”



If I really believe human discourse is the mere yammering of overblown apes, and if I believe that there are no “solutions” to our planetary predicament, then why do I even bother to talk about all this? Because speaking the complete unvarnished truth is the only way I can fully express my intellectual capacity, such as it is. (Irony is always helpful in contexts like this.)

Editing out inconvenient truths and replacing them with faux “positivity” – as is done in mass culture -- is the sure path to intellectual triviality. With the miracle of global mass communications, humans are communicating more than ever before, and becoming more trivial by the year. If we deny the truth about our existence, then we’re only capable of spouting bullshit. Modern discourse has been fatally contaminated by the feel-good, happy-go-lucky, can-do, so-called “optimism” which is at the core of our ongoing human delusion: “Don’t worry, be happy! It’s all about us, and besides, we’re immortal!”

What I’m saying is: Maybe it’s time for us to grow up. Just because we can. Not because this will enable us to change any outcomes, but just so we can express more of who we really are. Just for the hell of it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Ultimate Reality Show

We have always been a divided country with vastly different worldviews. And today those worldviews are fighting themselves out on a Post Modern battlefield in which Enlightenment values are struggling to survive. It's the civil war as a "reality" show. And we're all contestants.
-- Digby

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Copenhagen Won't Be Enough

There's an article now up on, "Copenhagen Won't Be Enough" by Fred Branfman, which talks about the climate crisis and what we can do about it.  Here are some choice nuggets:

We live today as if in a trance, conducting business as usual in times so unusual that they pose an even greater threat than 20th-century wars that killed more than 100 million people. It seems incredible, for example, that nonscientists barely discuss how the human climate crisis undermines so many of their basic assumptions--in philosophy, law, psychology, sociology, economics, the arts and humanities, education and health--about human beings and their society.

Our basic problem is that the sudden advent of the human climate crisis invalidates our basic beliefs about humanity built up over millennia. We cannot yet see that we are no longer who we think we are.

Somewhere, somehow, someplace, forces have suddenly been unleashed which we do not fully understand. Humans have never faced the possibility that they could so degrade the biosphere as to make Earth uninhabitable for them. Our inner psychology has thus far been unable to even absorb this possibility, let alone mobilize to avoid it. Like children, we live in a world we cannot control, as we helplessly face existential questions which none before have even had to ask, let alone answer.

Although we know intellectually we will die, we largely live denying the painful feelings this knowledge evokes. Now, however, our individual denials of painful death feelings have for the first time coalesced into a trancelike societal denial of the death of all civilization looming over our children's future.

While corporate and conservative propaganda has played a major role in encouraging societal denial of the human climate crisis, the psychological roots of our cloud of unknowing lie far deeper.

Ernest Becker, Irvin Yalom and terror management theory social psychologists have explained how denial of death lies at the root of such societal issues as the human climate crisis. Robert Firestone and Joyce Catlett's new book Beyond Death Anxiety: Achieving Life-Affirming Death Awareness is perhaps the fullest description to date of how unconscious death anxiety negatively affects our day-to-day child rearing, relationships, sexuality, work and feelings about ourselves. But they also discuss an alternative: a life-affirming death awareness which can not only enrich individual lives but save civilization.

Branfman argues that civilization can indeed be saved.  I am forced to reluctantly disagree with his conclusions, but he has written a very intelligent article that is well worth reading.  In my opinion, we are now entering the Mother of all existential crises:  The bedrock truths of our civilization are turning out to be nothing more than human blather.  Whoopsie, now what?  It's the "now what" that I'm trying to investigate in this blog. 

Winter Wonderland Pics

Here are some pics of last week's snow:

One advantage to this coldframe design, I have discovered, is that light can enter even when the lid is closed.

I have the lumber to build proper lids for the garden coldframes, but haven't had the time to build them yet.  In the meantime I'm covering them with blankets at night.  Snow weights them down and makes them sag.

Laura cleaning the snow off the steps.  If we don't do this immediately, the snow gets packed down, freezes, and becomes impossible to remove.  The steps face northeast, so they remain in the shade all day, and the ice can remain for days.  Icy steps are dangerous, and a real drag.  So removing the snow from the steps is always a top priority for us.

Laura took this picture looking back towards the house and Ark, with the river to the right.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Extreme Weather

As the Earth heats up, the weather will become more extreme.  More heat means more energy in the atmosphere, and the more energy in the atmosphere, the more extreme the weather will be.  It's a simple equation, actually.

Here's the forecast for today:

Sustained wind speeds will increase to between 40 and 50 mph by midday with gusts reaching 60 to 65 mph. Wind gusts reaching or exceeding hurricane force will be possible over mountain passes
and along eastern slopes.

This is the most extreme wind forecast for this area I can ever recall.  We'll be battening down all the hatches for this one.

Welcome to the New Earth.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Buying Gold

"Gold ownership is very much a double-edged sword. Personally, I think it far more important for those who have surplus resources to put those resources into obtaining as much control as possible over the essentials of their own existence. There are many hard assets one could buy now that may not be available later - assets that you could use to feed yourself, keep yourself warm or provide clean water. This is a much more important use for your wealth than owning something you intend to bury in a hole in the ground and sit on."

To this list I would also add:  land, a home, a garden, an orchard, an irrigation system.  On and on.  It's a long list, this business of "obtaining as much control as possible over the essentials of one's own existence."  We've gotten used to buying our way through life rather than earning our way through life.  Earning a livelihood from Nature can be done, but it's more work, and pays less, than people are used to.  In recent years it's been far easier to suck from the financial teat than to earn an honest livelihood.  But the easy times are drawing to a close, and before long a new set of constraints will be imposed upon us.  .   

Friday, December 04, 2009

Winter Wonderland

I awoke this morning to an enchanting scene -- an inch of snow glistening in the moonlight.  I hope it melts quickly, but they're predicting a high of only 40 today.  They predicted the previous snow -- the one that produced 2 inches of rain -- nearly a week in advance, giving me plenty of time to get the roof and siding completed on my tool shed.  This time, there was no mention of precipitation 24 hours ago, and when I went outside last night at 10 pm I had to rescue my circular saw, which was already covered with snow.


I waded out there with my ruler and flashlight, and made my official measurements -- 17 degrees, and 1 1/4" of snow.  This has been our first measurable snow for awhile.  If it snowed like this in Las Cruces, there will be thousands of kids outside later this morning building tiny snowmen.   

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Low Temperatures

After I planted my orchard during the early 90s, I decided to check out any microclimate effects of river proximity. Perhaps right next to the river would be warmer at night and cooler during the afternoon? So in 1995 I bought four Taylor high-low thermometers and set about testing my hypothesis.

First I cross-calibrated the thermometers, to compensate for any differences between their readings. I gave each thermometer a number so I could keep track of them. I set them outside at night, side by side, and read their temperatures at dawn. I also did this during the afternoon. I wanted to see how the temperatures compared at both the high and low end of the range. Not surprisingly, there was a little variation between the thermometers – a couple of degrees, as I recall. For a couple of the thermometers, I had to apply a correction of +1 degree or –1 degree so that all the thermometers, when corrected, would register the same temperature when they were next to each other. Then, when they were moved to their separate locations, I could apply the correction for each thermometer and be confident that the temperatures I ended up with were meaningful. This is known as “correcting for instrumental error.”

Then I built little housings for each thermometer. You don’t want to leave a thermometer exposed to the summer sun, for one thing. For another, just setting a thermometer outside at night will give an inaccurate reading. This is because of “radiative cooling,” when a surface exposed to the sky will become cooler than the air temperature. This is why a windshield can get frost on it when the air temperature remains above freezing. The same thing happens with a thermometer – it will cool off below air temperature, and will give an inaccurate reading. So I built little foam housings to protect the thermometers from exposure to the sun, and also to protect them from the nighttime sky, while leaving the front and bottom open so that plenty of air could get in, since it was the air temperature I wanted to measure.

(The temperatures reported in my “Signs of the Seasons” column are inaccurate, because the thermometers were subject to radiative cooling, and gave inaccurately low readings.)

So... with cross-calibrated thermometers with their foam housings, I set up one in the pasture in front of the house, and two more in the orchard -- one of them right next to the river, and the other one about 50 feet away from the river. I’ll have to hunt up the notebook with the original observations, but as I recall, the river thermometer was cooler during the afternoon, but not warmer at night. I was disappointed, because I was hoping that somehow I could figure out a way to utilize the warmth of the river to keep my orchard from freezing at night. But evidently the river is too small to have a significant temperature-modification impact on the surrounding land.

I took the orchard thermometers down after a couple of years, but the thermometer in front of the house has remained in the same spot since 1995 – same thermometer, same spot, same housing. So I have confidence that the readings are meaningful.

Whenever the weather gets unusually cold during the winter, I check the thermometer and write the temperature down on the calendar. Last week for the first time, I went through my pile of old calendars and scanned through them until I found the lowest temperature for each winter. The results are interesting:

95-96    12 degrees

96-97    11

97-98    12

98-99      8

99-00    10

00-01    10

01-02      7

02-03    14

03-04      4

04-05      9

05-06      5

06-07    11

07-08      6

08-09    10

Not surprisingly, the lows for each year tend to occur during what I call the “pit of winter” – the dark time near the solstice when nights are long and the sun seems feeble and far away. This means that most winter lows will occur during December or January. But not always – in 2002 we had 7 degrees on March 4. So a lot depends on the jet stream and how far south the coldest of the Arctic air can penetrate.

It also looks like winters have been getting colder, in terms of the lowest temperature. (This is distinguished from the average temperature for the winter. We could have a relatively warm winter and still have the occasional extreme cold front bringing very low temperatures with it.) The average of the first six winters is 10.5 degrees; the average for the last six winters is 7.5 degrees. This seems like a significant difference. I don’t know why this would be. Obviously, global warming is a hoax! Snark, snark.

My farmlet is located on the very edge of the pomegranate zone. If the lowest winter temperature is 10 degrees or above, the pomegranates are untouched. But the lower the temperature gets below 10 deg., the worse the damage. One variety gets frozen to the ground at the slightest provocation. Others might lose branches, or the tips of branches. When temperatures reach 7 degrees or less, I can expect to see severe damage the following spring.

Another interesting effect of low temperatures is ice on the river. Once during the early 90s the ice was so thick near the bank of the river, Neil and his friends were playing on the ice with no fear of breaking through. Soon I’ll run another “Signs of the Seasons” column that talks more about the “ice on the river” phenomenon. We live in a different climate zone here, only 20 miles from Las Cruces.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Take This Snow and Shove It

Back in the late 80s I used to write a column, "Signs of the Seasons," for the Las Cruces Bulletin.  I've been meaning to recycle some of those articles through the blog, but have never gotten around to it.  The light dusting of snow we got yesterday reminded me of the 18" of snow we received in December 1987, and the column I wrote about it.  So here it is, from the January 1988 Las Cruces Bulletin:

The second half of December gave us the longest stretch of lousy winter weather I can remember in a long time. Wading through slush is not one of my favorite activities. Like Johnny Paycheck, I say, “You can take this snow and shove it”... all the way back to Wisconsin where it belongs. I mean, if I wanted to live in North Dakota, I’d move there. I’ve already got plenty of “winter wonderland” slides in my photo collection, thank you. I got in a lifetime’s worth of sledding as a kid. And I’ve been stuck in the snow enough times to know what getting stuck in the snow is all about. I thought we had a good thing going here in the Las Cruces area—Ruidoso and Cloudcroft are close enough for the die-hard snow junkies among us, while the rest of us were allowed to lead sunny lives unimpeded by that dreadful white stuff from the sky. But occasionally, like this year, the weather insists on breaking our fragile winter truce, and dumps all over everybody, saints and sinners alike. Humbug to snow is all I can say.

No, actually, I'll say a lot more about the snow in this column. After all, there were a lot of interesting observations to be made, so I made them. Gave me something to do while I was muttering “humbug” under my breath all the time.

The first big storm hit on Dec. 14. Las Cruces received a relatively light snowfall, but surrounding areas were hard-hit. Here at Radium Springs we received a ridiculous 18 inches of snow. I say “ridiculous” because in this area, 6 inches is considered a major snowfall, with impassable passes, cars skidded into onion fields, and school kids eagerly lined up next to their radios awaiting word that school has been cancelled. Eighteen inches of snow is in a class all by itself. When I work up that morning and the first thing I saw was 18 inches of snow looming over my bedroom window (which overlooks an adjoining porch roof), I quite nearly lost it then and there. “No way, Jose,” I muttered, pulling the quilt over my head and going back to sleep.

The first thing I noticed, upon investigating our blizzard at first-hand, was that my rubber boots are only 16 inches high. Since the snow was 18 inches deep, this meant that with every step, a heaping handful of snow sifted its way down the tops of my boots, quickly soaking my socks with ice water. I might as well have been barefoot. For several days thereafter, I had to clear a path in front of me with a shovel anytime I wanted to go anywhere. Great fun.

Conditions were right that night for record-breaking low temperatures. I put my thermometer outside that evening and recorded +9° at 7 p.m., 0° at 8:30, and -2° at 10. However, since the humidity was so high, fog formed during the pre-dawn hours, and by 6 a.m. on the 15th, the temperature had warmed all the way back up to +5°.

How could it warm back up in the middle of the night, you might well ask. Well, the reason is, the earth is a tremendous heat reservoir—just a few feet under the surface, temperatures are near 60° year-round. So this stored heat leaked up out of the earth, through the snow, and was trapped by the fog, which makes an effective insulating blanket. (If skies had remained clear, we surely would have recorded at least -10°.) Since the temperature was so far below freezing, we had an “ice fog” which coated every twig of every tree with a half inch layer of sparking hoarfrost. The river was frozen nearly all the way across. The landscape was a study in white and gray. The scene was transcendentally beautiful, if you liked snow and ice.

A snow like this is very hard on the birds, who have high metabolisms and become very hungry if they can’t find food for a day or two. Since the ground was completely blanketed with an unprecedented carpet of snow, thousands of birds were forced to forage for food along the only thawed area available... a thin strip, inches wide, along the east side of Highways 85 and 28 north of Las Cruces. Being birdbrains, they would feed until the last second when a car approached, and then likely as not they’d fly directly into the path of the oncoming car. I hit a good half-dozen birds on a single trip back from Las Cruces the day after the snow. Within a day the highways were splattered with dozens of little pancaked bird bodies. The other birds, being very hungry, congregated at the carcasses of their brethren and had a feast. I have never seen this happen before.

Another unusual event occurred a few days later when the snow finally began to melt, causing local arroyos to run with snowmelt water. Very rarely do arroyos run during the winter. And the saltcedar forests along the Rio Grande looked (and still look) like they’d been hit by a hurricane. With their shallow roots and brittle branches, a lot of saltcedar trees had their tops snapped off, or ended up with their trunks parallel to the ground. Mother Nature can be a messy housekeeper.

We finally had a couple of nice days, but then we received 4 inches of snow on Christmas and an additional inch the next day, plus some low temperatures: +4° on the 27th and +6° on the 28th. I figure only single-digit temperatures are worth writing about. I’ve got scads of double-digit readings, but will spare you.

Well, here we are at the bottom of the column and not only haven’t I discussed our tree-of-the-month, but I haven’t even talked about January yet! Which is perhaps just as well... as I sit here typing this on New Year’s Day, I look outside at leaden skies, icy winds, and the last frozen remnants of the Christmas snow, and I don’t even want to think about January! Instead, I think I’ll throw another couple of logs on the fire, draw the curtains, and have another cup of herb tea.

A Betrayal of Stunning Proportions

Barack Obama now owns the Afghanistan War. That didn’t take long! Yessir, that’s change I can believe in! I sure am glad I voted for him, and I’ll be sure to vote for him in 2012!

Has enough evidence accumulated yet? Is there anything else we need to know about him? Is there any doubt remaining about his true agenda?

One thing’s for sure: He’s no wimp. He’s got a set of brass cojones. To kiss off his base like that, to tell them to fuck off like he has done, is a breathtaking exercise in political cynicism. He’s a Chicago pol through and through. Nothing is accidental. His agenda has been set from the very beginning. Turn over the Treasury Department to Wall Street? Check. Send the Bush/Cheney war criminals safely down the memory hole? Check. Fumble the ball on health care, financial reform and climate change? Check, check, and check.

All this constant kissing of Republican ass, and the consistently insulting attitude toward progressives? Strictly intentional. In fact it's been said that he might as well be a Manchurian Candidate, whose purpose is to depress and demoralize the Democratic base. Build them up, then sell them out. Splendid job, Mr. President!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


There's a touch of snow falling this morning, so this seems like a good time to talk about the snowpack graph posted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.  Click this link for the updated version.  This graph is for the headwaters of the Rio Grande, and tells how much water is being stored in the snowpack.  Living on the bank of the Rio Grande as I do, I'm vitally interested in how much water I can expect to see flowing past my front window next summer.  This snowpack graph is my first clue about what to expect. 

The red line is the average snowpack, and is a smooth curve, since the year-to-year variations smooth themselves out.  The snowpack starts accumulating in early October, peaks in mid-April, and then rapidly decreases as it melts.  The curves for each year have a zigzag shape.  Winter storms cause the snowpack to increase rapidly.  Between major storms, the snowpack increases slowly or not at all.

Turning to the brown line at the top, that's how the snowpack shaped up for water year 2008, during the winter of 2007-08.  This was our heaviest snowpack for a long while, but even so, provided only two year's worth of irrigation water.  The snowpack started out slowly, but in early December some major storms hit and the curve went almost vertical.  In less than 2 weeks the snowpack was already well above average, and remained that way for the rest of the winter.  Even this huge snowpack melted very rapidly; this is one effect we can expect from global warming:  warm spring temperatures that quickly melt the snowpack.  I remember reading about flooding in the Rio Grande tributaries that spring as the watercourses couldn't handle the snowmelt.

The next line down, the green line, is last winter's snowpack, water year 2009, the winter of 08-09.  This one started out very promising.  By late December/early January, it was on track to eclipse even the 2008 snowpack.  (Back-to-back heavy snowpacks are the only way the lakes along the Rio Grande get filled up.  Without heavy input every spring, the lakes quickly lose their water to irrigation and evaporation.)  But alas (from an irrigation point of view), the rest of the winter was only a little better than average, and look at how quickly it dwindled starting in late April!  Those hot spring winds really wreak havoc on a snowpack.  In fact, too much hot air will cause the snow to evaporate rather than melt.  When this starts to happen every year, which it probably will, the entire agricultural equation will have to be recalculated.

The bottom line, the blue one, is the snowpack for water year 2007, the winter of 06-07.  This one started out average, but by March 1 the snowpack simply stopped accumulating.  The result was a below-average snowpack.  (Some snowpacks are even worse.)

So far this year, the black line, for water year 2010, is closely tracking the 2007 line.  The graph hasn't been updated yet to include the recent storm.  I would expect to see a strong vertical jag in the black line within a day or two.  There's a lot to be learned from reading these graphs.  As winter wears on, I enjoy checking this website several times a week to see how the snowpack is doing.  (This is what I do for entertainment around here.)