Living Dangerously

Last night Rob and I went to Free Solo, a documentary about a climber who climbed El Cap without a rope.

It is fascinating, because it shows a very different perspective on risk and fear and death. It’s the sort of perspective that it’s interesting to collect.

I was a gym rat climber for several years, enough that I know climbing technique and can appreciate the skill — and difficulty — involved in something like this. But as a gym rat climber, I dismissed free solo climbers as being nuts. It seemed so needless.

Having gotten a glimpse into this guy’s world, I will revise my opinion: they may not be nuts, but they have a very different way of assessing risk and whether it’s worth it.

It isn’t that this guy doesn’t see the risk. He does. But for him it is a small risk (ha!) with a very high consequence. And to be fair, he does work to make that risk as small as he can, but that doesn’t take the high consequence away.

One of his friends likened it to someone going for Olympic gold, where you would either get gold or you would die. That seemed apt.

Most people would not take that challenge, but it is fascinating to see someone who will accept the challenge, and recognize that he has a lot in common with adventurers and explorers through the ages.

The part that was hard for me wasn’t actually that he was risking his life, but that he was risking the life that others hold dear. I felt bad for his girlfriend (yes, she knew he was into this, but still!), and even the film crew — who were also his friends, and were all too conscious of the possible outcomes.

Watching their fear made it seem real in a way that his own outlook did not.

So, an interesting study on risk, mastery, and how to reflect difficulty in a specialized domain.

 

Fimbulwinter

A fourth hard freeze in a row, without an intervening thaw, has our landscape covered by delicate ice crystals. Each day they get a little bigger.

Today, for the first time, I felt that a sense of scale was needed.

This is not false scale. The ice crystals really are that big — although admittedly these were some of the largest in the landscape.

They grow very differently on different surfaces, which makes for some neat contrasts.

It is also fun to observe day-to-day changes.

Here is the day three comfrey frost versus the day four comfrey frost.

Comfrey frost, day 3
Comfrey frost, day 4

In principle they are the same, but all the ice crystals are just a little bigger, a little more compounded.

I am enjoying the frost, but I’m also looking forward to the thaw we’re expecting tomorrow afternoon. The layer of ice and the cold are hard on the wildlife.

I put the hummingbird feeder back out on day 2, and two hummingbirds are still around. I had to thaw the feeder out mid-morning today, which gives some sense of just how frigid it is, given that hummer water is usually good down to 27-28F.

Soon it will be back to rain.

 

 

Compounding Frost

We have had three days of heavy frost, without an intervening full thaw.

The frost-on-frost makes the lawn look like we’ve had a light snow.

However, instead of snow, the white is caused by millions of tiny ice crystals grown directly on the plant material. Crystals 1/4 inch long are common. Certain grasses seem to be especially good seed material for the ice crystals.

Plants that are aren’t quite as good a foundation material make for more interesting structures, since the frost can grow well on part but not all.

I especially like how the frost looks on the sword ferns.

The patterning is also more visible in slightly more sheltered areas. This dead comfrey leaf shows the wonderful variability of frost growth.

We’re expecting one more frosty morning tomorrow. With each subsequent night the frost gets bigger, but some of the definition is lost. Pretty soon we’ll be lost under a forest of ice crystals!

Heavy Frost

We had a very mild autumn, but last time we got our first truly hard frost. It went down to 27F last night, and the humidity was high enough for some fairly spectacular frost this morning.

Frosty lupin
Frosty lupin
Frosty chard
Frosty chard
Frosty stone, with the angles of the stone defined by needle-like ice crystals.
Frosty stone: I think that because it was a smaller stone, slightly elevated from the wall, it became a good cold surface for growing frost.

In addition to the lovely gallery of Jack Frost’s work in the garden, there was a special treat close to the road: a frost flower. These are formed of fine tendrils of ice extruded from dead/rotten sticks when conditions are just right. It requires the perfect combination of temperature, moisture content, and pores in the wood.

This isn’t an especially spectacular example in terms of form, but the hair-like crystals were close to an inch long.

Frost flower
Frost flower

Frost flowers can be very beautiful. This is one we saw near the Elwha River almost four years ago. It was one of more than a dozen frost flowers we saw at that location, and the most picturesque. It was the first time we had ever seen them, and the conditions at the old campsite must have been perfect to have so many in one spot.

Symmetrical frost flower (actually looks flower-like)
Frost flower taken 1/3/2015 near the Elwha River

Out and About

This weekend was a bit of a bustle.

I had a friend’s holiday open house on Saturday — in Black Diamond, almost three hours away! — so I combined that with a work visit to SeaTac and a visit to Mom and Dad.

Living out here has required some adjustments. To avoid missing out, I have to commit to doing things in spite of the drive; to avoid killing myself, I have to be sensible about minimizing trips.

It worked out well. I had a nice little visit with Mom and Dad, including a nice walk down to Titlow Park before heading to the open house on Saturday.

Cormorants at Titlow Beach

Here, cormorants hang out their wings to dry. Unlike most shore birds, they don’t have oil to keep their feathers dry.

Old Man in the Mist

It was a very misty day here, which really set the Old Man off nicely.

The “Old Man” is a plum tree that faces our house. We think he is probably almost as old as the house, so likely going on 100.

He is wonderfully gnarled and covered with lichen, and in August he bears lovely little golden plums.

Persistence

The garden has mostly lapsed into its winter slumber. The final holdout is humble borage, beloved of bees and hummingbirds.

November Borage

Borage is not flashy. Its flowers are unusual, but you have to look closely to appreciate them. However, they start blooming in April here, and I fully expect a few of these hardy plants to be blooming at the start of December.

Given the importance of persistence in both writing and life in general, I aspire to be not like the lovely lilies or roses, but like the borage.

A little odd, but giving sustenance in lean times, and enduring until the very snows.

The Totality: Impressionistic

The landscape fell into shadow, as if night came in from all directions at once. The air grew chill.

The sun still blazed high — and then it was snuffed, a bottomless emptiness where it should have been, ringed with a feathered halo of white fire streaming away into a deep twilight sky.

Around the horizon was a pale band, as if the sun was rising from all directions at once.

This, then, was the end of the world.

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For a more complete and less evocative description of the eclipse, please go here.

Eclipse 2017

I was fortunate enough to see the eclipse totality yesterday. If you just want a descriptive sense of what the totality was like, go here.

My parents and I watched it from John Day National Monument in eastern Oregon. The park service had mown a field to accommodate all the visitors.

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Fortunately for us, people didn’t hear about the parking area, or presumed it was full — there were a couple hundred cars in a field that could have held twenty times as many.

The Eclipse

Without the eclipse glasses, we wouldn’t have been able to tell anything was going on until the sun was 3/4 covered. At that point it got a little dim, as if there were a high haze.

I honestly don’t think that I would have remarked it until the sun was about 90% covered. At that point the whole landscape started to dim into twilight, and there was a little nip to the air.

At 98% it was notably twilight, but you still wouldn’t have been able to directly see what was going on with the sun — without the eclipse glasses.

Though the glasses we watched a fine sickle reduce to a line, then a dot.

Then….

Gone.

The Totality

This is the sight the has stopped wars and ended reigns.

It is truly amazing.

The whole sky was a deep twilight, but not black.

There was the blackest of black circles where the sun should have been, with a streaming pale halo wisping off in all directions.

All around it was a deep twilight, but there was a band of pale light around the horizon — as if dawn would be coming in another half hour or so.

The otherworldly look lasted about two minutes for us — then the light started beading at the edge.

And the light returned.

The Totality: Impressionistic

 

Go here for a more evocative description.

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Comment on Eclipse Photos

There are much better photos of the eclipse itself — but I wanted to note that even the best of the eclipse photos don’t truly capture what I saw.

In even the best eclipse photos, the surrounding sky is too dark (often completely black), and the light is too bright and crisp-looking.

I think the issue is that the corona is too bright relative to the rest of the light.

I hope you get to see a totality in person some day, because as with so many things in life, the photos don’t do it justice.