Ground Sea

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Pathway through the dunes to Indian Rocks Beach. Can this last forever?

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Sea change. IRB. The Nest.

Today there is merely a hint of a warm southwest breeze moving in off the Gulf, the sky is brilliantly blue and I must squint to see the surf breaking beneath the glare. Despite the calm, the sea is a churning caldron.  Large breakers relentlessly pound the shore. Pathways of bubbles perpendicular to the beach signify dangerous rip currents. The sea is angry, the winds are calm, and the sun is not interested in playing referee. The few boats heaving through the sea leave twisting wakes. Why such a rough sea on such a nice day? Sometimes we can’t see the storm. It’s raging beyond the horizon. Only the ground sea carries its wrath to shore.

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Life in the dunes. Hunkering down a’fore the storm on IRB.

I don’t have a boat here – I’m beach bound. I understand the concept of a ground sea and enjoy monitoring the weather on my iPhone while at the same time sensing a slight chill in the air and a faint taste of salt on my lips. Time passes. The horizon seems to blur. Color fades from the sky and cloud roll in. The sea ages, turning gray and cantankerous. My lip balm feels gritty. The sky slaps rain onto on sea and winds flatten the waves. The surf beats its fists on the shore and rips back out to sea. Daylight is extinguished. The storm arrives unbidden but not unexpected.

Even the most idyllic places where wind and water co-exist there is always some sort of violent weather just beyond the horizon or a day away. People can drown in relationships that mirror a ground sea. When communication fails, trust wanes and fury trumps reconciliation. It’s easy to be distracted by what we yearn to see and simply ignore a wicked rough sea. Perhaps the saying, “life’s a beach” is a warning that those who stay set in the bliss of a beach for too long are bound to get blown, burned, soaked, and parched. Walk the beach, sail the sea, surf the waves, fly a kite. Keep moving. This too shall pass.

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Gray is the day. Wet on IRB.

Drifting and Dreaming

images-4 Tis the season for Endurance

The basic recipe for making sugarplums takes 13 hours and 45 minutes. That pretty much knocks out any visions of sugarplums dancing in this sailor’s head. We are planning on a Green Christmas beachside in southern California with most but not all of our kids. Travel plans have severely impeded any motivation to swim against the current of Christmas shoppers. Tubs of Christmas decorations are nestled all snug in the basement storage room. I’ve settled into a Sunday afternoon winter stupor just drifting and dreaming December away.

IMGP0437 A quarter of a century after the bread bowl incident, brother Barrett sends his first born down the same hill – with a helmet, knee pads and his doctors’ bag close by.
IMGP0427 On that same day, survivor sister stands a protective guard to make sure her niece lands safely – interesting that she became a lawyer isn’t it?

The Ghost of Christmas Past is amusing me with memories of some of our family’s finestkind holidays. I remember Amberley as a toddler in her bright pink snow suit sledding down our backyard hill with her two big brothers. The gales of laughter and thuds of snowballs pitched at my post near the kitchen window were suddenly punctuated by high-pitched screams. Seems the boys had procured my 10 quart bread making stainless steel bowl, carried their baby sister up to the summit, plopped her in it, provided a quick shove and propelled the vessel down the hill. Bread bowls are very fast. She landed terrified but basically unharmed and like Moses was found submerged in snow, hidden beneath a shrub called a burning bush.

IMGP2611 Pop should’ve posted this in his front lawn – but he didn’t. But we still play in places like this every year.

The Ghost reminded me of other family ventures into snow sailing. We had driven the family, including the dog, all the way from St. Louis to my parents’ log cabin home in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. My recently retired (56 year old) father built my mother a log home in the middle of the mountains. The homestead appeared as idyllic as a Currier and Ives print. It was as far away from anywhere as Shakelton’s Endurance was from Tahiti. George took Amberley out into the thigh high powdery snow for a sledding expedition upon a bright pink flying saucer. Being a good Dad, he went first thinking he’s blaze a trail and show her his best Clark Griswold moves.

IMG_2790 Even the old basket ball hoop couldn’t withstand the weight of this snow. It cracked like George’s ribs.

He learned three things that snowy Christmas afternoon. First, flying saucer snow disks do not steer well. Second, ash trees do not flex when hit directly by flying saucers carrying a 250 pound payload. And third, driving to an ER when mountain roads are not plowed is simply not an option. He later learned that broken ribs heal very slowly.

Then there was the year the dog knocked down the Christmas tree while George and I were at my grandmother’s funeral and the kids were staying next door. Grandma died in balmy Florida, but being creatures of habit, the family buried her beneath a think bed of snow about 30 miles from my parents’ log home on the 23 rd of December. We returned home early on Christmas eve to find that exactly where our six foot fresh pine Christmas tree had been, stood a puny foot-high fake tree with a couple of busted ornaments. The little train set we had left under the big tree now looked huge on a circle of track around the tree. All I could whisper was, “Honey, They Shrunk the Tree.” Not really. When our neighbor and a friend had come to check on the house, they saw that the dog must’ve been very thirsty and tried the minty water of the tree stand. The tree was sprawled it on its side, it’s dish empty, and sappy pine needles covered the carpet. They graciously watered the dog and pitched the tree out the back door. It was a great Christmas as the train still went ‘round the Christmas tree.

Go with the flow. Drift away. Dream on. The holly daze is not complete without a bit of drama, a touch of humor and warmth that comes from simply believing.

IMGP1778 Randy also opted for a law career – but is okay with pink sleds and his girls flying down the Bread Bowl hill. We of course carry extra liability insurance.

Storm Force 11

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Come all ye young fellows that follows the sea To me, way hey, blow the man down Now please pay attention and listen to me Give me some time to blow the man down

Winds are measured by their speed and the conditions they create over land and sea. In terms of damage and havoc rendered by strong winds – the difference between a Gale Force 10 (GF 10) and just a notch higher on the Beaufort Scale – Storm Force 11 (SF 11) – is the white knuckle – am I gonna survive? – factor. GF 10 winds howl at the about double nickel miles per hour creating very high tumbling waves, lots of foam and a very heavy impact all around. Over land, these winds can break off tree branches and blow away barricades. But the violent winds of a SF 11 can reach 117 mph, severely limit visibility, and will most likely cause widespread structural damage. In either case, boaters simply can’t see where they are going – and most likely wish they were in a safe port splitting the main brace.[1]

images-2We must carry wind and flood insurance on our shore property to limit our liability for storm induced losses. Tomorrow our property will be tented and fumigated to kill termites that invaded the structure during the aftermath of a Force 12 Hurricane that tore off the roof.  Wood infesting, ingesting bugs became squatters. They’ve done untold dollars worth of unseen damage but there’s no such thing pest insurance (if there was our neighbor would be history). It’s the price we pay for an ocean view.

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Against the Wind

For the past few months my homeport of St. Louis has been damaged by an ill wind that blows no good. Relentless gusts have leveled business, fueled the fires of distrust, and bedeviled community spirit. No answers to problems blow with these winds. We seem to be caught in a high pressure zone of ongoing Storm Force 11 winds generated by a lot of hot air not associated with the Jet Stream. It is a brutally frigid wind that is blowing our communities into a winter of discontent.

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All we are is dust in the wind? Seriously? I think not.

True wind and termites are Nature’s children. The conditions that winds create in many ways are acts of God. The ill winds hurling across the country are not. These are human-generated winds of war. Many a captain and crew are struggling to weather this relentless storm. Perhaps the most prudent action for all is to batten down the hatches and pray that this SF 11 too shall pass. These winds of change are blowing hard – adjust your sails, keep a weather-eye open, and pray for calm.

[1] A double ration of rum.

Ice Bearing Ducks

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The SS Edmond Fitzgerald Photo courtesy National Geographic

Common sense has it that TV weather people are clueless about accurately predicting rain or sleet or sunshine. The manufacturers of bread, milk and toilet paper count on their ineptness when forecasting winter sales revenue. Last night half of the United States endured record breaking cold (AKA, ‘freeze your butt off”) and snow blankets many homes in the lower forty-eight. The witch of November has come stealing. Nature has dealt a serious blow to residents around the Great Lakes that called forth a State of Emergency not associated with protesters in a Mississippi River port of call. The gales of November have arrived in a fury reminiscent of the one that sank the Edmond Fitzgerald.

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Polar Bears’ Pop Tart. Image from Wikipedia

Was this predicted? Champions of Global Warming – or as I prefer to call it, Global Chaos – say, Yes. A bad storm off the Sea of Japan blew into the Bering Sea with enough clout to cold cock the Polar Vortex and send it spiraling south with a full boat load of frigid polar air. Labrador retrievers in Ohio are sensing polar bear farts in every other sniff of icy wind. Polar bears at the Omaha zoo point their nostrils northward while drooling at the faint scent of Eau de Baby Harp Seal.

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WC’s Jim Cantore

What’s next? Rather than consult weather pin up Jim Cantore we should pull on some cold weather gear and check out the neighborhood beavers and ponds. Beavers were once prized for their hides that were turned into really warm coats and stove pipe hats (made the PETA hatters stark raving mad). Beavers aren’t smart enough to escape many a trap – but they are great predictors of the upcoming winter weather. Like the brick-building-third -little-pig they build their homes to last. Beavers intuitively understand just how hard they need to work to protect them from the cold long before the big lake they call Gitchee Gumee freezes. When beavers sense an especially heavy snow laden long winter they build sturdy, thick lodges that block a lot of the water mass. If you see a McDamansion – count on a rough winter. If the dam looks like it would fit right into a Tornado Alley trailer park – plan on a mild winter.

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Dam harbinger of winter weather

Don’t see a dam? Check out a nearby pond, “ice in November to bear a duck, the rest of the winter’ll be slush and muck.” It was 10ºF last night but the ducks in our lake are swimming merrily about today. So much for a balmy forecast of warm breezes melting off the snow that leave us with muddy boots most of the season.

Given that most of the oak trees in town still wore their leaves well past October and there are all kinds of berries hanging off tree branches in the yard – I’m predicting this winter is going to be colder than a well digger’s arse. Last July, Lake Michigan steamed like a young man’s dream and flipped her deep cold waters to the surface. Right on cue beavers started adding insulation to their dam homes and the firewood sales people made reservations for luxury spring vacations. Dean Martin swooned it best, “Baby, it’s cold outside.”

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Beavers, Ducks and Bears, Oh My! Polar Express Arrives Way Before Christmas Eve

Homage to Gordon Lightfoot who wrote the lyrics of The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald after reading an article about the tragedy in Newsweek Magazine.

Apophenia or Chaos Theory?

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Less Ado – More Nothing

I was never able to follow the TV show, Seinfeld for two reasons. I taught graduate classes every Thursday night when it aired and there was no such thing as a DVR.

The subject of one of our faculty retreats was the question, “What is Sienfeld about?” It was a heady crew and not having seen many episodes, I thought we shared a rather existential conversation framed by the group’s consensus, “Nothing.”

I just found a word that may define the theme of this blog, Apophenia.

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3 Circles 1 Line

Apophenia is a new word for me, freshly discovered by Googling “what does it mean to see patterns between unconnected concepts?”. Somewhere in the Cloud, perhaps generated by the wisdom of Larry Paige and Larry David, the word that emerged was, Apophenia.  Apophenia describes my philosophical proclivity to see patterns and connections between otherwise random data. As a researcher and evaluator, apophenia is a good thing because it helps to identify Type I errors. Type I, as in detecting a false positive or false pattern in the data. This leads the researcher to say, “Don’t jump to conclusions.” In my business, a bad jump can be a career killing error.

Apophenia is something about nothing – it’s a quest to find the something that binds reality.  Sometimes something really is bugging us that no longer exists but still has power over our future. Save that thought for your shrink but avoid it after two margaritas.

Everyone experiences apophenia – conspiracy theorists more than others (are the UFO’s in Roswell, NM hiding the missing bullet from the Kennedy Asasination?). Perhaps the most famous apopheniac was portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. How fast can you count toothpicks or cards?

Butterflies and Chaos

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This blog is also about Chaos Theory, the science of surprises. The world is made up of relationships that don’t follow a straight path from A to Z. It’s okay to skip a vowel or consonant whenever we try to make sense of our life experience. Chaos Theory and Apophenia make it acceptable to refrain from predicting the future or worry about things we can’t control. Chaos Theory helps us see connections between a butterfly flapping its wings on one continent and a hurricane in another and between the glaciers melting in the Arctic and monarch butterflies disappearing in Mexico.

These ways of knowing the world call for us to question whether  the nature of the universe is to establish connections. Recognizing connections, seeking patterns in a random world gives birth to fresh insights and great wisdom. Making connections changes the way the world is viewed. Seeing the world through chaos changes what is – to what can be.

There is another word that describes my blog but it’s less exotic. I’ll credit this one to the psychiatrist Carl Jung who used the word synchronicity to describe connecting things in the mind with other events in the world. Jung cautions that two random events are probably just that unless connected by a person’s subjectivity.We want to make sense of the world by believing there is a certain order to existence. There is a more subtle desire implied by synchronicity. People want to believe that many connections have causal relationships. We hear the adage “things happen for a reason” to rationalize misfortune. The optimist exercises synchronicity when giving money to a panhandler believing he will use it for food. Money in a tin cup and food at the quick mart have no real connections unless one wants them to be linked. Reality is mostly in our heads.

It’s all about the word. Is this blog about apophenia or nothing? Chaos Theory or Synchronicity? And if none of them fit and a tree falls in the forest will a bear still defecate in the woods? Imagine a revision of an episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza tells Jerry, “I want to pitch NBC a show about apophenia – folks will love it! There’s nothing like it on the air – just people making connections between random things.”

Darn, that was Keifer Sutherland in 24.

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