Poisson d’Avril!

April 2, 2018

Last night was supposed to be a good night for a grunion run, but it was also April Fools day. Many people view grunions as a myth, and asking them to go out at midnight to look for a mythical fish on April Fools day seemed unlikely to get a favorable response. Worse, the French term for “April Fools” is “Poisson d’Avril” (or “Fish of April) and the jokes tend to have a fish theme.

It turned out to be densely overcast and slightly foggy, no lovely full moon shining on the waters to tempt people out. It was also Easter and the second day of Passover.

Nonetheless, I asked a bunch of people to come meet me on the beach at 10:40PM.

Seek for the fish that is buried:
On beaches spawning soon;
There shall be flashlight carried
Stronger than clouded moon.
There shall be shown a furrow,
That eggs are near at hand,
And fish shall start to burrow,
While others up shall stand.

I went directly from contra-dance (and I tried to get the dancers to join me too) so I got to the beach a little early. I hung out just above the tide mark to see if any fish would come early. No fish did, but some waves came and wet my shoes — to keep me from feeling lonely.

No one did join me.

I waited around for 10 minutes and then went walking down the beach.

No fish were out either.

At first there were Night Herons on the beach… when I got within 20 feet of them they’d fly off further down the beach, so it ended up as a kind of leisurely chase (though that was not my intent).

After 15 minutes or so one of them found a fish, and I watched him/her try to eat it. It was dark so I couldn’t see if the fish were a grunion. I tried to take a picture, but the camera thought it was dark too.

Night Heron with fish

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Night Heron actually capture anything before.

After another 10 minutes I turned around and walked back. The Night Herons were gone now. I’ve noticed that in the past, they seem to disappear after a bit. I wonder if they are only out for the high tide? Anyway they always seem to miss the grunion runs.

Now I started seeing a flock of Sanderlings. I don’t recall seeing Sanderlings at night. I tried taking a picture of them too, this one was even worse, as a wave made me jump as I was taking it and I got rather an odd effect (but no Sanderlings).

Those are the lights of the wharf. The bright one is one the Corps of Engineers has placed on the beach.

The Sanderlings stayed out all the time I was out there, and I tried several times to take their picture, but they are smaller and more erratic than the Night Herons and I never actually captured an image.

I saw my first fish at 11:30, just a few scouts, no matings at first. They came up, intermittently for about 45 minutes. A little after midnight I saw one mating, five minutes later I saw another. Then a couple more scatterings of scouts, and that was it.

Not the best run I’ve seen. I suppose I was the fool after all.

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Thomas Fire.

December 17, 2017

The Thomas Fire started on Mon, 4 Dec at 6:26PM. This is (mostly) a collection of emails I sent as the fire grew…

Tue 5 Dec

I was basically unaware of the fire. I went out for a long run up Arroyo Burro and into the backcountry to 19 Oaks Camp and back. When I set out I could see a long plume of smoke flowing down the SB channel and I remembered I’d heard talk of a fire in Ventura. The plume seemed odd, the smoke was moving east to west, yet the wind I felt blew west to east.

On the way home, I started smelling smoke when I was halfway up the back side of Arroyo Burro, reaching the top there was smoke all over SB, I guess the wind shifted just enough that it no longer blew out to sea.

Wed 6 Dec, 10AM: Fire Near(ish) SB

You may have heard about the Thomas Fire currently burning in Ventura. It is about 35 miles from here and we are in no danger except from asphyxiation. Even though surface winds blow west to east upper level winds blown east to west, so there is a huge plume of smoke blowing right over us (and dropping down on us), but the low level winds push the fire away. It’s weird.

The fire is driven by wind and low humidity. These are expected to be a their worst on Thursday and start to taper off on Friday. So the situation is only going to get worse for a few more days. But, again, it is very unlikely to get this far.

If you are interested the best summary, together with a map can be found:
http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_details_info?incident_id=1922

(You need to click on the “+” button of the “Statewide Fire Map” several times before it actually gets down to a scale where you can see the fire perimeter)

Anyway, I’m safe. The doors and windows are closed and I have an air filter going.

Wed 6 Dec, 9:40PM: Re: Fire Near(ish) SB

Well, I’m not quite a sanguine as I was this morning. The fire has spread about 1/3 of the way toward us compared to where it was this morning, and the air quality is appalling. They are starting to evacuate Carpinteria, about 15 miles from SB.

Fri, 8 Dec, 10:40AM: Re: Smoke

I am fine. There is marginally less smoke today, but still a lot. “Unhealthy” conditions today instead of “Hazardous” and “Very Unhealthy” for yesterday. Fire maps show no growth in my direction, but I’m not sure how accurate they are since the fire fighters claim there has been growth…

Sat, 9 Dec, 8:15AM: Re: Smoke

As far as I can tell the fire has not progressed in my direction in the last two days. Air quality is about what it was yesterday, but better than two days ago (that is “really bad” but no longer “horrendous”). Weatherman predicts that the winds will change tonight and the smoke will die down. Ash on the roof looks a bit like a light dusting of snow.

I’m going to venture outside for the first time in three days. I have a sword dancing rehearsal to go to (performance is next week-end; I’m not ready).

Sun, 10 Dec, 6:45AM: Re: Smoke

Well. Last night half the town of Carpinteria was overrun by fire. That’s the first time fire has been found in SB county. Another branch of the fire has run along the ridge line of the mountains toward us and it’s even closer though up higher (so it may not want to go downhill?). In Ventura the fire was wind driven. In SB we have no winds. But the area the fire is in has not burned since the 60s so there’s a lot of fuel there. They are saying the fire is fuel-driven now. That may be encouraging as we’ve had lots of fires immediately around SB in the last few years so a fuel-driven fire should run out of fuel as it gets closer.

I hope.

Air quality remains about where it was yesterday.

I am neither required not requested to evacuate, but evacation areas are getting closer. I’m going running down near Malibu today with friends. Said to be clear air there.


Just south of Ventura, looking back

Looking northwest from the Santa Monica Mountains

Sun, 10 Dec, 8:15PM: Re: Smoke

Either I misread the map, or it was misleading. The town of Carp was not overrun. The fire is burning west but north of the cities. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the evacuation areas have moved to within 2 miles north of my house. But as with the fire the evacuation zones keep moving west and not south. In other words we are hoping it will just leapfrog over us.

When I went running this morning I packed a bag of essentials (passport, wallet, change of clothes, toothbrush, etc.) just in case and brought it with me. People I ran with thought this was funny. One of them has been evacuated, and the other three are in evacuation warning zones. I’m not (so maybe they were right to laugh).

I have a bigger bag packed. The cat carrier is ready.

Nichol has room in her car for me (actually I may end up driving her son’s car for her (son is out of town somewhere)).

I would like to leave town if I get evacuated, but I have this wretched sword dancing thing. The performance in which we play a small part is next week-end. I keep hoping it will be canceled, but as yet that has not happened so I must stay. I know one member of our sword dancing group at least has been evacuated.

Every morning the weather forecast claims the wind will die down that evening, and every evening they update it to the following evening. I’m starting to believe the winds will never die and the fire will burn all the way west to the ocean.

Air quality remains “Unhealthy”.

Mon, 11 Dec, 6:50AM: Re: Smoke

No fresh disasters. Things are much as the were last night. Last night that was terrifying; this morning I’m just glad it is no worse.

I find I did not mis-read the fire map yesterday morning. Other people saw Carp covered with fire icons. The map apparently is not very accurate.

The fire has grown to 230,000 acres, making it the second biggest blaze in SB county. The biggest is the Zaca Fire which grew to 240,000 acres, but it took two months. This blaze has been going for 6½ days. The Zaca fire is California’s fourth largest recorded fire, and the Thomas fire (this one) is listed as fifth.

Adger, if I were to leave town, I would really leave. You have to go fairly far to find breathable air at the moment. I have no car. I’m not going to bike that far in this muck. The train doesn’t go to LA any more (route closed by fire), and the northbound route does not work for evening rehearsals.

Tue, 12 Dec, 7:30AM: Re: Smoke

Yesterday the fire grew by 4000 acres, while the day before it grew by 40,000 acres. So yesterday wasn’t as bad, but 4000 acres is a very respectable size fire, the Tea Fire in 2008 was half that size. So relative to itself it grew slowly, relative to most things it grew by a huge amount.

The fire maps do not show many hot spots at the moment.

Air quality remains “Unhealthy”. We had a couple of hours yesterday where air quality was “Unhealthy for sensitive groups” (which is better), but then things got worse again. The National Weather Service shows the smoke clearing on Wednesday, the Air quality board says Friday. I don’t know if either of those predictions can be relied on.

The problem is the wind. For the last week we’ve had hot, dry, desert “Santa Ana” winds blowing on the fire, this is what has spread it. The winds had calmed yesterday (they may pick up today) but they have not gone away. Today’s high is supposed to be 80F, humidity is 15% at the coast, inland much less. Even without wind the fire will keep chugging along. The Air Quality Board says we’ll get off-shore winds (cool, damp) on Friday. If true, that should help turn things around. But Friday is a long way off.

Normally Santa Ana events don’t last this long.

One of the people in my sword dance group has been evacuated. He’s an artist with a beautiful house filled with his paintings and far up a canyon. He was able to visit his house yesterday and helped firemen hose things down and remove more of his work. He seemed quite cheerful last night (more cheerful than I think I would have been). He thought his house would be safe — unless the wind picked up.

A canyon can act like a chimney in high winds, and funnel the fire through it.

They say the fire is 20% contained (yesterday it was 10%, the day before 15%). So some progress is being made.

I continue to think that it is unlikely the city will burn, there are thousands of firemen protecting it, and the fire is not moving downslope (whether that’s winds or human action I have no idea). No additional evacuations have been promulgated since Sunday (none has been lifted though).

Two of the trails I run have burned up, and some of a third.

Around SB the fire is entering the burn scars of previous fires, and that should slow it down (less fuel). The same is true at the northern edge (different fires of course).

So I guess we wait for Friday. And hope

Wed, 13 Dec, 8:15AM: Re: Smoke

Yesterday the wind picked up in the morning and then calmed in the afternoon. The air quality started as “Unhealthy”, climbed to “Very Unhealthy” in the early afternoon, dropped to “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” around 5 and then climbed back to “Unhealthy” at bedtime. Unusually for us the PM10 (big particles) was also “Unhealthy”, usually it’s just been “PM2.5” (small particles).
(When I say the wind picked up– SB has always been calm, we haven’t seen any wind in this wind driven fire, but the hills above get windy (I guess))
The farmers’ market was canceled yesterday.
The fire grew by 3000 acres. The fire is now 25% contained. The weather forecast shows no chance of rain for the next 9 days (including today) and only 5% chance on the 22nd. (That’s as far out as the forecast goes).
My sword-dancing friend was much less cheerful. Last he had heard the fire was heading toward his house, and although firemen were building a fire break around his neighborhood they didn’t know if they’d be successful or not.

This morning, for the first time in more than a week, I can see blue sky when looking west, and the mountains are clear (looking North). Looking East all is grim. The air appears clear for once. However the small particle concentration remains “Unhealthy” although the large particle concentration has dropped to “Moderate”.
No new evacuations. No old evacuations lifted.
========================================
Last night we moved into the theater and, for the first time, I made sense of most of the play of which we form a small part. It is based on an event mentioned in Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast”, the wedding of Doña Anita de la Guerra de Noriego y Corillo in January 1836.
Dana spends 2 paragraphs on this event (He spends almost as much text describing the difficultly on landing a rowboat against the Santa Barbara surf). Somehow this has been blown up into a full play.
Our play does not follow Dana’s account closely. In the book they land in January, in the play on the winter solstice. He describes how badly the women of Santa Barbara dance, and how the American sailors will not dance at all. Somehow this has morphed into the Barbarians dancing well, and Dana and the captain too. Dana says there were no other ships in SB harbor, yet in the play a Scottish ship lands a bunch of mummers and 6 sword dancers.
The leads do not yet know their lines (we open Friday), at least one of our cast members has been evacuated to LA by his parents. The theater’s box office has been closed because of the fire, a quarter of the city is evacuated, who is going to come to the show?
We sword dancers seem to me to be competent in our bit.

I suppose one good thing about the play is that it got me to skim through “Two Years” again just to refresh my memory. Dana’s first description of SB seems awfully appropriate:

“In the middle of this crescent, directly opposite the anchoring ground, lie the Mission and town of Santa Barbara, on a low plain, but little above the level of the sea, covered with grass, though entirely without trees, and surrounded on three sides by an amphitheatre of mountains, which slant off to the distance of fifteen or twenty miles. The Mission stands a little back of the town, and is a large building, or rather collection of buildings, in the centre of which is a high tower, with a belfry of five bells. The whole, being plastered, makes quite a show at a distance, and is the mark by which vessels come to anchor. The town lies a little nearer to the beach,— about half a mile from it,— and is composed of one-story houses built of sun-baked clay, or adobe, some of them whitewashed, with red tiles on the roofs. I should judge that there were about a hundred of them; and in the midst of them stands the Presidio, or fort, built of the same materials, and apparently but little stronger. The town is finely situated, with a bay in front, and an amphitheatre of hills behind. The only thing which diminishes its beauty is, that the hills have no large trees upon them, they having been all burnt by a great fire which swept them off about a dozen years ago, and they had not yet grown again. The fire was described to me by an inhabitant, as having been a very terrible and magnificent sight. The air of the whole valley was so heated that the people were obliged to leave the town and take up their quarters for several days upon the beach.”

Wed, 13 Dec

The problem with packing essentials into an evacuation bag is that the things are, well, essential. I keep taking them out to use them.

I decided to check my HEPA filter, so I opened up the machine and found the filter was still wrapped in its plastic bag. Oops.

Thur, 14 Dec, 8:30AM: Re: Smoke

Yesterday the wind picked up (again) and we were (again) in “Red Flag” territory (most dangerous fire conditions). Or rather, SB didn’t but Ventura did and the fire did. The fire grew by 5000 acres, it is now the fourth biggest wildfire recorded in California since size estimates began in the ’30s. (The top 5 biggest wildfires have all been after 2000, which suggests a link to climate change right there, the 6th biggest was in 1932).
Fire is said to be 30% contained.
Evacuation conditions are unchanged.

Yesterday the sky was blue for the first time in 10 days, when I woke the low level air was also clear, but it became murkier as the day went on. Air quality continued “Unhealthy” in spite of blue skies.
This morning I woke to blue skies, murky lower air (can’t see the mountains) and an air quality which is merely “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups”.
Having bluish skies makes it feel that things are better, even if the intangible air quality is not.

Last night at rehearsal we were warned how to behave if the power went out during a performance (The fire makes this a distinct possibility, we keep having minor outages erratically — and we haven’t had a major outage for a week, but high winds+fire makes that a possibility too).

The air quality board continues to predict that the air will improve Friday. Maybe….

Thur, 14 Dec, 11:47PM: Re: Smoke

Noozhawk

The house pictured in the above article is the house of my sword dancing friend. There is an extremely impressive blaze behind it. Luckily that blaze was set as a backburn by fire fighters, but I didn’t realize that when I first saw the picture. Rather frightening that.

Fri, 15 Dec, 8:00AM: Re: Smoke

As predicted, the winds picked up again yesterday and so did the fire. The winds are supposed to be bad again today (Another Red Flag day in Ventura).

The fire grew by 10,000 acres yesterday. That one day growth is more than the total size of many past wildfires here. The fire is said to have burned 252,500 acres. That’s almost 400 square miles. Another day like that and this will be the third largest recorded burn in California.

No new evacuations. No evacuations lifted near me.

Air quality remains “Unhealthy”
============================
On a happier note, I made a (poor) video of our sword-dance rehearsal last night.

I had to set it up long before we entered so I didn’t realize how overexposed our white shirts were. I’m fifth in line, in case you can’t tell.

I know I’ve been down on the play, but I find I’m kind of proud of our little dance. I’d be much more cheerful about the whole thing if it weren’t in the middle of this fire…

Fri, 15 Dec

Blue skies and ashes got me down,
And the wheat straw in the wind keeps burning upward bound.
Miles full of charcoal stumps is all I’ve found
And the smog says you may not move along.

Sat, 16 Dec, 8:30AM: Re: Smoke

This morning the air quality was predicted to be “Good”, but turned out to be “Moderate”. That’s still better than it has been and better than it is supposed to be for the next few days so I went out for a run. The sky was clear, and the PM2.5 below the federal standard, but I still wore a mask (I doubt it does anything, but one feels better). To the east and south was a black cloud of smoke, which I guess is blown out into the SB channel at the moment. As I was running I noticed a huge plume of smoke rise in the mountains above Montecito.
Now there are two explanations I can think of for this either 1) The wind changed and the firefighters were able to set a backburn, or 2) The wind changed and the fire escaped its containment line and is off and running again.
As I ran I watched the smoke climb and then start blowing south. When I got back home I collected my camera and ran out again. It looked more like a cloud at this point.

Yesterday the fire grew another 7000 acres making it the 3rd biggest California wildfire since 1932. Containment was up to 40% (that was before the smoke plume). Air quality still “Moderate”.

The winds are supposed to pick up (again) tomorrow. The LA times has started speculating that this fire may grow to be the biggest ever in California. Just great.

Sat, 16 Dec, 8:39AM: Re: Smoke

Not a backburn. They’ve just issued a new manditory evacuation for the rest of Montecito.

Sat, 16 Dec, 11:20AM: Re: Smoke

After I got back from my run my phone (which has no SIM card and no service contract) rang to let me know that Montecito was being evacuated. I stopped what I was doing and rushed off to the farmers’ market.
The market was going to be open today, but with these new evacuations I figured some of the vendors might need to leave. And I really needed to go because it had been closed on Tuesday and between the fire and Christmas/New Years I wasn’t sure if there would be any other markets for weeks.
For once there was wind. Very gusty, but very strong. All the old ash was blowing into my eyes as I biked.
I got there and about half the vendors were missing, a quarter of the others were packing up to leave (the market had just opened, but the smoke was now over this part of the city and you could see the mountains burning). So I rushed through before people left (One farmer kindly unpacked a box which she had just repacked so I could get raisins. I got 8lb of raisins, just in case :-). There were very few customers too. Everyone was wearing masks. I bought more than I usually do, partly stocking up, partly because I wanted to support the farmers who were there. Frozen stew beef will keep… Farmers also had less produce than they usually do, as one guy explained last Saturday, “The workers had to spend half their time fighting fires rather than picking”.
Riding back home was strange. Downtown the light was orange the sun hidden by smoke, the hourly air quality had shot up from “Moderate” to “Hazardous”. Wind was gusting all over. But the smoke plume didn’t go over my house, there’s no wind here, and I’m guessing AQI is still moderate. (I’m halfway between the Goleta and SB AQ monitoring stations, one reads “Hazardous”, the other “Moderate”)
I let the cat out for the first time in weeks. He wasn’t interested. Poked his nose out the door and came back inside.

As far as I know our performances are on for this afternoon and evening, which will take me back into the smoke. So much for what was supposed to be the day with the best air quality in weeks.

Sat, 16 Dec, 11:30AM: Re: Smoke

More evacuations. Mandatory evacuations within 2~3 miles, voluntary evacuations within a mile. Time to repack my bag.



I seem to be in a little island while all around me is under voluntary evacuation warnings. Someone suggested this was because they really don’t want to evacuate Cottage Hospital. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It might be good: Protecting Cottage is a high priority. It might be bad: We should have been evacuated but weren’t because evacuating Cottage would be too difficult.

Sat, 16 Dec, 12:30PM


View out the back door.

Sat, 16 Dec, 12:50PM: Re: Smoke

The theater is under a voluntary evacuation (this is downtown SB, I would not have thought it) and performances for this weekend have been canceled. They say “postponed”, but I’m not happy at the thought of wasting another week-end on this show.

Now the question is should I leave, and if so, how, and where.

I still believe that the fire is soon going to bump against the burn scars of two old fires in another mile or two and that there will be far less fuel for it there. The air quality at my house is (currently) pretty good, all the nasty smoke is blowing out to sea in a haze to the east of me. The current winds are supposed to die down this evening. At the moment I think I’ll stay.

Sat, 16 Dec, 1:30PM

Sun, 17 Dec, 7:30AM: Re: Smoke

After yesterday’s excitement everything seems to have calmed today. Last night when I went to bed I could see flames (well, patches of light, too far to see individual flames) on the mountain. When I got up this morning at 6 I could not. At first I assumed that meant there was a lot of smoke, but now, at 7 I see that the air is relatively clear and the air quality is only “Unhealthy for sensitive groups” which is better than I expected (better than it has been).
The fire grew by 10,000 acres yesterday, most of it right above me. Another day like that and the Thomas Fire will be the biggest fire in California since 1932 (there was probably a bigger one in 1889, but size estimates weren’t very exact back then, so they don’t count it). The map below shows the stages of growth of the fire:
Thomas Fire growth

In spite to yesterday’s growth, the fire remains at 40% containment. I’ve always assumed that this number reflected the percentage of the perimeter that was protected, but I’m beginning to doubt that. Not sure what else it could be though.

There used to be 6 trails within an hour’s bike of my house, there was a seventh about an hour and a half away. The furthest one burnt up about a week ago. Four days ago another burnt. Yesterday two more burnt. I talked to a Forest Service guy yesterday and he didn’t think there would be any way to stop the other three going up (the containment line that burned up yesterday was the last good spot). Of course it all depends on the winds. Today the winds have switched again and SB is calm while Ventura is windy. In the last 13 days, every day has had a “Red Flag” event either here or in Ventura. That turns out to be a record run. Unfortunately the forecast is that this will just continue. Forecast shows no chance of rain until Christmas Eve, when the chance is only 20% (and the way long range forecasts go that will probably evaporate into 0% by tomorrow).
If all the trails do burn up, I’m not sure what I would do if I were to stay here. It’s easy to say I should leave (I probably should) but where would I like to live?
Ironically I just signed up for another term of pottery last week.
Last night I was fairly sure I should evacuate too (I was assuming today would be all over smoke and fire again), today everything seems calm and peaceful. If I were to leave all the native plants I planted a month ago would dry up in their pots.
Easy to say “Away” harder to say “To”. Where could I go that will take me and my cat? Could I rent a car in SB now? Would they let me drop it off in LA or SLO if I did so? The train claims that it has resumed service here (starting yesterday, so I wonder if they changed their mind and haven’t posted it). Amtrak says it takes pets on (most) trips under 7 hours. Or I could just grab a ride with Nichol, but she isn’t ready to leave yet. She has 2 dogs and 2 cats so her pet problems are worse than mine.
No answers.

I am safe and at home this morning.

Mon 18 Dec, 8:15AM Re: Smoke

Yesterday was all blessedly calm. As is this morning. No sign of any hotspots near SB on the fire maps. Fire grew by 1,500 acres yesterday (OK that’s almost as big as the Tea fire, but it’s tiny for this fire). Evacuations unchanged.
Air quality… Well the air quality site is having problems. All I could get is the hourly air quality for Goleta (which was “good”). Goleta AQ has been slightly better, on average, than SB (unless a plume of smoke was directed at one or the other, but no smoke plumes today), so I’m guessing that SB is at worst “moderate”.
I went out for a short run again this morning (with mask).
Bright, sunny day. 10day forecast shows no chance of rain ever.
We have had no rain for more than a month. 85% of Decembers are wetter than this. 97% of years (Sept-now) are wetter than this.

Current rainfall is the dark line at the bottom. Mean rainfall is the blue line, median the green.

Over the week-end three performances of ours were canceled. They have decided to reschedule us for Tuesday night (Theater fully booked next week-end). The theater is in an evacuation zone — OK, if the weather continues as it has been these last two days that fact is irrelevant — but it is ironic.
But I did have some other plans for Tues eve, that’s when we have the final kiln opening of the year — unless it gets canceled.

Mon 18 Dec, 5:00PM


A real sunset, no smoke.

Tue 19 Dec, 6:30AM Re: Smoke

Yesterday was another calm clear day. The evacuation for downtown SB was lifted, and some coastal evacuations were lifted in Montecito. Hourly air quality fluctuated between “Good” and “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” with the 24 hour average at “Moderate”. No hot spots near SB. One hot spot on the back side of our mountains, but it went out.
Fire grew by 1000 acres, from the looks of things mostly north of Ojai. Fire map shows a large new burn northwest of Ojai that might be a spot fire connected to Thomas, or might be its own thing (or, possibly, is an illusion of the fire map).
Containment is at 50%.
Weather forecast says SB will have a “Fire watch” on Wednesday night. With luck things will have died down enough that this will not cause another growth spurt.
10 day forecast shows no chance of rain. Coastal areas to get fog tonight, don’t know if that will extend to the fire, or to how much it will extend.

I think I shall stop sending daily updates now. I’ll send an update if something happens, but don’t worry if you don’t hear anything tomorrow morning (rather, worry if you do).

Thu 21 Dec, 6:30AM, Re: No Smoke

Yesterday the wind picked up (again). It was by far the windiest day at my house. The fear was that this would stir up embers which might jump containment lines. This did not happen. Technically we are still under a red flag warning for another few hours but it is now calm (here anyway).
The fire maps show no hot spots near SB. There are a few on the north and east sides. Unfortunately the wind, which is dying in SB is supposed to pick up in Ventura and may cause those spots to grow. They are far from any cities.
Air quality is “Good”.

Tuesday night we had our rescheduled performance. It was almost full, which surprised me. The city is still half evacuated, and can people change plans on one or two days notice? It was trying to squeeze ticket holders of three performances into one, which must have caused interesting problems in the box office (glad I didn’t have that job). Our dance lacked a little flair, I thought, but had no major flaws.
The show is called “The Revels”, and at the end, back in our changing room I said “Our revels now are ended”, but no one caught the reference. I’d been waiting for months to say that…
When I came out there was condensation on my bike. That meant there was finally some humidity in the air, I hoped that would keep the fire down.
Yesterday morning (long before the wind picked up) I looked at the fire map — no hot spots, checked the air quality — good, checked the humidity — high, checked the wind — none. I’d only be out for an hour or two, there wouldn’t be time for the fire to jump that far. It seemed safe. I decided to go out for a trail run.

Small Wirelettuce

The run I did was mostly in a mandatory evacuation zone, but I was more concerned about whether it was safe. I went by one house on the run, and saw the inhabitants drive up, so they thought it was safe too. I got up and back safely.
But some of my friends later pointed out that it was immoral to go for a run though a mandatory evac when there were people who could not go home. That way of looking at things hadn’t occurred to me, and I still don’t really grasp it.

10 day forecast shows no chance of rain.

Thu 21 Dec, 9:400AM

All evacuation orders for SB county lifted.

Fri 22 Dec, 7:00PM

Thomas fire becomes the largest fire in California since reliable records began in 1932.

Sat 23 Dec

Dust the rooves with flecks of ashes
Fa la la la la, la la la la
All around the high wind dashes
Fa la la la la, la la la la

Don we now our HEPA sashes
Fa la la la la, la la la la
While we watch the fire’s flashes.
Fa la la la la, la la la la

Fear a blazing Yule before me,
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Pack the bag and then I must flee.
Fa la la la la, la la la la

Now back home in merry measure,
Fa la la la la, la la la la
While I tell of Yule-tide treasure.
Fa la la la la, la la la la

Sun 24 Dec, 4:00PM

Signs went up at all local trails (even those untouched by fire) announcing that they were closed.
Before the signs were posted, I hiked up to look at the burn on Cold Spring trail

This tree still smoldered.

In some places the fire cleared the undergrowth, leaving a park-like appearance

Other places landslides covered the trail

Or trees covered the trail

Nothing left

There used to be two signs here, one made of wood. You can see the hardware that held it up. The other made of ¿fiberglass? You can see the fibers

These yucca plants look like Buddhist wats to me. (They aren’t dead)


(Non-native trees)

Bobcat I think. I wonder what s/he’ll find to eat. There were a few birds, but not much else

I assume this is bobcat scent-marking to proclaim territory. Who would want this territory now? Ringtail lemurs were very territorial in rich environments, but didn’t bother in poor ones.

Panorama from the top of Montecito Peak

Hydrophobic soil. This drop of water (about 1ml) stayed on the ground for several minutes before being absorbed.

One bloom on the entire trail. This bush poppy somehow escaped the blaze.

Common Kingsnake

Mon 26 Dec

On the ninth day of Christmas the climate sent to me
Nine closéd trails,
Eight choked streams,
Seven barren hillsides,
Six wandering deer,
Five golden embers,
Four croaking ravens,
Three starved lynx,
Two charred stumps,
And a wildfire on a burned land.

Wed 27 Dec

A sense of scale… At 440 square miles the Thomas Fire has burned roughly a tenth of the combined area of Ventura (1840 mile²) and Santa Barbara (2740 mile²) counties.

Fri 29 Dec, 7:00PM Re: No Smoke

Today they officially reopened the trails which were not touched by fire. So I went out for a run.
(The trails may be supposed to be open, but they still have signs saying they are closed)
It was a very hot day. My cell has a thermometer and I had it recording. It got as high as 96 on one occasion. Moderately dry too 15-30% humidity.
The fire flared up again (not surprisingly), but well within containment lines. I saw no smoke. First I knew of it was on my way home I kept seeing helicopters, and as I drew closer to the end of the run I realized that the copters were flying to the settling basin for the water treatment plant (which is at the end of the trail). As I unlocked my bike I watched a copter drop a bucket down into the water and take off again. Impressive control. Bucket on end of long string.
As far as I can tell this isn’t a danger and things like this are to be expected.
Rather a shock though.
(First contra dance in weeks tonight!)

God rest you wary, gentlemen
Lest fire you dismay.
Remember Tom, destroyer,
Was born Saint Clement’s day
To burn us all with his great ire,
If we should hike astray.
O tidings of sorrow and fear, sorrow and fear,
O tidings of sorrow and fear.

Wed, 3 Jan, 9:15AM: Before the feast of the Epiphany

Thomas, king of fires by far,
Bearing flames I traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Driven by yon zephyr.

Refrain:
O flame of terror, flame at night,
Flame with dang’rous beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Raze all to thy perfect blight.

Smoke is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Coughing, choking, burning, smoking,
Trapped in a flaming tomb.

Refrain

Charcoal stumps to offer have I;
Havoc shows the world’s awry;
Blackening, razing, the air hazing,
Flee from me, flame most high.

Refrain

Born a blaze on Ventura’s plain
Golden flames shall crown me again,
King forever, burning ever,
Over you all to flame.

Refrain

Tue, 9 Jan 7:00AM; Mudslides

(I’m fine, I’m not in a drainage basin that the fire touched)

The weather forecast was predicting a big storm for yesterday and so they issued evacuation warnings because of the danger of mudslides from lots of rain on hillsides denuded of vegetation. Sunday they said we’d get three inches of rain on Monday. But we only got a quarter inch. Then overnight we got an inch. Not what was predicted, but enough that it caused mudslides in areas directly south of the fire’s perimeter, it even closed the freeway last night. We are supposed to get more rain today.
So we need rain to put the fire out and to cause the vegetation to regrow, but it also causes erosion until the vegetation has regrown.
Mudslide article

On the fourth day of Epiphany the Magi gave to me,
One massive mudslide,
A little rain,
A little fog,
And a new evacuation order.

Wed, 10 Jan 7:00AM; Mudslides

Report from emergency services on Montecito (I’m not in Montecito and am fine)

Montecito Flood Update 4:30PM Tuesday Jan 9

There are now 13 confirmed deaths (both adults and children) with at least 20 still missing and unaccounted for.

At least several dozen homes have been destroyed

The rainfall between 3:00 AM and 4:00 AM Tuesday morning exceeded all predictions.

In 5 minutes over 1/2“ fell and in 15 minutes .86” fell and this overwhelmed the capacity of flood channels between Cold Springs Canyon and Toro Canyon and brought debris across the freeway and railroad tracks and to beach in several areas¹

Health risks abound in the storm water areas so stay out of the water if possible, including the ocean

The main water lines for Montecito Water have been compromised so all Montecito Water must be boiled before being potable

Some portions of the Montecito Area will be designated a “rescue area” where all unauthorized persons will be arrested.

The mandatory evacuation zones are fluid but anyone in an exposed area who has not yet evacuated should evacuate now!

Some 30 or so people remain trapped (but safe for now) in Romero Canyon

¹ This statement turns out to be misleading. The two rainfall measurements occurred in different places. In the hills above Montecito .5″ fell in 5 minutes, while in Carp .86″ fell in 15. So take the rest of the quote with a grain of salt

The rain stopped yesterday afternoon. I went down to the farmers’ market which was about 1/3 its normal size. I had not realized how many vendors came from the east and south.
The 101 freeway remains blocked with 3ft of mud, I think for miles. Any alternate routes also appear to be blocked. To get from Carpinteria to SB (normally a drive of a dozen miles or so) is now more than 200 having to go to the extreme north of the county to find an open east-west route. And the 100 mile drive from LA has trebled in length. Cottage hospital has rented a local whale watching boat to ferry its employees from Ventura to SB and will put them up in a hotel until the freeway opens again (I can’t find any guesses as to when that might be.
I live right next to Cottage, and all day there was a constant stream of life-flight copters ferrying people from the mudslide to the hospital (ambulances could not get into the mud). My housemate (a nurse at Cottage) came home exhausted and is working an extra shift today.

Wed, 10 Jan

I went out on my bike to see how close I could get (legally) to the mudslides. I found that near the mountains I could get right up to the western edge (within 100 feet or so of Cold Spring trail), but near the beach (or, perhaps more accurately, near the freeway) there were barricades and police about half a mile out.

This used to be where Mountain Dr. crossed Cold Spring creek. It used to be the Cold Spring trail head. The road is gone, the trail is gone, many trees are gone and the lay of the land is altered.

Mud, mud, dangerous mud
Nothing quite like it for making a flood,
So follow me, follow,
‘Way from the hollow
Lest we should swallow,
That dangerous mud.


Nothing really to do with the Thomas Fire (because I could not get close enough to see anything), but this is what our beaches look like after a storm: Littered with shipwrecks (I found 3 in a half mile), and with several feet of sand washed away leaving cliffs at the high tide line.

Thu, 11 Jan

Amtrak reopens train service to LA. And the whale watching companies offer ferry service to Ventura (but not very frequently).

Fri, 12 Jan

The freeway will not reopen on Monday as originally hoped. It seems that Montecito creek has rerouted itself and is now flowing into the freeway (rather than under it). This means there is more water on the freeway than there was right after the flood. They need to find where the creek goes astray, and return it to its original route before they can do much with the freeway. Noozhawk article.

Sun, 21 Jan

101 freeway reopens after 2 weeks of work.

Asheville

November 14, 2017

I decided I wanted to continue adding bits of the Appalachian Trail to what I’d done so far. I’ve run all of the AT in Georgia (and maybe a mile up into NC), so the obvious thing is to go up into NC and run south to connect, and then run north…

And when I think of Western NC, I think of Asheville. I decided to rent a little cabin for a week or so. I did not bother to check how far it is from Asheville to the southernmost section of the AT, I simply assumed it would be close. This turned out to be incorrect. Western NC is long…

I also got to thinking the maybe I should move closer to my parents now that they are getting older. So far my siblings have taken better care of them than I and this seems unfair. I thought Asheville might prove a nice city to live in, so I thought I’d check it out for that. The internet quickly found not just one but two contra dance groups, an English Country Dance group, and a Square Dance group — that seemed promising.

I rented a little cabin. Asheville has its own airport but seems to get very few flights. To get there and to leave at the times I wanted I found it easier to fly into Charlotte and drive from there.

Monday, 30 Oct

I arrived in Charlotte (late) at about 4PM and drove out to Asheville arriving at my little cabin just before dark.

Winding Stair Gap to Wayah Bald

My primary focus was to run the AT down to the NC-GA line (to connect with the sections I’d already run in Georgia). It looks as though the most southerly highway access to it was off of US64 at Winding Stair Gap. From there it was a 30 mile run down to the border, and another 30 mile run back to the gap. 60 miles in a day is a lot (for me anyway) more than I’ve ever done before. So I thought I’d postpone that run. On this day I decided I’d find my way out to the gap and run north instead of south, and just see what there was to see.

It turned out to be about 100 miles from my cabin to Winding Stair Gap. I had not anticipated that. It took more than an hour and a half to drive there.

Unsurprisingly, southern NC looks very much like northern Georgia. The AT in autumn looked much as I was used to. I had hoped for more color to the leaves, but most trees were bare, still there was some (or I thought there was).

In several places I found seedpods of some kind of Gentian, probably soapworth gentian but one gentian looks much like another without flowers.

When I crossed a small road I found a young woman sitting by the side of the trail, she offered me candy. I was confused. She pointed out it was Hallowe’en. I had forgotten. I little later I met two hikers in costume.

After a bit I stumbled on signage for the Bartram Trail, this is another long distance hiking trail that follows the route of the naturalist William Bartram who explored this area about 240 years ago. The Bartram Trail and the AT run together for a couple of miles here, climbing up to Wayah Bald (The Bartram trail uses yellow blazes, the AT white).

A little further on I found some patches of snow. I learned later that it had snowed three nights before, but this would be the only snow I saw. I was impressed that Shining Clubmoss and Marginal Wood Fern both seemed happy growing out of snow.

A little further on I reached the summit of Wayah Bald (where there is a carpark) and discovered a small viewing tower.

Geographically this seemed a good place to turn back; I’d run to a named stop with car access; if I ever returned I could just drive here and start running north… But I wasn’t tired, so I pushed on for another couple of miles, and got to see where the Bartram trail diverged from the AT. Then I was ready to return.

On the way back I took a few diversions, I climbed up to the top of Silar Bald (not far off the AT) which had some 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains.

When I reached Winding Stair Gap again I found my two costumed hikers (without costumes) were now thumbing for a lift (without much success), so I offered to drive them down to Franklin (the nearest town). I don’t think I’ve ever taken a hitch-hiker before.

Winding Stair Gap to Standing Indian Mountain

I realized I didn’t want to run a strange bit of AT in the dark, and I wanted to get back to Asheville before restaurants closed. This put a bit of a constraint on how long I could run and a 60 mile day seemed out of the question… that would be 15 hours if all went well. Now it’s about 10 miles from Dick Creek Gap (in Georgia) to the NC-GA line so the distance from Dick Creek to Winding Stair is about 40. So as long as I run out more than 20 miles I should cover more than half the route, and I can go back to Dick Creek and do the rest from there. I thought I should be able to do 24 miles out if I left Asheville at 6AM.

I packed a flashlight to take with me, just in case. Indeed I always packed a flashlight, but I never needed it.

But I managed to get lost on the freeways in the dark, and by the time I got unlost and then back to Winding Stair Gap, it was about 8. It got dark soon after 6:30PM. So at 4MPH I had time for about 42 miles. Maybe a little more. Best to turn around when I hit 21 miles.

I set off southward with no expectation of reaching Georgia.

The day before had been sunny and warm, but today was clouding up, which meant there was a bit of color to the sunrise.

I actually found some flowers…

Bluets (of some kind) Small Bellflower

A little further on were some white violets (if you’ll pardon the oxymoron), probably Viola canadensis.

Albert Mountain has an old watchtower which one can climb until one bangs one’s head on the trapdoor that leads out to the cabin on top. This is locked. Still there are good views from the steps.

I found witch-hazel in bloom.

Witch-hazel is a small tree, and I think its flowers rather live up to the name. A good bloom for All Hallow’s.

At almost exactly 21 miles (by my watch) I reached Standing Indian Mountain. This seemed like the perfect spot to turn around. There’s a short (1/4 mile) side trail here that leads to the summit, and I took it and ate my lunch (such as it was) on the rock face at the top. Seemed very like the cliffs of Lynch back in Georgia. The air was too hazy for good views. I found bush honeysuckle on the top, not flowering any longer, but with seedpods.

On the way back my stomach started bothering me after about 8 hours and I struggled with mild nausea when I tried to eat. Instead of eating one Cliff Bar every hour I started nibbling on one every 10 minutes or so — with the nibbles shrinking and the pause between nibbles increasing as time went on. Luckily I only had another 2:30 hours to go, so I managed to get back to the car before dark in spite of that.

Thursday

I was a little tired, so I decided to take a day off and explore Asheville.

Visiting the Biltmore cost $75 and I decided I wasn’t that interested.

There was an exit from I40 labeled “Farmers’ Market” and that sounded promising. The SB farmers’ markets don’t get freeway exits. But when I got there all I found was a greengrocer and some touristy shops. It was the off season, I know, but it was disappointing.

The day before I flew out to Asheville my trail running shoes ripped open. I hadn’t had time to buy a new pair before I left SB (I’d been running in trainers the last couple of days), so I figured a visit to a local running store would be a good idea. I found three in the Asheville area, and I went to the closest. They had new shoes for me.

I visited a couple of other places. Wherever I went I found either massive highways or very narrow streets. Neither conducive to bicycling. I decided Asheville was not a city I could commute in. Rats.

In the evening I went Contra Dancing. A much younger group of people than I am used to, but since the dance was held in the gym of a local college, I guess that’s what you’d expect.

Around Mt. Pisgah 1

I decided to explore on the Blue Ridge Parkway — a scenic route that follows the spine of the Appalachians from the Great Smokey Mountains in southern NC to the Shenandoah in Northern Virginia. Oddly enough this road is considered to be a national park. Anyway it runs through Asheville and had an entrance about a mile from where I was staying.

I learned that North Carolina has something called the Mountains to Sea trail which stretches from Smokeys on the Tennessee border out to and along the Outer Banks. Or will stretch. It isn’t complete yet. But the part in the mountains is supposed to be complete.

I drove to Mt. Pisgah expecting to take the MST south. I parked at the Mt. Pisgah parking area and found the trailheads. I picked the one going south. The MST blaze clearly marked. I ran on it for a mile to the Pisgah Inn, also on the Parkway. After that I found no indication of where the trail went (this is the section that is supposed to be complete). I ran around the Inn. I ran across the parkway to the campground and ran around it. No sign for MST. I found something called Frying Pan Trail and followed it south. It had no MST blazes and only lasted a mile or so and left me on the Parkway again with no sign of where MST might go. There was a fireroad here which led up to an old lookout tower and then it stopped too.

The sun popped out for a bit, and there was a nice view from the tower

I gave up on MST in that direction. My best guess is that it simply follows the Parkway and no one has bothered to put up signage, but I found this rather discouraging.

I found two conifers I wasn’t familiar with. One looked like a perfect christmas tree — I believe this was a fraser fir, the other a bit like a hemlock — I believe this was a red spruce. I’ve not seen these trees in the Georgia mountains.

Fraser Fir Red Spruce

There had been a couple of side trails on the one mile section of MST that I had run and I decided to explore them.

The first was called Laurel Mountain trail. I’m not sure where Laurel Mountain was, the trail was about 7 miles basically down hill, and then I turned and ran back up. It wasn’t too steep.

Galax Leaf, with color

The next trail was Pilot Rock trail, it was shorter. Again I don’t know which was Pilot Rock.

When I got back to the top I realized that if I ran another mile I’d have run 100 miles in 3 runs across 4 days. So instead of heading back to the parking lot I ran out to the Parkway in the other direction and looped back. I got in my 100 miles.

I also noticed that there was lichen growing on the roadbed of the Parkway.

Sam’s Gap to Spivey Gap

I decided to explore a different part of the AT. I saw that I26 crossed the trail at something called Sam’s Gap on the Tennessee border. I checked the location of Sam’s Gap on google maps which assured me it was on I26. So I just drove until I reached it. I found Sam’s Gap… but no access to the trail. No access to anything in fact, just at truck weighing station (which was closed). So I drove down into Tennessee to the first exit where I could turn around thinking to try from the other side of the freeway. The east bound side had a “scenic overlook” and I exited here, but again there was no sign of the AT. There was, however, another paved road. No access to the paved road from here. So I drove down to the first (last) exit in NC which got me onto the road (Bear Branch Rd. which Google Maps calls “the old Asheville Highway”) and drove back up to Sam’s Gap. And here was the AT.

I should have done more research. The sources I checked should have been more accurate.

I’ve never really thought about how the AT might cross a limited access road, such as I26; it isn’t a situation that happens in Georgia. Hikers can’t be expected to try to run across the interstate the way they do the smaller highways I’m used to.

Here, the AT popped out of the woods and ran along beside Bear Branch Rd. as they both passed under I26, then the AT went off into the woods again.

At the parking area, signage for the trail is very different from what I’m used to further south (including Winding Stair Gap), I’m used to signs saying “Appalachian Trail” very clearly. Here there was just a sign reading “Hiking Trail” but surrounded by a lot of AT white blazes.

I went north from Sam’s Gap. The sound of the interstate is audible for about 2 miles after the freeway crossing.

I found some very bedraggled asters still blooming. I believe these are Frost Asters (Symphyotrichum pilosum), it’s not easy to tell at this point. It’s a very foggy day and dew drops have joined the aster.

The fog has also made a some Lungwort Lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria) very happy, I’ve never seen it so lush and green before. In theory this grows in California, but not as far south as SB (I’ve only found it in the Appalachians myself).

Here I met the only trail runner I saw in my time in Asheville. At first I thought “there don’t seem many runners here”, but then I wondered… how many other runners do I actually bump into in a week in SB? I might see one or two on Jesusita, but on any other trail? Unlikely. Presumably there’s a trail in Asheville that everybody does by default, but I haven’t found it yet.

Trees in the mist

I noticed I was feeling tired today. The previous 3 runs had all averaged 4mph, but today I’m going more slowly. The one trail runner I saw was going faster than I.

After a bit more than 6 miles of climbing I reached Big Bald Mountain (elevation 5516ft.). In November this is a large grassy meadow on top of the mountain. Today it was covered with dense fog.

There were posts across the meadow (which stretched for half a mile maybe) to mark the trail, and they truly disappeared into the mists so you couldn’t see far ahead. It was chilly, and drizzly and I kept thinking “On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at” — though I had on a hat, or cap anyway. But I got across the moor and no worms ate me up.

The trail then dropped down and I came upon two women camping by the side of the trail — with their dogs. The dogs barked at me, and the women attempted to hush them. I’ve never met campers with dogs on the AT, and rarely met dogs at all. Checking the AT’s pet regulations, I see that dogs are permitted on the trail. Cats, ferrets, birds, and lizards are not mentioned. Pack animals are banned. Interesting list of “pets”, I don’t really consider pack animals to be pets, and I do consider cats to be. Savannah Cats are even supposed to like hiking, so it’s not a completely silly train of thought.

The trail climbed again to a peak called “High Rocks” and then dropped to Spivey Gap where US19 crosses the trail. That seemed like a reasonable place to stop, but I wanted to go a little further, so I pushed on for another couple of miles. There was a sign at Spivey Gap saying that in 2.1 miles I’d reach Devil’s Creek Gap, but I ran well beyond 2.1 and found no sign proclaiming that gap. In Georgia (and southern NC) every gap has a sign, but this section seems to have a different signage regime — perhaps I’m just expected to know where the gap is. Or perhaps the sign was inaccurate and I needed to run 4 miles.

Anyway I turned and headed back.

When I got back home, and plotted my route on a map, I learned that in this section the AT runs right along the NC-Tenn border. Half the time I was in NC and half in Tennessee. Now the NC-Ga line was well marked, but no one bothered to add boundary indicators every quarter mile on this section.

For an hour or so the sun peeped out and the mist vanished.

Red Oak Leaves

Blackgum leaves (perhaps)

But after a bit the clouds closed in again and the colors faded.

I heard a rustling noise, stopped and looked up.

White Tailed Deer

Yes, in this picture the tail looks black with a white outline, but when the deer raises its tail in alarm the underside is white and very obvious. This deer was not alarmed. It watched me calmly to see what I’d do, and when I did nothing interesting it browsed. All I could see were ferns (Marginal wood fern I think). I’m not sure if deer eat ferns though… After a bit I got bored and moved on. The deer didn’t seem disturbed.

This seemed odd to me… I could hear guns going off in the valleys below the trail…

I found scat in a scrape in the middle of a human trail. In SB this combination would been bobcat. Bobcat is certainly a possibility for this area too.

I climbed back up to the top of Big Bald, and found a young man with his tent set up cooking his supper on the edge of the bald. I’m not sure I would have chosen such a campsite… it seemed rather exposed to me and it was (again) spitting rain.

There was an overcast, but the dense fog from earlier in the day was gone.

On the other side of the bald I was greeted by barking, and noticed a young woman setting up her tent in the light rain. She turned to me and asked worriedly “Do you think it will be all right?”. I had to admit I had no idea. The sun did seem to be breaking through in the valley below, and the rain was light here, it might be clearing…

I said I was heading down to Sam’s gap and left her to the rain.

Around Mt. Pisgah 2

I went back to Mt. Pisgah, this time intending to take the Mountains to Sea trail north. And this time it did not vanish. This section of the trail is variously labeled as “Buck Spring Trail” and “Shut-in Trail”. It is the old route from the Biltmore to Vanderbilt’s hunting lodge.

The day was very foggy, and driving the Parkway was a bit nerve-wracking, it’s a twisty road and visibility was close to nil. Luckily there was no traffic at 6:30am on a Sunday morning. Oddly, the only relief was in the tunnels (of which there are about 7). Normally the tunnels are difficult to drive as you come from bright sunlight to darkness and the eyes take a while to adjust. There was no fog in the tunnels, and it wasn’t much darker inside than out.

The Pisgah parking area was above the clouds. On one side the fullish moon was setting, on the other the sun was about to rise

As I ran down the trail I reëntered the fog. I liked the look of the mist in the sun with the trees…

I was under a bit of a time constraint this day because I wanted to go to the English Country Dance that afternoon. So after running out 2.5 hours I turned around and returned. When I got back to the top, I found the route up to Mt. Pisgah itself (which I’d somehow not seen earlier) and I had to do that too.

I saw a butterfly, a Common Buckeye. These are common in SB. I hadn’t realized their range stretched across the country.

Mt. Mitchell

I had no firm plans for my last day. I had, at various times, thought I might:
1) Go further north from Wayah Bald
2) Go further south from Sam’s Gap
3) Climb Mt. Mitchell
4) Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and explore it
Mt. Mitchell isn’t on the AT, but as the tallest peak in the eastern US (yes, it really is taller than Mt. Washington) it does have a certain caché. A little research proved the trail up it is part of the MST.

Now it’s possible to drive up to the top, but that wouldn’t be any fun. The accepted route for summitting Mt. Mitchell starts from the Black Mountains Campground on the S. Toe River, and is reachable from the Parkway. (Why is the river called a “toe”?)

I read several reports of making the climb and all warned of the difficulty route and the changeable weather. It wasn’t a cold morning, but I stuck many layers and a windbreaker and gloves into my pack.

And then I just worried about how hard the route might be. It’s a 3600ft climb in 5.5 miles. In contrast San Ysidro climbs about 2800ft in 4.3 miles. So Mt. Mitchell is a bit longer, but shouldn’t be much steeper. Or so I thought.

I set out early in the morning. It wasn’t quite as foggy as it had been the previous day but there were still patches of dense fog. I managed to find the South Toe River Road without too much difficulty (that is — I only worried about being lost, I never actually was). After a bit the fog cleared away and I could see patches of blue sky. Perhaps it would clear and I’d actually get some views from the summit.

The Black Mountains Campground turned out to be closed for the season

Not really surprising, everything seems to be closed in November. There was a day use area parking lot just outside which was open. And empty.

The Mount Mitchell Trail was blazed with blue diamonds (in theory, often rectangles in practice) and the MST trail (which used mostly the same route) was blazed with white circles. The trail led across the bridge, through the campground and out the other side. Seemed like a very easy trail at first.

At about 4000ft elevation I started to see red spruce and fraser firs — I’ve not seen either at 4000ft in Georgia… I saw the occasional hemlock too, something I am familiar with. Both the hemlock and the spruce are suffering from adelgid blights.

There were also rhododendron plants. I initially assumed these would be R. maximum that I’m familiar with, but I see there are several other rhododendron species here that I’m not familiar with…

It also started to get muddy with little creeks running down the course of the trail for a while.

There’s a powerline (or perhaps telephone line) which shoots straight up the mountain in a wide clearcut. The trail switch-backs across it many times and, although it looks rather ugly, it does provide good views — in that one direction.

I found traces of mica in the rocks. That made me think of home.

After I’d reached an elevation of about a mile I turned a corner and found a blooming gentian, probably Appalachian Gentian, the only blooming Gentian I’ve seen this week.

The higher I went, the wetter it got, until the area started to look like a temperate rainforest (though probably cloud forest is probably more accurate).

It started raining, and after a bit I pulled out my wind-breaker and put it on. The wind picked up as I got closer to the top. A mist gathered. When I reached the top the fog is quite dense, the wind strong and the rain chilly. I climb up to the lookout platform — and can’t see a thing in any direction.

I’ve been going for two and a half hours now, and I don’t feel particularly tired, nor have I used most of the gear I packed. I feel a bit misled about the difficult of the route (and about the terror of the weather — though I admit it’s better to be prepared for worse weather). So I wander around until I find trails leading down the other side.

The trail I find is called “Old Mitchell Trail” and it leads down to the restaurant (closed for the season), it is also part of the MST. It leads to several other trails, Camp Alice trail, and Commissary trail, which are also part of the MST. There are some very nice waterfalls on these trails

But finally it is time to head back. I climb up to the top of Mt. Mitchell and head down the Mitchell trail.

Summary

Of the 7 days in spent in the Asheville area, I ran on 6. In that time I ran 172 miles (according to my watch) and consumed ~40 cliff bars. That’s more miles than I’ve ever run in a 7 day period until now.

Sword Dancing 1

October 17, 2017

Back in August the local sword-dancing group asked me to join them, one of their number was ill and they needed a sixth man. We had our first practice last night (~2 months later).

In the interim I worried. I worried about dancing while waving an object designed to kill people. They tried to reassure me that the swords were not sharp. But that still left open the possibility of bludgeoning someone. Or being blogeoned by someone… To say nothing of my own inability to keep track of my feet when dancing— after the third waltz count I am lost— suppose I thrust my sword out at the wrong time, in the wrong place…

Our first practice took place at the home of one of our number, who turned out to be an artist, and who had us practice in his studio. Which added another worry… slicing up one of his canvases by mistake.

The “broadswords” in question turned out to be tongues of steel about 3 feet long, one inch wide and maybe 3mm thick. The edges were smoothly beveled, and it was a pointy as a spoon. No fuller, no guard, and a wooden grip. I stopped worrying about cutting someone…

The dance (or the bits of it that we practiced) consisted of moving at a fast walk, often in circles making interesting patterns with the swords which interlocked in various ways.

I still feel a bit like a rabbit in headlights, but I think it will be fun.

Oh, I did not seriously injure anyone, or any canvas. A sword did slip out of my hand once and bop someone on the head (OK, I kind of dropped it), but he wasn’t harmed.

My wrist isn’t used to holding a sword. It ached a bit.

Eclipse

September 4, 2017

When I was 10, back in March of 1970 there was a solar eclipse whose path of totality basically ran right up the Eastern Seaboard. I was slightly outside totality, in Durham we only got 98% coverage. My siblings and I were playing underneath the neighbor’s Magnolia tree and I vividly remember that the little patches of light that worked through the leaves to hit the ground suddenly turned into crescent moons. The leaves were acting like lots of pin hole cameras. I have no idea why the full sun doesn’t get focused into little circles, but a partial sun does get focused…

That was my only solar eclipse experience until now (I didn’t pay attention to the eclipse on 1979 though I guess some dimming would have been visible where I was).

A year ago I realized that the path of totality went right over my great-grandfather’s house in Georgia, and since I normally go there in August I decided to be there at the right time this year. And I tried to get my family to join me. And then friends. It’s a big old house with lots of room, seems a shame not to fill it up with other people to watch this event…

I got very excited about it. I ordered a ten pack of solar glasses, a sun filter for my camera, and I wrote various little apps for my cellphone and tablets. I wrote something to take time-lapse video, something else to record temperature/humidity/luminosity. I wanted to see how these changed during the eclipse and compare it to other days to see if the temperature profile looked different. And tripods, and tripod mounts for tablets and extension cords…

Ten days before the eclipse the long range weather forecast showed thunderstorms. And my cousins who lived there started complaining about incessant rain.

A week or so before the eclipse Amazon posted its warning about bogus eclipse glasses, and I saw that the ones I had bought were not on the list of reputable vendors. So I rushed to buy another set. Many were sold out, and the ones that weren’t were expensive…

I arrived in the valley late Friday night (before the Monday eclipse), and luckily my second order of eclipse glasses had preceded me. It had also stopped raining. Whew.

Sun at 9:15AM, long before eclipse

The partial eclipse was scheduled to start at 1:06PM so around quarter past we went out to the front porch and could see (through the eclipse glasses) that the sun was just being nicked by the moon. It took me a while to get my camera set up (it turns out that a normal tripod doesn’t work very well when taking a picture of something near the zenith. The tripod prevents the camera from pointing straight up. I hadn’t thought of that. If I angled the tripod legs enough for the camera to point up, then the tripod overbalanced).

Now it takes the moon a good while to cover the sun, almost an hour and a half from the start to totality. You get rather bored staring at an object which doesn’t change noticeably… so my brother organized a game of cards, and after every hand was completed (every 10 minutes or so) we’d all get up and take a look. That worked pretty well.


1:28PM T-1:07

1:37PM T-0:59

1:48PM T-0:49

1:53PM T-0:42

2:01PM T-0:34

2:16PM T-0:29

2:35:10 T-0:00:47

2:35:40 T-0:00:17

As far as the naked eye could tell there was surprisingly little dimming until just before totality. There are several reasons for this, the first is simply that the eye isn’t designed to measure brightness, it is designed to see things and to adjust so that it can see no matter what the level of light. So when it gets darker the pupils automatically get wider and you don’t notice any change. The second is that the eye reacts to light levels in a logarithmic fashion, so a diminution by a factor of two makes just a slight change in what we see.

But a few tens of seconds before totality happened the light started changing significantly, rapidly and noticeably. It got much darker. Not black, but a dim twilight. A sunset light spread around the horizon (or such of it that wasn’t hidden by trees). A planet was visible up near the sun. Not dark enough for my eye to see stars though.

The difference between 99% coverage and totality was extreme and worth seeing. I had assumed that it would just be more of what I’d seen as a child with 98% coverage. It was not. It was a completely different thing.

Above us all hung a black sun.

2:36PM Totality
2:36PM Totality

Then, of course the moon started to come out the other side…
2:53PM T+0:16

Timelapse video around totality (sped up too much. next eclipse I’ll know better). Looking across Sautee Valley.

Another timelapse video around totality, sped up even more. This one from the top of Lynch Mountain looking toward Tray Mountain.

About 20 minutes before totality I noticed that the holes between tree leaves had started acting like pinhole cameras (they might have done so earlier, that was just when I noticed it).

About 6 minutes before totality I started making a time lapse video of this effect. The crescents go through totality and come out the other side (sped up by a factor of 30).

I set my cellphone (Samsung Galaxy S4) to logging temperature, relative humidity and luminosity, taking samples every 15 seconds starting (roughly) a day before the eclipse and ending a day after.

I am graphing log10 of the luminosity, as I think that is more in keeping with what the eye sees. (The abrupt spikes in luminosity may reflect brief moments when the sun shone on the device. I thought it was in a well shaded spot but since the spikes are at the same time on different days I suspect there were a few moments when it was in full sun. Temperature was also affected as might be expected).
3 days around eclipse
The light blue region is the time of partial eclipse, the darker blue line in the center is the time of totality. The luminosity drops to 0 with totality (at least with the inexact sensor I had). The temperature also dropped during the eclipse, but only by about 2~3°C, a short thunderstorm the next day at about the same time caused a sharper and more substantial temperature drop. The relative humidity spiked up, as you’d expect with a temperature drop.

The graph below is the same thing, only expanded to show only the ~6 hours around the eclipse.
5 hours around eclipse
Interestingly the temperature continues to drop after totality. Rather to my surprise luminosity goes to 0 about a minute before totality, 2:34:40PM, and continues there for a minute and a half afterward, 2:39:11PM. This is probably insensitivity in my sensor.

I doubt I’ll go to Chili in 2019 (or Antarctica in 2020) but the eclipse of 2024 looks tempting…

Eppur si riscalda

April 23, 2017

Yesterday I joined Santa Barbara’s March for Science.

I don’t understand activism. I don’t see what difference this will make. I live in a state which already voted Democratic, in a Congressional District that is Democratic, my state senate district is Democratic. If I march, whose mind could I change? What difference will it make? To do nothing is unthinkable, but I see no legal options which can be effective.

The march began with speeches. Again I don’t understand why. What’s the point of preaching to the choir? The people who need to listen won’t hear. I don’t understand.

For me the essential issue is the Trump administration’s stance on climate change. Climate change is an existential problem. If not dealt with our civilization and possibly our species will be destroyed. Other people were more concerned about funding for science, education, the arts. I’m all for such funding, but I guess I’m more concerned about keeping the species alive.

The staging area did not seem to hold very many people, but when we actually lined up to march up State St. I could see that there were well over 1000 people. I thought maybe 2000. Noozhawk estimates 3000, and they are probably better at making such estimates than I. It seemed like a lot, but it’s only 1~2% of the region’s population. Sadly small in that light.

There were lots of cute slogans, and the other marchers seemed joyful. I was depressed. I did see one sign which expressed my feelings — it read, essentially:
“I shouldn’t have to be here”
I concur. Why are people in my government not paying attention to common sense? Why don’t they look at evidence? I shouldn’t have to be complaining about such basic incompetence.

This is the same fight Galileo fought against the Church, that Scopes fought against Tennessee. How can we still be making the same mistake?

People chanted “This is what Democracy looks like.” I’ve heard that at other times when I’ve marched. What I felt was “This is what impotence looks like.” We can’t effect real change, but we can march. I was reminded of Tom Lehrer’s comment in The Folk Song Army “But, the nicest thing about a protest song is that it makes you feel so good.” I felt we were deluding ourselves into feeling good.

But I’m not only depressed because I feel incapable of changing the government’s policies. I’m depressed because I feel that it is now too late for any policies to address climate change. Basically all scenarios envisioned by the IPCC for staying below 2°C now depend on science fiction technologies. Technologies we do not have, which we are not working to develop, and all mechanisms we can currently imagine are impractical.

The temperature is now up about 1°C and already we are going to kill off most coral reefs by the end of the decade even if the temperature rose no further. The loss of those ecosystems will lead to massive famine for people who fish them. Places with Mediterranean climates are burning up. The Sierra Nevadas lost ~80% of its trees in the last drought, and even so California got lucky, but the next drought will be worse. We may not be able to handle even 1°C of warming long term.

But we’ll get a lot more than that.

Climate change will lead to famine, and famine will probably lead to war (indeed, it already has), and war may well lead to nuclear war — especially with Trump in command.

One of my friends said to me in the march: “We have to be hopeful, for if this fails what will we tell our children?”

What indeed?

Stupider Fortnight

December 31, 2016

On the Wednesday before Christmas I ran with the dog out to More Mesa. The dog likes More Mesa. She bounds through the tall grass finding scents of I-don’t-know-what. Once she found the scent of a skunk there and, to my surprise, was really pleased by that too. She’s like an eccentric comet, traveling long distances away from me but always returning to check in.

She gets intrigued when I stop to look at a flower, she will come over and stand on top of it trying to figure out what’s interesting. If I stop too long she’ll get bored and start jumping on me to encourage me to move on. (It works)

This Wednesday there were puddles
Water Dog

While the dog bounded with joy, I plodded at a more sluggish pace, and I started to think about the runs I had done so far that week. Sunday I’d gone 24 miles, Tuesday 34 and today about 10. Friday I intended another 20 miles and then Saturday about 12.

Hunh. That added up to 100 miles in a week. I don’t often (only once before I think) get in 100 miles in a week. I was pleased.

When I got home I noticed that Monica had posted a “stupid week” challenge on Facebook, trying to get people to do 100 miles in a week.

Now I know that 100 miles a week isn’t a challenge for some people, it’s normal training for elite runners. And many of my friends have even run 100 miles in a day. But I am not an elite runner, nor have I ever finished a 100 mile race, so 100 miles in a week is challenge enough.

I mentioned this to Rusty and he was unimpressed. I’d done 100 miles in a week before. He said if I really wanted a challenge I should do two consecutive 100 mile weeks. Mmmm … OK.

First week
Date Route Mileage Tot
Sun 18 Dec Cold Spring and Gibraltar trails beyond Mercury Mine 24.5 M 24
Tue 20 Dec Camuesa Canyon Rd. to Mono (via Little Caliente) 34.3 M 58
Wed 21 Dec Home to More Mesa 10 M 68
Fri 23 Dec Romero to Blue Canyon (via Big Caliente) 32.6 M 100
Sat 24 Dec Home to More Mesa 11 M 111

On Sunday I ran out to Gibraltar Reservoir (starting on Mountain Dr. and taking Cold Spring trail out to Gibraltar Trail). Now in recent years this has meant running out to the Mercury Mine, but this year no water was visible at the mine
Dry Reservoir
and I had to run another mile and a quarter before I could see any water in the reservoir. So I went a little longer than I intended. This took about 7:15 hours.

On Tuesday I decided to take advantage of the recently reopened Rey Fire burn area. There’s a road which goes from Lower Oso to Romero. I’ve run bits of it but never the whole thing. The whole road is too long to do as an out and back (50~60 miles round trip), but I could add another section. So I started at Lower Oso and ran out to Mono (at the end of Cold Spring trail). Only I couldn’t start at Lower Oso because the ford at First Crossing is currently flooded. So I started at First Crossing and ran to Lower Oso and then ran Mono. And, of course, if you’re going to Mono you might as well detour to Little Caliente Spring, it only adds about two miles to the route…

Camuesa Valley after the Rey Fire

Camuesa Valley after the Rey Fire

I seemed to be running faster than I expected, so as I got closer to the end I ran faster and faster. I ran the last mile and a half at a 7 minute pace (which is pretty good at the end of a 34 mile run. Good for me anyway). This took 5:35 hours.

On Wednesdays I take the dog out to More Mesa. The run is anywhere from 10~12 miles depending on where I go (the dog probably goes twice as far).

On the 17th I had intended to drive out to Cachuma Saddle and run to McKinnley Peak — but I flew back from my aunt’s 100th birthday on the 16th and got stuck in Chicago for 8 hours and got in too late, so I postponed that adventure until Friday. Only on Friday it was supposed to rain more than an inch. And somehow I did not relish being on a 6000ft peak in a pouring rain (or snow) storm. So, I once again postponed that route.

Instead I decided to do the rest of Camuesa road. I started at Romero trailhead and ran up the old fire road to the top, then down the fire road to the Santa Ynez river, across the river and out to Pendola. Once I got to Pendola I decided to detour out to Big Caliente Spring (I’d never been there before, it only added 5 miles) and then ran from Pendola to where Blue Canyon trail hit the road, then up Blue Canyon trail (across the Santa Ynez) to Romero trail, up the trail and down till I hit the fireroad, and then down that. This would complete the road as I had already run the section of road from Blue Canyon to Mono.

There was water in the river where the road forded it…
Ford
The rain was supposed to start heavily around 12 and I wanted to be across the Santa Ynez (at Blue Canyon) before then — just in case. I felt a few sprinkles around 10 out at Big Caliente, so I hurried, but they stopped. When I got to Blue Canyon trail the “River” looked as dry as it ever does.
Dry Riverbed
There was no water in any of the “stream” crossings along Blue Canyon either. When I got to the top of Romero I was starting to worry that the rain was a hoax, but as I came down the trail it started raining, and then rained hard.

This route took me 6:20 hours.

Camuesa Runs

Camuesa Runs (click to see enlarged map)

On Saturdays I usually take the dog up to Inspiration, but after Friday’s rain I figured Jesusita would be too muddy. So she (the dog) got to go out to More Mesa again. I think she prefers More Mesa (though I don’t). There were even more puddles this time!

Second week
Date Route Mileage Tot
Sun 25 Dec Romero to Divide Peak 35.7 M 35
Tue 27 Dec First Crossing to Santa Cruz Station 38.3 M 73
Wed 28 Dec Home to Inspiration 12.2 M 85
Thu 29 Dec Cold Spring to Santa Ynez River 16.5 M 101
Sat 31 Dec Home to More Mesa 10 M 111
Sat 31 Dec New Year’s Eve sunset beach run 6 M 117

For many years I have done a long run on Christmas Day. It’s a great time to run, there’s no one else out. The weather tends to allow for long runs, and there aren’t many flowers to slow me down. I had intended to run out to Little Pine (by fireroad, the front of Santa Cruz trail is a mess that only Ken Hughes dares to run), and see what the back side of the trail is like — since the fire didn’t burn much on the back side I hoped that section would be passable. But when it rained a lot Friday I didn’t want to deal with muddy landslides (dry landslides might be OK). So… I decided to run out to Divide Peak instead.

I’ve never been all the way to Divide Peak (which is approximately at the Ventura/SB county line and is at the (effective) end of Camino Cielo). The furthest I’ve gone is the top of Franklin Trail.

I ran up Romero Rd again (It took me 3 minutes longer to get to the top than it had on Friday; my legs were getting tired). There was snow visible from the saddle!
snow
Then down the backside to the intersection with Divide Peak road, and out that. Passed Island View trail, passed Franklin Trail… and then the road got really bad… another 3~4 miles took me to Divide Peak.

Divide Peak with Lake Casitas visible in the distance (right) and snow (left)

Divide Peak with Lake Casitas visible in the distance (right)

This route took 8:35 hours, I was tired, and the road was poor.

On Tuesday I finally ran down to Santa Cruz Station. Now I knew that the front side of Santa Cruz trail had been trashed by the Rey fire, but there were large stretches of it that were fine, so I hoped that the back side (where there was less fire) would be fine. I was wrong.

Last week at First Crossing it was possible to avoid getting my feet wet by taking the River trail to Oso. After the rain on Friday the channel had shifted and the River trail was either under water or mud. So I went across the ford.

There was frost on the ground. That water was cold. My feet felt frozen for the next two miles.

I took Camuesa to Buckhorn to Little Pine Rd. to Happy Hollow. Happy Hollow did not look happy.
happy hollow
Nor did the top of Little Pine
little pine summit
The Zaca fire tore through here 9 years ago, and the Rey fire came through in August. Nine years is not long enough to recover. There are poppy forbs growing in the ground, and the grass is returning, but the trees…

At Alexander Saddle there used to be a stand of white-flowered currants (most of our currants are pink, this was the only stand of the white species I knew of). Just sticks are left.
White Flowered Currants

Going down Santa Cruz trail wasn’t bad at first and I got hopeful that it would all be clear … but after a tenth of a mile I came upon the landslide. It was almost unbroken for half a mile. No sign of trail anywhere. Not as bad as the front side — I did not feel I would fall to my death, but I did slip frequently. I needed both hands and feet to clamber across.
Santa Cruz Trail, back side of Little Pine

But after that half mile things were fine. The trail emerged from the burn area and wasn’t much worse than usual (no one’s been on it for 3 months so it’s a bit more overgrown). Little Pine Spring appeared unaffected.

I filled up with water at Santa Cruz creek, and forded it. Wet feet again, but at least the day was warmer now.

I took the fire road out of the Station (I didn’t want to deal with the trail again), FS 6N14. I’ve never taken the road before. I’m not sure I ever will again. It’s four miles straight up. It’s not runable. Not by me after 20 miles anyway. It was also surprisingly hot. It took forever.

Eventually it reached Buckhorn Rd. I ran the next (last) 12 miles in under 2 hours.

I took my shoes off at first crossing, and drove home barefoot.

Total time 8:43 hours.

On Wednesday I took the dog for her run.

I conduct a small experiment before each run… I leave a carrot on my front steps. The dog likes carrots. Normally the dog is so excited by the idea of a run that she will ignore the carrot until we return. She’s not unaware of it (she usually runs over it) and she goes directly to it at the end, but running is just more important (at the start).

Today for the first time, she picked up the carrot. She didn’t eat it, but she carried it around the yard as she ran in excited circles. Finally she dropped it at the front gate and let me put her leash on. As always she went right to it when we got back.

Thursday I ran Cold Spring trail out to the Santa Ynez river. The river isn’t a river here yet. There was some frost heave underfoot, but no puddles of water visible.
Santa Ynez River

Friday Cynthia took me hiking up to see the Gaviota Wind Caves, and on beyond. Or that was the plan. Actually it started raining just as we reached the first cave, so we stopped there and waited it out. Squalls had blown in and out earlier and we assumed this one would pass quickly, but we waited almost an hour.

I quoted Pooh: “It rained, and it rained, and it rained”, and went on to describe how the Wild Woozles who lived at the East Pole took the fur off Pooh’s legs to make their nests…
Wind Cave

Eventually it let up and we proceeded. We passed another set of caves, and just beyond them found (what I believe to be) a Purissima Manzanita.
Purissima Manzanita
This has a CNPS ranking of 1.B1 which is as endangered as you can get without being presumed extinct.

But here it started to rain again, and we decided to call it a day. We’d only hiked a mile in, and it wasn’t a run, so it doesn’t really add to my mileage for the week (but it was neat).

On Saturday I took the dog out to More Mesa again. As usual the dog ignored her carrot at the start, and we took off at a gallop.

It started raining.

This did not deter the dog, it just meant she got muddy. Come to that it didn’t deter me either, though it did make the mesa muddy and that was a bit of an issue.

On the way home the dog found a bone. A rib bone. She was very interested in the bone. Eventually I persuaded her that she could run and carry the bone at the same time. It was only about 2 miles at this point. But sometimes she’d try to chew rather than carry and the bone would slip and we’d have to stop to pick it up again. We came home a bit more slowly that usual. About half a mile from home she spit out the bone and ignored it. Perhaps she was thinking of the carrot waiting for her…

Saturday evening we had our annual New Year’s Eve beach run. And that ended my fortnight.
Daniel & Stephanie

Expected Rainfall… or why you shouldn’t use the mean or standard deviation

November 17, 2016

How much rain do we usually get?

There are three common answers to this: the mean (average), the median (halfway point) and the mode (most common). For a “normal distribution” these three are all the same, but in the case of Santa Barbara’s yearly rainfall they are not.

Mean 18.0 inches
Median 15.3 inches
Mode 13.4 inches

Let us look at the rainfall distribution pattern for Santa Barbara. Here I use the horizontal axis to displaying the number of inches of rain that fell in a year (rounded down to the nearest inch) against the count of the number of years that had that much rain. (These data are available from the county public works department.)

rainfall distribution

Santa Barbara’s historical rainfall data stretches back (patchily) to 1868. All in all there are 145 years of data (as of Nov 2016).

The Mode

The first problem with using the mode is calculating it. SB’s yearly rainfall is reported in hundredths of an inch. This level of precision means it is extremely unlikely that any two years will have exactly the same amount of rainfall, so there is no amount that occurs most frequently.

That, of course, is easily solved by dropping precision and just looking at the number of inches that fell in a year (as I have done in the graph above). But there’s a hidden problem with this method. I lumped years together by having a series of intervals that start at 0. But suppose I started at .5 inches instead? If this were a normal distribution that wouldn’t make much difference, but here…

rainfall distribution offset

The distribution looks quite different now. That tends to argue against the utility of the mode.

Probably if I had several thousands of years of data (and the climate didn’t change in that period) much of this variation would smooth out. But I’ve only got 145 years, and the climate is so variable that this isn’t enough.

Now let’s compare our actual distribution to a normal distribution centered on the mode and with a standard deviation set to the square root of the variation about the mode.

rainfalldistributionwithnormal

They do not look alike. Part of the problem is that there can never be less than no rain, but the normal distribution acts is if there could be. The variation less than the mode is much less than the variation above the mode (a range of 9 inches below, but 35 inches above).

The mechanism I choose to calculate the mode is to create a series of bins, each one inch wide and offset from one another by .1 inches. So the first bin would count all years that had between [0,1) inches, the second bin [.1,1.1), and so forth. Clearly any give year will end up in 10 bins rather than just one (but that’s fine). Then I look for the bin with the most number of years. This method suggests that the mode is at 13.4 inches — or in the bin counting years where the rainfall was between [12.9,13.9) inches.

But this does not produce stable results. Below is a graph showing the mean (blue), median (green), mode (red) of accumulated rainfall as the year progresses (rain years in Santa Barbara start in September).
Mean, Median, Mode (year to date)
(Click on the graph to see a more legible version)

The mean describes a very smooth curve. The median has small bumps, but is pretty smooth. On the other hand the mode dances all over the place with a 10 inch jump in April – from 18 inches down to 8.

Again if I had a much larger sample, presumably these fluctuations would calm a bit, but for the noisy mid-sized dataset I have available the mode does not provide a useful tool.

The Mean

The average is what we usually think of as the best metric for looking at the mid-point of a distribution. But with Santa Barbara’s rainfall it doesn’t work very well.

Because we occasionally get 45+ inches of rain this distorts the mean in a way that is not useful when trying to figure out what a normal year looks like. In fact about 61% of years have less rainfall than the average, which makes the average seem rather unusual.
percentiles

The Standard Deviation

The standard deviation is defined as the square root of the variation about the mean (or as the variation about the point which minimizes the variation — which happens to be the mean).

As the mean isn’t useful to us, one might presume that the standard deviation is also not much use.

However that’s to some extent a question of semantics, we could examine the square root of the variation about the median instead.

Here we once again bump up against the asymmetry of our distribution. There is simply more variation above the median than there is below. Calculating the square root of the variation for rainfall below the median gives a value of 4.5 inches, while that above the median is 11.6, and the combined value is 8.8.

So perhaps we should look at negative and positive variation about the median instead of one combined number?
pos/neg variation about median
(the median is the dark green line, the light green solid lines show the positive and negative “standard deviation”s from the median, and the dashed lines show percentiles)

The negative 1 “standard deviation” line tracks close to the 15th percentile, and the positive 1 “standard deviation line tracks close to the 85th percentile. In a normal distribution the 1 standard deviation lines should track the 15.9th percentile and the 84.1th percentile. So my peculiar definition seems as if would describe the variations of this distribution comparably to the standard definition for a normal distribution.

But it’s so complicated to explain and use, that for most purposes using the median with percentile lines is probably better.

A better viewpoint

My friend Dave suggested looking at the logarithms of the rainfall to see if that revealed a better pattern. And it does.
rainfalldistributionlog
It still isn’t perfect, but the mean and median have moved closer together and the standard deviation is similar on both sides of the mean. The mode is still in the wrong place for a normal distribution.

Mean 16.3 inches
Median 15.3 inches
Mode 13.5 inches

Rey Fire Closure

September 11, 2016

I went for a run out to Mono today, thinking I might run along Camuesa Rd a bit to see if I could reach the edge of the burn area for the Rey Fire. And, of course, I checked with Inciweb and the Los Padres website beforehand to see if there were any closures I needed to worry about. Both of these list a closure order for the Rey Fire that went into effect 25 August and “The order will expire when the Rey Fire is fully contained and controlled.”
° Los Padres
° Inciweb
Containment was officially achieved on Monday 5 Sept.
° Rey Fire, Final Update (Inciweb)

Therefore it seemed to me that there were no bars to examining the Rey Fire.

However when I reached the end of Cold Spring trail (about 20ft from the Mono parking lot). I found this sign.
Closure Sign
Now Mono is about 2 miles from the Rey Fire so even if there were a closure I did not expect Mono to be involved.

So I looked harder and found something else:
° Closure order (Inciweb)
Which claims the area will be closed until 1 Dec 2016.

So DAMN IT if it’s closed until December why claim all over the place that it opens on 5 September?

Take care of the sounds…

September 8, 2016

Louis Carroll’s advice for writing poetry was “Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves.” (An adaption of an earlier phase: “Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves).

But sometimes I have no sense to take care of.

I was out running the other day and noticed that although it was pleasantly cool in the shade it was rather hot in the sun. And a little rhyme popped into my head: “The sun is hot, the air is not.”

I posted this of FB and my brother asked for the rest of the poem.

Of course there was none.

But I went on another run to figure it out. Cot, dot, got, jot, lot… and then Aeroflot popped into my mind.

The sun is hot,
The air is not.
I seem to think that quite a lot
I should fly on Aeroflot.

So that was the first verse of the rest of the poem. Bit like some styles of improv. Take care of the sounds and the nonsense will take care of itself!

But at this point a little sense had to creep in too.

Fly to where the sun is cool,

Um… boules, fool, ghoul, joule, moules, mule! rule, stool

Fly to where the sun is cool,
There I’ll buy a lovely mule.
Hop it up upon a stool,
Bind its legs to make it drool.

Then the question was what to do with the mule or the drool, or even the stool. Well, I could catch the drool in a pail and see where that lead.

Catch the drool within a pail
Add the gris of one big whale
With a little bit of ale
Bind with mucus from a snail
Stir it with an iron nail.

Ale might cause it to ferment into… well into cheese.

Hang it high within the trees
Churn it up to make some cheese
Then I will be at my ease
Won’t you join me, if you please?

But you can’t just ask someone over for cheese, you’d want at least crackers too. What kind of cheese sort of drools?

Crackers now for droolly brie

Probably a drink too. “Tea”. Of course.

When it’s steeped I’ll serve mule tea

I suspect these substances won’t smell too good. Best keep them downwind.

Set them down well to the lee,
Then a toast to you and me!

But the tea had to come from somewhere… I need a new verse. I guess half the drool goes to make tea, and half to make brie. I can’t put it in a pail, but I could use a hat. Suess has a cat in a hat. Carroll has a “grin without a cat”. Macbeth’s witches use “something of bat.” Slices of lemon traditionally go with tea. And tea needs to steep…

Some for this and some for that
Half the drool goes in a hat.
Pinch of tea and grin of cat.
Lemon slice and what of bat.
Let it steep upon a mat.

The name of the poem was going to be “Mule Drool Cheese”, but at this point it seemed more appropriate to call it “Mule Drool Tea” (in the sense of a meal that could include both tea and brie). But perhaps I should call the name Whale Ale Tale

Let’s see…
When the run was over I put it all together and saw it needed some revision. (Well, I’d been revising all along, but it was easier to see what needed it now with it all spread out in one place (I don’t know how Homer managed)). I needed to look up Macbeth to find what of bat went into the cauldron…

Mule Drool Tea

The sun is hot
The air is not.
I seem to think that quite a lot
I should fly on Aeroflot.

Fly to where the sun is cool,
There I’ll buy a lovely mule.
Hop it up upon a stool,
Bind its legs to make it drool.

Drool for this and drool for that
Half the drool goes in a hat.
Pinch of tea and grin of cat.
Lemon slice and wool of bat.
Let it steep upon a mat.

Rest goes in a nice big pail
Add a little bit of ale
Bind with mucus from a snail
Stir it with an iron nail.

Set it out to catch a breeze
Churn it up to make some cheese
Soon you’ll find me at my ease
Won’t you join me, if you please?

Now all’s done I’ll serve mule tea
Crackers too, for droolly brie.
Set them down well to the lee,
Then a toast to you and me!

Anyone for tea?


On my next run, a few days later…

The sun is hot
The air is not.
I seem to think that quite a lot
I should fly on Aeroflot.

Far away where sun’s in fog,
Shall I find a droolly dog?
Just to take him on a jog.
Bet he’ll leap right in a bog.

Then to chase a spotted skunk
Doesn’t care that he’s been stunk
But it sends me in a funk
Back to bog for a new dunk?

Muddy paws and skunky trace,
Dog leaps up to lick my face.
Dog thinks this is heaven’s grace,
I react with some distaste.

Hydrogen per oxygen
Soda and then detergen
Wash the dog within his den
Dry him out and smell him then
Skunky smell is there again.

Next time shall I bring a leash?
Make frogs safe within their niche.