Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter, winter everywhere, at least in the northern climes...

Here's a bit of what the national news is looking like this holiday week:
  • Dec 21: A winter storm is continuing to sweep across large swathes of the US, with heavy snow and strong winds disrupting transport and power.

  • Dec 22: Weathermen say Canada may see its first countrywide white Christmas since 1971.
  • Dec 23: Washington state faces hurricane-force winds and up to 6 inches (15cm) of snow as a storm blows in from the Pacific.

  • The above led me to post what one friend recently sent me that might fit as 'winter humor' coast to coast north of latitude 38*.

    December 11: The 1st snow of the season. The wife & I sat for hours by the window watching the huge flakes drift down from heaven. So romantic we felt like newlyweds again. I love snow!

    December 12: We woke to a beautiful blanket of crystal white snow covering every inch of the landscape. What a fantastic sight! Can there be a lovelier place in the whole world? Moving here was the best idea I've ever had! Shoveled for the first time in years & felt like a boy again. I did both our driveway and the sidewalks. I was surprised when the snowplow came along & blew snow over the sidewalks and closed in the driveway. Oh well, I got to shovel again. What a perfect life! Bob says we'll have so much snow by the end of winter, that I'll never want to see snow again. I don't think that's possible. Bob’s a nice man. I'm glad he's our neighbor.

    December 14: Snow, lovely snow! 8 inches last night. ‘Whew’ the temperature dropped to -20. The cold makes everything sparkle. Wind took my breath away, but I warmed up by shoveling the driveway & sidewalks. This is the life! Surprised again by the snowplow, it came back this afternoon & buried everything again. I didn't realize I would have to do quite this much shoveling, but I'll certainly huff & puff my way back in shape.

    December 15: 20 inches forecast. Sold my van and bought a 4x4 Blazer. Bought snow tires for the wife's car and 2 extra shovels. Stocked the freezer. Wow $$$! The wife wants a wood stove in case the electricity goes out. I think that's silly. After all - we aren't in Alaska.

    December 16: Ice storm this morning. Salting the driveway I fell on my butt. Hurt like hell! The wife laughed for an hour, which I think was very cruel.

    December 17: Still way below freezing. Too icy to go anywhere. Electricity was off for 5 hours. I had to pile the blankets on to stay warm. Nothing to do but stare at the wife and try not to irritate her. Guess I should've bought a wood stove, but won't admit it to her. I hate it when she's right. I can't believe I'm freezing to death in my own living room.

    December 20: Electricity is back on, but had another 14 inches of that damn white stuff last night. More shoveling! Took all day. And guess what!?! The damn snowplow came by twice. Tried to find a neighbor kid to shovel, but they said they're too busy playing hockey. I think they're lying. Called the only hardware store around to see about buying a snow blower and they're out. Might have another shipment in March. I think they're lying. Bob says I have to shovel or the city will have it done and bill me. I think he's lying.

    December 22: Cold, cold, cold!!! Took me 45 minutes to get all dressed up to go out to shovel and then I had to take a whiz. By the time I got undressed, and dressed again. I was too tired to shovel. Tried to hire Bob who has a plow on his truck for the rest of the winter, but he says he's too busy. I think he’s is lying.

    December 23: Only 2 inches of snow today. And it warmed up to 0. The wife wanted me to decorate the front of the house this morning. What is she, nuts?!! Why didn't she tell me to do that a month ago? She says she did but I think she's lying.

    December 24: 6 inches - Snow packed so hard by snowplow, I broke the shovel. Thought I was having a heart attack. If I ever catch the son of a bitch who drives that snow plow!!! I know he hides around the corner and waits for me to finish shoveling, then he comes down the street at a 100 miles an hour & throws snow all over where I've just shoveled! Tonight the wife wanted me to sing Christmas carols with her and open our presents, but I was too busy watching for the damn snowplow.

    December 25: Bah humbug! 20 more inches of slop tonight - The idea of shoveling makes my blood boil. I hate the snow! Then the snowplow driver came by asking for a donation and I hit him over the head & broke my last shovel. The wife says I have a bad attitude. I think she's out of her mind! If I have to watch "It's A Wonderful Life" one more time, I'm going to stuff her into the microwave.

    December 26: Still snowed in. Why in blazes did I ever move here? It was all HER idea. She's really getting on my nerves.

    December 27: Temperature dropped to -30 and the pipes froze; plumber came after 14 hours of waiting for him, he only charged me $1,400 to replace all my pipes.

    December 28: 10 more inches. Bob says I have to shovel the roof or it could cave in. That's the silliest thing I ever heard. How dumb does he think I am?

    December 30: Roof caved in. Just found out - the snow plow driver is suing me for a million dollars. The wife went home to her mother. Nine more inches predicted.

    December 31: I set fire to what's left of the house. No more shoveling.

    January 1: Feel so good. I just love those little white pills they keep giving me but why am I tied to the bed?

    That certainly brought a chuckle to me. Remember, a good sense of humor will get you through more problems than a quick temper. No matter if you are traveling, shopping, prepping, cooking, or wishing for all of the above, the holidays are always challenging on some level. Take a deep breath, relax a bit and remember 'we're all in this together'...

    Ho, ho, ho... Foster

    Holiday Stress Relief tips: http://sbinfocanada.about.com/od/timemanagement/a/holidaystress.htm

    And another: http://www.goodhealth.com/articles/2008/12/10/holiday_stress_relief

    Other thoughts: http://www.stress-relief-for-well-being.com/holiday-stress-relief.html

    Hey, wait a minute - I'm an aging parent too: http://www.prweb.com/releases/aging_parents/holiday_stress_relief/prweb484091.htm

    Sunday, December 21, 2008

    Explanation of the previous post...

    As an explanation of the previous post...well, were gonna' blame it on cousin Jane of Tapteil fame. It all happened after she & Larry sent us an "Elf Yourself" dance. And, well, one thing led to another and after a number of false starts we have our own version of Nautical, Hillbilly, Christmas Elves (or N.H.C.E.s for those of you versed in the incident command system).
    Anyway, ho, ho, ho - hope you enjoy...
    Clementine, Catherine, Bos'n, Kenapak & Foster

    Christmas elf hillbilly hoe-down...

    Send your own ElfYourself eCards

    Saturday, December 20, 2008

    The longest night of the year, 2008...

    In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice occurs on December 21, 2008 at 4:04 AM Pacific Standard Time. That makes tonight, December 20th the longest night of this year. Thankfully at this latitude tomorrow's daylight will be about two minutes longer.

    "Yule, is when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half. Starting the next morning at sunrise, the sun climbs just a little higher and stays a little longer in the sky each day. Known as Solstice Night, or the longest night of the year, much celebration was to be had as the ancestors awaited the rebirth of the Oak King, the Sun King, the Giver of Life that warmed the frozen Earth and made her to bear forth from seeds protected through the fall and winter in her womb. Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were "wassailed" with toasts of spiced cider."- Yule Lore

    Lets take a gander at what a much more popular writer has to say on the topic;

    Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening...
    by Robert Frost
    Whose woods these are I think I know,
    His house is in the village though.
    He will not see me stopping here,
    To watch his woods fill up with snow.

    My little horse must think it queer,
    To stop without a farmhouse near,
    Between the woods and frozen lake,
    The darkest evening of the year.

    He gives his harness bells a shake,
    To ask if there is some mistake.
    The only other sound's the sweep,
    Of easy wind and downy flake.

    The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.

    -- Robert Frost

    Below: One of my rare poems embedded over a photograph I took of winter's sunrise along Toroda Creek in the Okanogan Highlands.

    Double click on the image to open in a larger format;

    Tomorrow we will wassail a birch log wrapped in twine and draped in green bough and red willow. Tucked under the twine will be notes of wishes, hopes & prayers for the coming year. Once the yule log is in the fire we will read the copies of the notes burned with last years log. We will toast the coming of light and longer days and later in the evening we will ignite a bonfire and enjoy it's heat in a night destined to be just two minutes shorter on each end than the previous night.
    May old man winter be kind to you too...

    Friday, December 19, 2008

    How did my day go yesterday?

    Great! Glad you asked...
    First unit on scene did a quick size up & was ready to report
    when I arrived moments later. Pumps were running, recycling water through the live-hose systems & back into the tanks to keep them from freezing.

    By the time the second engine company was briefed we had made contact with the owner/builder & developed an understanding the type of construction we were dealing with.

    The blaze appeared to have started from a chimney fire in the stove pipe of the wood burning shop stove. The fire was between the inner ceiling & sheet steel roof. The RV would not start and we had nothing big enough to pull it through the snow. That created a 'save it all or lose it all' situation.

    Our plan made quick use of the ladder and scaffolding the owner had nearby. After assuring the electrical power was off, firefighters rapidly engaged the fire, taking care to keep the essential fire hoses & nozzles from freezing. It was about 10* above zero.

    Heat was building and fire began to show all along the roof line, in some cases burning through the soffits. We were getting close to a critical point and had to catch this as quickly as possible if we were to catch it at all.

    The firefighters were on task. Using portable screw guns we managed to gain interior access to the fire & start suppression activities while firefighters on the outside of the structure used chainsaws and fire axes to gain access through the upper walls.
    Within an hour of arriving on scene we had control of the fire and saved the greater portion of the building. Mop-up took a few hours more.
    All in all 16 firefighters, including two as mutual aid from nearby Republic Fire Department, four additional EMTs, five suppression apparatus and one standby ambulance engaged this emergency call.

    Unique situations surrounding this fire:

    1. Winter conditions; which challenged access, operations, and equipment.

    2. Remote location (common in our fire district). We use tenders as portable hydrants carrying our water in bulk to support pumpers & engines.

    3. Excellent construction techniques held fire in place and increased our chances of success.

    4. Owner/builder present and had speciality tools we don't normally carry on apparatus (scaffolding, portable screw guns, etc).

    How did we meet the challenges:

    1. Immediately established command under ICS (Incident Management System).

    2. Command assigned Safety Officer(s) to establish safety control of scene.

    3. Closely monitored firefighters and command staff for fatigue, stress and exposure and mitigated accordingly.

    4. Keep the water moving; either onto the fire/structure or recycling into the tank. We did have one pump go down to the cold when someone mistakenly shut down a nozzle, but managed to fix it back at the station.

    Okay, signing off here now - remember as the cold weather continues stay safe with the use of fire, heaters, stoves, heat tape, extension cords and the like. If it seems unsafe, its probably better not to take the risk.


    PS photos by members of Curlew Fire Department (none by me)

    If you're interested in winter firefighting here are a couple links to research.
    Firehouse.com http://cms.firehouse.com/web/online/Firefighting-Strategy-and-Tactics/Winter-Firefighting/14$6955

    From FIRE RESCUE http://www.firerescue1.com/fire-attack/tips/328348-Cold-weather-firefighting-tips/

    Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    Long nights & cold weather...

    At mid December it is sometimes hard to remember we are in the later days of autumn and not truly winter. In fact the winter solstice is on December 21st this year (still several days to come) & marks the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. As mentioned in an earlier posting on this blog, winter weather often precedes the actual season of winter in the northern climes. Such is definitely the case when we read the headlines of this weeks news...
    From the Associated Press: "More wintry weather was forecast across the nation Wednesday, with rain, snow and sleet predicted along both coasts and cold temperatures expected there and in between”. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081217/ap_on_we_us/weatherpage_weather_7
    From the L.A. Times: “Southern California may see sub-freezing temperatures” http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-winterstorm16-2008dec16,0,5944342.story?track=rss
    From the AFP: “Crews struggle to restore power in ice-covered US northeast” http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20081215/wl_afp/usweatherstorm;_ylt=AsMhDewUMehkaoNMp4GGqjJoWrEF
    From Seattle P.I. “Schools, roads closed as snow, ice move in” http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/392582_weather18.html?source=rss
    In fact as I look at the national weather map for this late autumn morning the highest temperature reported across the continental United States is 79* on the southern tip of Florida. Even my ex-home state of Texas is reporting under 50* on it’s southernmost tip – and that’s cold down there!
    Here, on the Kettle River, the thermometer has been hovering around zero degrees.

    I recently walked outside from a warm, cozy cabin into the very early (read dark) hours of the morning and was somewhat startled at how cold it was. If you stop & think, until you are actually having the re-experience, its hard to remember exactly how cold zero degree (or less) feels on your bare skin, or breathed deep into your lungs. In those early morning moments I occasionally ask myself, 'how far could I walk, dressed just like this, before the cold stopped me?' Usually that thought provokes a shudder, especially if I've just stepped outside in my slippers & sweats to retrieve wood for the stove. I soon retreat back to my island of warmth and comfort.
    A cold snap in winter weather reminds me that we are quite fragile creatures and depend on functioning support systems to be comfortable in these conditions. The above brought to mind a passage in Jack Nisbet’s MAPMAKER’S EYE, a book of David Thompson’s explorations on the Columbia Plateau. There is an except from a letter explorer Thompson wrote dated December 21, 1810 when he was winter camped along the Canoe River in what is now British Columbia, Canada. Thompson says, “I am getting tired of such constant hard journeys; for the last 20 months I have spent only barely two months under the shelter of a hut, all the rest has been in my tent, and there is little likelihood the next 12 months will be much otherwise.” David Thompson was a long way from my slippers and comfortable cabin which is now, 200 years later on the banks of the Kettle River, protecting me from the winter-like conditions.
    Here are a few photographs in study of the winter weather landscape.

    This lone cottonwood, draped in snow provides some framing of the cold morning river when the temperatures are below zero and the rising mists hide much of the shoreline. The promise of a cold sunrise is within the pink cloud to the west.

    This image is titled WAUCONDA SNOW. Again a cold winter weather landscape. Mists rising due to the temeprature difference between the ground & very cold artic air which has moved in from the north.

    ASPEN SNOW, an image captured in the Okanogan Highlands is another cold day photograph when the air is crisp, cold and invigorating. The winter landscape makes for good photography.

    I'll close this posting with a photo of the 'cold' winter sun. Barely lifting above a distant ridge line and hardly able to shine through the thick clouds of December. This image is titled, TORODA MORNING as the location is Toroda Creek, NE Okanogan County, Washington state.

    Thats it for now - hope your cold weather support systems are working smoothly this morning. Mine are. And remember – winter doesn’t actually start for a few more days…


    Saturday, December 13, 2008

    December 2008 Moon Illusion...

    Did you notice the near full moon rise on the 11th of this month? If so you may have witnessed a "moon illusion"(see links below). I did! Where the moon seemed twice as big in the sky as it normally does. I've noted this phenomena before and many years ago had been told it occurred from looking at an object on the horizon magnified through the breath of the atmosphere. A little recent inter-net research and the answer seems more vague than ever. And maybe that's a good thing. Simple answers oft times lead us to simple solutions and often simple solutions aren't really what we need to solve problems, gain knowledge or accomplish other tasks in this world. In fact simple solutions often lead us down the wrong road as the problems multiply themselves. Hmm, thinking about the moon can be a lofty thing.

    In any case here's a photograph of that moon illusion I mentioned above. The image was captured near Wauconda, Washington. The ridge in the middle ground of the photo is approximately 4,500 feet above sea level and the time is 1530:hours (3:30:pm) Thursday, 12.11.08. This mountain slope is now, two days later, under a foot of snow. And somewhere behind the cold, dark clouds sitting over this river home is a near full moon shining, but we won't see it tonight.

    Hope your December is going well. Remember to get out there, look up in the sky and if your lucky enough to see that full moon you might even get the urge to howl...

    Regardless of its elevation, the distance between an observer (at the center of the horizontal line) and the moon remains constant (unfilled circles)

    Kaufman L., Kaufman J. H. PNAS 2000;97:500-505

    As a late edition to this posting; a note from friend Arthur Emery: "It may not have been a complete illusion either..."http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article5332018.ece

    Other links...





    Sunday, December 7, 2008

    Remembering an old mountain man...

    Often for me the holiday season is a time of remembering. Such was the case when my daughter, Rose Morningstar, recently sent me a digital video of a virtuoso harmonica performance by Buddy Greene at Carnegie Hall (please see embedded video below and if it takes a bit to load and play it is worth your patience). As I told my daughter "Mr Greene takes me back many years to when I was a young man - 1974 on the Olympic Peninsula. " We lived next door to the Lake Quinault, North Shore, Olympic National Park Ranger Station on Amundi Creek. It was a period of my life when I was doing a lot of mountaineering and the Olympics were a grand place to do so.

    In 1938 President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation creating this national park. In the process there was quite a bit of local resistance against the formation of the park. Illegal logging, poaching, & squatting continued long into the latter part of last century. In part due to local resistance to the establishment of the park, a number of in-holdings of private property were surveyed into the over-all park boundary. It was on one of these in-holdings, high above the Quinault river valley, far off the grid where I met Luther Clark. Luther was an old WWI vet. If I remember correctly he told me he was the same age as the year. That would have made him 14 when the war broke out. Like many young males of his time Luther lied about his age and within a couple of years found himself in the trenches of Europe. But that is not what this story is really about. Let me summarize to say while overseas Luther learned how to play harmonica.

    To bring this back into perspective I'll mention my introduction to Luther Clark. Word had it he was a tough, old fella'. Living alone, deep in the foothills of this vast, coastal mountain range, in the most prolific rain forest of the continental United States (receiving over 150 inches of rain annually). Luther had no electricity. Oil lamps were his only night lights. Running water consisted of one of the many streams flowing out of these unique mountains. His cabin was a combination of rough, hand hewn logs with scabbed together scrap & salvaged lumber and hand split, moss covered, cedar shakes. His pick-up truck was in a semi-cinstant state of disrepair, and his contact with the outside world was with people like the guy who took me up there for the first time, "just to check on the old fart and see if he's still alive".

    In the early 70's you could still purchase a gallon jug of tap beer from the Quinault tavern if you supplied the jug - cost, $1.00. We had several in the back of our truck as Luther was fond of beer. Indeed Luther was a hard edged, cantankerous, and crusty old vet. While he didn't seem very fond of our company, interrupting his busy day as we were, he did enjoy the beer. The guy who I rode with had a guitar and knew Luther enjoyed hearing music. So he played. After a couple of songs my friend asked if I had my 'harp' with me (blues nomenclature for harmonica). I did and when it came out of my fatigue pocket Luther's interest noticeably picked up. I've been a fair player since finding myself in the company of harmonicas in the late 60's. And we whipped out a couple of contemporary blues tunes (since neither of us knew any thing else). A pause for a sip from the jug and Luther asks me, "Whatcha' got there?" pointing to the harp in my hand.
    "A harmonica," I said thinking I was answering his question.
    "Why you dumb little @*%$," he exclaimed cussing like a soldier in the trenches. "I know what a @&$#ing harmonica is. What key is it? Whats the brand?"
    Well it turns out Luther wants to play my harp. Now this isn't like passing a guitar around the room. A harmonica is something that gets full of saliva, spittle and, well you get the picture. Hesitantly I agreed. Luther looked the harmonicia over closely, reading the embossed brand & notations. He played his way up and down the scales for a moment, then paused. He took a deep breath... The repertoire he launched into dropped the jaws of both myself and the guitarist. Luther played the most beautiful classical music on this cheap little blues harp. I was dumbfounded. Never before had I heard such sounds come from a harmonica. Mr. Clark must have played three or four numbers and when he was done he started to hand the harp back to me.
    "It is yours," I said, still a bit dazzled from what I had just heard.
    No it isn't," Luther argued, "it belongs to you."
    "If I could play it like you do it would be mine. It is yours," I told him again. I can't remember how long we argued about the ownership of the harp but when I left the harp stayed. I took with me a much bigger gift than that of the harmonica. A memory of an amazing man, and fantastic music in such an unlikely place. A memory that was so recently triggered in me by the video which follows...
    I hope you deeply enjoy your gift giving this month...


    Tuesday, December 2, 2008


    While we all know December is the twelfth and final month of the Gregorian calendar and the first month of winter what we may not recall is this 12th month derives it's name from the Latin word "decem", meaning ten. December was the tenth month of the oldest Roman calendar. So over the course of time we have changed 10 to 12 in our measurement of the months.

    Here are a few December photographs you might enjoy...

    Photo #1: December on Boulder Summit: The actual location is in the Kettle River Range, the summit of Boulder/Deer Creek (just east of the pass). Early winter snow is covering the alpine fir and needle less larch. A cold & misty late afternoon light has descended hiding the mountain peak.
    Photo #2: December on the Kettle River: December can be a misty month if the temperatures remain near or above freezing. Wet snow falls in the cold of the night only to be warmed and give off moisture during the slightly warmer days. Makes for moody photographs.

    Photo #3 Wauconda Barn: Located in Okanogan County this old barn, built in 1884 by Henry Van Brunt, sits directly behind the Wauconda Hall and is scenic in all weather. In this photograph it is captured in stark contrast to the winter’s snow and a cold, icy haze...

    Photo #4: December's Truck: An old abandoned truck, home to chipmunks & small birds slowly fades into forgotten memory in the Okanogan Highlands.

    May all your year long chores be completed soon bringing rest & respite to the end of the year month.

    More about December...

    December 2008
    Universal Human Rights Month
    6 - St. Nicholas Day (International)
    7 - Pearl Harbor Day (United States)
    8 - Bodhi Day - Buddha's Enlightenment (Buddhist)
    8 - Eid al-adha (Islamic, Muslim)
    12 - Virgin of Guadalupe (Mexico)
    13 - Santa Lucia Day (Sweden)
    16-25 - Las Posadas (Mexico)
    22 - Hanukkah* (Jewish)
    22 - Winter Solstice (Dec 22-Mar 20)
    25 - Christmas (Christian, Roman Catholic, International)
    26 - Boxing Day (Canada, United Kingdom)
    26 - Kwanzaa (African-American - Dec. 26, 2005 - Jan 1, 2006)
    31 - New Year's Eve (United States, International)