In Which I Talk to the Thunderstorms

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Thunderstorms are great majestic beasts. If you had never seen one or heard of one in your life, imagine your surprise if a lovely peaceful day suddenly clouded up. Then it started to rain. Then it was pelting down hail. Then a blinding bolt of lightning blew your ears off … you’d think the world had gone mad.

We accept them without thinking because we know them. But truly, what an unpredictable and magnificent thing for nature to manufacture out of a clear, beautiful sky and a pinch of sun and water. As you may know, I think that thunderstorms and other emergent phenomena (tornadoes, hurricanes, El Niño, East Pacific fair-weather gale) along with other phenomena act as a homeostatic regulator of the global temperature.

So I thought I’d tell a story that start and ends with thunderstorms. This was in … mmm … maybe 2007, in the Solomon Islands (near the Equator above Australia.) This is the story of the tropical wedding of my friend Mike’s son. It begins in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, on the island of Guadalcanal.

The Point Cruz Yacht Club (above) is misnamed, as much more drinking than boating goes on there. Mike and I would be happy to say that we are members only so we can use the boat ramp. Except we’re honest men, so we can’t say that …

On a beautiful morning, up before tropical dawn. Looking forward to a ninety-mile (150 km) boat run on the water. Drive to the yard, and hitch up the boat trailer. Sky perfectly clear everywhere … except in the medium distance, between the launch ramp and the nearest island, sat one lone renegade thunderstorm that had refused to die the night before. I reckon it was night-adapted, and peacefully grazing on the energy where some warm ocean currents met.

Think of thunderstorms as great grazing dinosaurs that feed off of warmth. They move in the direction of warmer areas. Warm areas of the ocean are low-pressure areas, so the grazing thunderstorms are moved in the direction of warmth by pressure differences. As long as they have fuel for their massive thermodynamic engines (they act as a refrigeration cycle heat engine), they will persist.  Curiously, this usually means that they must move to survive. After a while in one spot, they’ve sucked out all the energy they can. Like sharks, they have to keep moving to stay alive.

We put the boat in just before sunrise, floated off the trailer, and headed west. Things were going swimmingly, we ran at thirty mph (50 kph) for about an hour, the boat was feeling good. We’re running towards the thunderstorm. I’m wondering how it made it through the night. Thunderstorms are heat engines, they usually die out after dark. But temperatures had been running warm, with thunderstorms until well after midnight. Definitely, this was the only cloud in sight.

Then the alarm goes off, “Low oil reserve”. Say what? Oil injected two-stroke engine, pretty new, we check the oil reservoir, it’s working perfectly. Full to the brim. The engine is running well, but we decide to err on the side of caution and come back to port. Looks like we’re flying out west to the wedding. Better than drifting out to sea for the wedding. Ah, well, it was another part of life’s rich pageant and a beautiful part indeed. In the morning I thought the dawn thunderstorm would build up with the day, but to my surprise, it faded quickly with the morning warmth. Always something new to see. Any morning spent messing about in a small boat on a vast island-studded ocean is a very good morning.

Plus I got to fly over and around the thunderstorms in addition to boating under and around them. What’s not to like?

So, we flew to the wedding in the afternoon. By then, the afternoon buildup of thunderstorms was underway. We flew between them because small inter-island planes don’t dare go inside one. The power of the internal winds is immense, with air rocketing upwards in the core of the storm. The clear areas of slowly downwelling smooth air between the storms are where the pilots go.

The airstrip is on a tiny, exactly one small-airplane airstrip-sized island just offshore from the town of Gizo. See the water at the far end of the grass and coral airstrip? From there it’s a short boat ride to town.

Gizo is also small, about five thousand people. Despite that, it’s the second-largest city in the country, which tells you something about the Solomon Islands. It is a seaside provincial capital in a country where everyone travels by canoes large and small. The town stretches a couple of km along the harborside on both sides of a single road, with calm clear water everywhere in the harbor. On the sea-side of the one unpaved road are mostly Chinese shops. These are built on land and extend out over the water on pilings. Along the waterfront are boats of all sizes, from the inter-island trading ships at the main wharf to the small paddle and sailing canoes tied up everywhere from the main market to the far end of town.

When we got to Gizo everybody knew about the wedding. All the guys in the boat taking us from the airstrip to town knew about the wedding. People at the hotel hailed us. The wedding is the event of the season. For me, a rare chance of watching the social whirl while being outside of it. I’m well-known in that town, I lived for three years on a nearby island, I’m some kind of custom uncle to the groom. Mike’s lived in Gizo on and off for twenty years.

The wedding, like all island weddings, was a long, complex affair. Mike (the father of the groom) and I had absolutely nothing to do with putting it together. It was all “sait blong Meri” (“side belong Mary”), which means women’s business. So his wife was in charge. We were just out-of-town guests. Mike’s house is atop a hill overlooking the harbor and the endless ocean. It’s up the hill to the right, out of the picture above. You can see over a dozen islands from his house. It has a roofed second-story verandah all around the house, tropical style. We sat up on his verandah watching the wedding preparations fall apart and come together. When we got there they were putting stakes in the ground to hold up the bunting at the entrance to the reception.

Now, everything in the South Pacific islands happens by consensus. As a result, we watched as it took an ever-changing assembly to put a small waist-high stake in the ground. No sledgehammer, of course, so they found a stone. Much laughter among the relatives, comments and speculations, and jokes about still being in the Stone Age. Mike’s from Iowa, his wife is from Choiseul Island in the Solomons. After the stone didn’t work, Mike’s oldest son, about 35 now, a bear of a man, came up with what looked like the gearbox of a long-dead bike, gears and all. More laughter. He gave the stake a few strokes of the gearbox. Just enough to show how easy it is. At least it’s easy if you have biceps the size of my thighs, as he does. He then handed the gearbox to some younger guy, probably a relative, and walked away. His part was done.

The younger relative staggered. The gearbox was much heavier than it looked. He quickly set it on the ground to think things over. This was followed by a lengthy discussion among the assembled stake advisory group. The talk was about where and how the stake should be placed. All of this was intermittently audible from where we were drinking up on the verandah. Different folks squat and look at the stake. Under their direction, the gearbox man pulls the stake back to vertical. He gives it a stroke. Then they decide it’s in the wrong place. It is pulled up. Then it is held up in several places, to much discussion. They finally settle on a spot a few inches from where it started.

Then the gearbox man gets the nod. He’s young and strong, but clearly not a man to make weighty decisions like when to whack a stake without a nod. He gives the stake a few more strokes and sets the gearbox down again. The sun blazes. Someone (not the gearbox man) pulls the stake back to vertical. More laughter. More strokes. Now, clearly, the stake is almost deep enough to hold. The question of whether it is in fact deep enough to hold brings much hilarity and extended discussion. The decision is finally made for a few more strokes of the gearbox.

Unfortunately, during the discussion, the gearbox man has walked away to do something else. After time and further discussion, another man is selected, and he picks up the gearbox. Another couple of strokes. More discussion. Finally, the verdict is in. The stake is good, and everyone is satisfied. For now. And next … next, Mike and I opened another beer, and watched them put in the second stake.

All this time, a constantly changing cast of lovely folks has joined and left the stake advisory group. In the South Pacific, the number of advisors rises proportionally to the complexity of the problem. This second stake had the additional need of being level at the top with the first stake, as well as parallel to the first stake. With the added challenge of being both level and parallel added to the stake problem, a larger group of advisors was inevitable. The opinions of people walking past were solicited and discarded. Soon, it was clear that there were factions developing among the advisory group. Some advised moving the first stake. Someone would tilt the stake to the right, and then someone else would tilt it back to the left. Another couple of blows with the gearbox.

And all of this is accompanied by the laughter, the comments, and the total lack of any sense of hurry that makes the South Pacific such a great place to live. Yes, it did take a group that varied between three and ten people at least an hour to drive two stakes in soft soil … but I tell you it was an hour spent in joyful pursuit of a social interaction that had absolutely nothing to do with productivity. It was a pleasure and an honor to have the opportunity to watch them contribute their part to making a fun reception for everyone. Mike and I opened another beer.

Mike’s kids and their in-laws were out in full force. Every single one was there. The oldest son is in from his house on the island the holy man gave to Mike. The groom. Mike’s youngest daughter, who is a lawyer. His most traditional son and his wife are in from his wife’s family’s ancestral village on Choiseul island (and now his village, because he married in rather than marrying out). Mike’s two youngest sons (aged 21 and 24) are there, and his oldest daughter and her husband and kids. Scads of grandchildren. People had already built the floors of the pavilions for the groom’s and bride’s parties on the hillside outside Mike’s house. They rolled out some tarps, and they started to wire up some lights so they could work after dark … but by then it was heading towards dark, and people had put in a full day. Then everyone went home.

The work wasn’t done, and the wedding was going to be the next day, and the lights weren’t wired. I scratched my head … Mike and I had another beer, and watched the sun set into the ocean.

Then, this being the South Pacific, after a couple of hours a half-dozen guys came back. To the accompaniment of much joking and horseplay, we watched from the verandah as they wired up the lights after dark using flashlights … I nodded my head.

South Pacific style. Don’t wire up the lights when you have sunlight. Wire them by flashlight. Mike had another beer. When the lights were finally wired up, they continued working into the night, laughing and putting the tarps up over the floors in case of rain.

The next morning they had the wedding. Assuming that our compadres would find us there, and assuming that a stiff drink was likely the proper foundation on which to start such an auspicious day, the father of the groom and I wandered down to the bar of the only hotel in town. Finding both assumptions perfectly true, we sat on the second story with our friends. That’s it on the top left.

Gizo Hotel

We watched what seemed like the entirety of the little town stream by on their way to the church. It was 10 AM, and already smoking hot. I had on my suit, but I hadn’t put on the coat and tie. The wedding was to start at 11:00AM.

So we sat overlooking the wharf. A whole passel of kids, kids all the colors of the rainbow, took advantage of a ship with a high bow. They were climbing up the ropes from the dock and jumping into the sea. The boat’s crew worked and watched. I sat sweating in my suit, envying the kids. At 11:00, one of Mike’s sons called us to make our appearance. I tied my tie, put on my suit coat, and went out to face the music. We walked the few blocks to the church. It was very hot by eleven.

Source: Gizo Hospital Foundation

Of course, this being the South Pacific, it was a false alarm. They weren’t ready for the father of the groom. But about then his wife drove up with their pickup truck. She parked it across from the church and we got in and sat in air-conditioned splendor watching the folks arrive. Finally, they did require the father and mother of the groom. At which point they went to get pictures taken. The bride looked ravishing, everyone was duded to the max. All four of the groomsmen were Mike’s sons. The angelic-looking young ring bearer was his grandson. And no angel in real life, I assure you.

A charming gentleman was at the front of the church. He asked which family I’m with. I said the groom’s family. He directed me to the left side. I found a spot directly under a fan.

But this is the South Pacific. So after a while the same man came up to me and called me by name … no idea how he knew it, I’d never seen him. He said he’s sorry, but I’m on the wrong side. I look around, he’s right. I get up, go round, and find a spot near a fan on the other side. I continue to sweat.

All the dignitaries were there. The Premier of the Province. Provincial Members. The local holy man who gave Mike an island was there. His eyeballs always look like they might spin like pinwheels at any moment. Interesting guy. The church was jammed, packed to the rafters, with people standing outside and people looking through the windows.

The officiating minister gave an alternately impassioned and inaudible sermon, with the impassioned part blasting out of the poor overdriven church speakers in an almost incoherent stream. We stood. We cooked in our suits and formal dresses. We sang. We sweated. We sat. We perspired. The pastor said that the institution of marriage had been created to save man from the sin of adultery. I could feel my brain cells dying from that conundrum.  We said “amen” as necessary. We watched the groom sweat in his immaculate white suit. Mercifully and to general relief, it was over and none too soon. Everyone streamed out laughing and fanning themselves with the programs.

The next three hours were consumed with setting up for the reception. The hot stone motu-cooked food was brought to the central location. It had been cooked in a pit earlier in the day, first lots of hot rocks from the fire, then a layer of banana leaves, put in all the good kaikai wrapped up, pigpig and dalo and kumara and banana pudding. More banana leaves, a layer of soil, job’s done, more beer. Now those were all dug up and brought in. Last-minute adjustments were made to the bunting, it was indeed both level and parallel. The wedding cake was set up under the cake tent. People started streaming in, every family bringing one and often two big trays full of food. People milled around, talking story, laughing, and chasing flies off the food.

Since it was almost time, Mike and one of his many sons and I went down to pick up the holy man, who leads a flock of maybe 5,000 people in villages scattered around North New Georgia Island. He is in fact a British OBE as well as being very strange. His title is the “Holy Mama“. He’s bought an old dive boat that he travels and lives on. I went on board. It’s like a floating village. I mean it’s just like a village, people sitting around, things hanging everywhere, boxes scattered around on deck, general disarray, bunches of fruit hanging off of the winches. There he was, chewing betel nut and with his hair totally frizzed out. He remembered who I was from three years before. He got in the truck with his people, and Mike’s son and I rode in the back of the truck up the rocky, rutted hill to the wedding. The Holy Mama got out and was led to his easy chair. Notable people sat in plastic chairs, there were enough chairs for maybe forty people, and hundreds of others stood or sat on the ground.

When everyone had arrived the speeches began. The Master of Ceremonies was the groom’s maternal uncle. He’s the highest-ranking man in that branch of the family. Entranced with the sound of his voice, he spoke to himself, too softly to hear, and even those who could hear him were not paying attention. The PA system wasn’t much help either, but with maybe three hundred people there, all of them wanting to talk to each other, the PA system didn’t really have a chance.

He was followed by the father of the bride. I wandered around in the crowd, sometimes able to hear the speaker, sometimes not. I drifted around the tables where some food was already placed. When I came around the far side, I found a long string of kids. They were sitting on a very long, low bench made of boards laid on beer crates in one long row. I could see why the kids liked it—you could hear the PA system, you could see everyone at the bride’s and groom’s tables from there, plus you could see all the people in the chairs and standing round. It was perfect for people-watching, the kids knew it. I exchanged greetings with the kids in Solomon Islands Pijin, “Iufala hao?” (You fellow how?) I said. “Oh, mifala oraet.” (Oh, me fellow all right).

“Hemi oraet sapos mi sitdaon long hia wetim iufala?” I asked them. (Him he all right suppose me sit down long here with him you fellow?”). “Hemi oraet”, they replied in chorus. I sat down at the end of the row of kids to watch the show.

After the bride’s father finished his speech, the MC gave a rambling monologue and turned it over to Mike, the father of the groom. He gave a much more rambling and slightly inebriated monologue about family. He thanked everyone, he mentioned a whole bunch of people in particular, pointing them out in the crowd, but they were hard to see.

Then he mentioned my name ’cause I’m an uncle to the groom and all and pointed me out. At that moment, I realized I had overlooked a serious problem with sitting in a good place for people-watching.

If I can see everyone, everyone can see me.

Everyone in the seats looks over at me. The dignitaries under the tents and the bride and grooms tent all stop talking to look at the only adult sitting in the sun on a twelve-inch high bench with an entire row of school kids, wearing shorts on a short bench with my knobby white guy knees sticking up in the air, the crazy gringo, me. People standing up behind the seats look over at me.

Heck, even the whole row of my traitorous six- to ten-year-old ex-friends, at the end of whose line I had been chatting in peaceful harmony, turn as one child and look at me, their eyes wide. I tip my hat and smile to one and all, pull the brim down over my eyes, and studiously consider the makeup of the local soil until Mike mentions other people in the family and the carnival moves on …

I laughed about that as I drifted back through the crowd. Timing is everything, I thought. I went back up to the second story verandah. I could feel a thunderstorm brewing. The MC kept MCing, and he had almost gotten to the food part when the father of the bride decided he wanted to talk again. I could smell the rain coming. A thunderstorm acts like a refrigerator. A cold rain falls, accompanied by a vertical cold wind entrained with the rain. When that cold wind hits the ground it spreads out away from the foot of the thunderstorm. It blows out over the surrounding area, you can smell it—it smells of the rain and the cold upper atmosphere. My nose said the rain was coming, and the father of the bride wanted to talk some more. Finally, he gave up the microphone, and the multitude was loosed on the tables of food. I heard a couple more peals of thunder.

Now, there were three serving tables, which the MC had decided were:

  • Table One for the honored guests to get their food.
  • Table Two was no pork (for the Christian Seventh Day Adventist folks).
  • Table Three included pork dishes.

But he announced this in a very confusing and inaudible way, and he was wrong anyhow, so everyone lined up for table 3 and the line stretched until forever … I didn’t go down, I sat on the verandah and watched … drank some more beer. Some people got some food and sat down to eat. Food was delivered to the bride and groom’s table and they began to eat.

Meanwhile, I could see the thunderstorm bearing down on us. In the afternoon, thunderstorms like to walk off the ocean and up the sides of islands, drawn by the hot rising air over the land. I could feel the thickening of the air, and the rise in humidity before the rain, sure signs it was real close. Breaking my vow not to try to influence events in any direction, I went downstairs and out to the groom’s table and asked the groom’s mother if she realized that the thousands of dollars worth of wedding presents were approaching inundation. She said yes. I said OK. I had given the happy couple cash in hand, so I wasn’t worried, my present was safe. I went back up topside to the verandah to watch things unfold. Meanwhile, the lightning and thunder had gotten closer.

Soon the first raindrops came. Fortunately, it started out light. This gave people a bit of warning. One of the groom’s sisters started to move presents. Some other people joined her, and as the rain increased, the tempo increased. Just as the last presents made it under the house, the sky burst open, pelting rain, with lightning and thunder blasting insanely close by all around. Half a second or less from the flash to the boom. It was so overpowering that a few people just covered their heads and whimpered at the intensity of the storm, but most everyone jumped up and vanished. Disappeared. It was amazing how fast people could move when impelled by driving rain, lightning, and thunder. Within about ten minutes, all of the people, the entire wedding party were gone. Not only that, but every scrap of food on the place had vanished as well. Nothing left for a forlorn wet village dog who was the only living creature still braving the rain. All the food that had been put on the serving tables had been picked up on the fly as people fled the storm, boxes were emptied into cars, assorted pig parts snatched up on the run. Every woman had found her own pots or plates, they folded it up and vanished. The family stayed, the folks under the tarps were ok, but the tent over the wedding cake was starting to go, and it was only screened in on the sides. Two young guys grabbed a tarp and wrapped it around the tent to keep the cake dry. Then, in best South Pacific fashion, they stood there totally drenched in the tropical downpour cracking jokes until someone found a piece of rope to tie the tarp down.

The bride and groom, and the families, and me as well, were glad that the rain had driven the people away. Saved us having to pry them out of drunken corners at midnight. After the rain, it was clear again and cool. That’s the rainstorm’s job, to cool the surface, the evening was lovely. This was good, because there was still the customary traditional part of the marriage to attend to. So the bride went home with her father and her people to get ready for that.

Then the women of the groom’s family all painted their faces with stripes of yellow clay and took some particular tree branches. The women and the men (except for the groom) all piled in the trucks and drove to the bride’s home. There, the women all yelled and waved the branches and shouted for the bride to come out. They screamed for her to come with them, to go away to her new home, describing all of her new relatives’ manifold virtues.

The father of the bride came out. He explained that first off, he had returned two of the three bands of shell money that were paid as bride price, along with all of the cash money. This was a serious matter to be placed on the public record. He did it because the bride’s family is from an island where the land passes through the matrilineal line, and the bride’s mother is a princess in that line. So the first thing the bride’s father said was that even if the bride did go join her husband, unlike in most marriages of her tribe, she was not giving up all membership in her tribe to join her new husband’s people. As symbolized by them returning two of the three bands of the shell money bride price, she still retained land rights and tribal rights in her own line.

And then, with that recorded for all history in the oral records, he said what custom demanded. Which was that in any case none of that mattered ’cause she wasn’t going any dang place anyhow anytime soon, no sirree. She was just too precious to them, he was her daddy, and it was all over. She was their darling little snowflake, they couldn’t let her go, forget about it, no way it would happen, the nice ladies from the other island might just as well go home, they were wasting their time. He was sorry to be the man with the bad news but there it was, and there was no changing it.

At this, the women from the groom’s side redoubled their screaming, and they danced a threatening dance, with the branches held as though they were bird wings. Back and forth they danced, chanting some ancient half-understood chant. Then the women all rushed the bride’s house, where against token resistance one woman tried to pick up the bride … but the bride was truly a woman of gravity. So one of the larger aunties picked the bride up, tossed her over a shoulder like a sack of rice, and carried her to the truck. They drove home screaming at the top of their lungs all the way, louder than I’d have thought possible, and when they arrived back home they once again picked the bride up. This time they didn’t mess about—six women picked the bride up and carried her into the house where the groom was and put her down. Everyone cheered, and the bride and groom beamed in an abashed fashion. They’d been living together for almost a year. And at last all of the marriage festivities were over, and they were married.

Now that, I thought while sitting on the verandah, enjoying the cool tropical evening and opening another beer for the father of the groom … that was a South Pacific wedding.


Mike’s blog is The Native Iowan, with pictures here



In putting this together in final form for posting, I am reminded now that on another thunderstorm night, sitting on that same verandah of Mike’s house on that same hill, in 2003 I had written a letter to my friends as follows:

Of Sharks and Men

In Fiji, there is an ancient god named Dakuwanga, the Shark God. Even today, it’s hard to find out much about Dakuwanga — when I mention his name in Fiji, conversation slows to a crawl, and then people look away and speak loudly of other, much more important matters than some nearly forgotten pagan deity …

I went to an art exhibit in Fiji a few days ago, and I ran into some old friends. I asked them about Mike Loxton, a long time mate of mine. Mike was living in Viani Bay, on the island of Vanua Levu. Viani Bay is a lovely green hidden valley that lies a few miles across from the island of Taveuni. Every weekday, he got into his skiff and crossed to Taveuni, where he worked. Because there is no dock at the hotel where he usually landed, he would beach the skiff, offload his gear, take the skiff a little ways offshore, drop the anchor, and wade to shore. I used to scuba dive with Mike, we were good friends.

On December 14, 2000, he followed his usual routine. Thinking his usual thoughts, dreaming his usual dreams, reflecting perhaps on the day’s work to come or on the days gone by, he offloaded his gear, took his skiff out and anchored it, jumped into the shimmering sea, and was immediately struck and killed by a tiger shark. Startled by his entrance, it had turned and bit his leg, a single bite that severed his femoral artery. He never even made it to the shore.

And so, dear friends, reflecting on his passing I write you with a simple purpose, which is to thank each one of you, individually, for your contribution to my life. Some people say that everything worthwhile they learned in kindergarten; but for me, everything worthwhile in my life I have learned from my friends. For this I am immensely grateful; but in my recurring delusions of immortality, in my fantasy that there will always be one more day to clean up my loose ends, I rarely acknowledge your gift.

So I thank you all, deeply and profoundly, for all that I have learned from you. Mike Loxton sleeps his dreamless sleep in the soft, silent, verdant soil at the head of Viani Bay, while you and I are in the midst of life. I am in the Solomon Islands now, on a hilltop where lightning is flashing and a warm, torrential tropical rainstorm is stirring life on the land below and the sea around.

And in the midst of this thunderstorm of life-giving rain, I am thinking of Mike Loxton’s death, and of my friends.

And I am forcefully reminded of Dakuwanga, that most ancient of gods, who does not ever sleep but is always cruising slowly through the uncharted oceans of this existence, hidden behind a curtain of moving water, waiting with perfect patience for his preordained opportunity to deliver one single final, fatal bite … live and take chances today, hug your loved ones now, my friends, for the night is surely coming.


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March 2, 2011 7:13 pm

best… WUWT post… ever…

March 2, 2011 7:25 pm

thanks man,
just found this
way cool

Douglas DC
March 2, 2011 7:46 pm

Thank you Willis that was a great story. RIP Mike. Thanks to Willis we all know a
bit about the man…

March 2, 2011 7:46 pm

Lovely, limpid, yet vivid storytelling! And I learned something about thunderstorms, too.

Tony Hansen
March 2, 2011 7:47 pm

Thanks Willis,
‘…..only so we can use the boat ramp. Except we can’t….
I kept on wondering why not?
Did I miss something in the story?
Was it deliberately left hanging?
[REPLY] Changed to read “Except we can’t say that”. Thanks.

March 2, 2011 7:56 pm

A glorious vivid moving picture of moments in time painted with words… What an awesome gift to share with us – Thanks for the island memory!

March 2, 2011 7:56 pm

You are an excellent writer Willis, a very enjoyable read.
“Think of thunderstorms as great grazing dinosaurs that feed off of warmth”,…yes that really ‘resonates’.

March 2, 2011 8:01 pm

You are truly blessed by all your friends. My wife had just mentioned a statistic that 25% of Americans have no close confidants.
Wiki: “According to a study documented in the June 2006 issue of the journal American Sociological Review, Americans are thought to be suffering a loss in the quality and quantity of close friendships since at least 1985.[2][3] The study states 25% of Americans have no close confidants, and the average total number of confidants per citizen has dropped from four to two.”

W. W. Wygart
March 2, 2011 8:04 pm

Your south pacific marriage reminds me in many ways of the five years I spent with the Sičháŋǧu Oyáte [Brulé Lakota] up on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. The relaxed local style of ‘get it done’ was always driving my Yankee, get it done, get it done right, get it done now attitude a bit to distraction. And of course being where I was with whom I was there was never any possibility of sitting back and opening a beer.
your friend,

W. W. Wygart
March 2, 2011 8:07 pm

Oh, forgot.
In reference to the Point Cruz Yacht Club, “The Point Cruz Yacht Club (above) is misnamed, as much more drinking than boating goes on there.” This is different from other yacht clubs how?

Doug in Seattle
March 2, 2011 8:08 pm

Some choose adventure and others security as their primary goal in life. Some get what they seek and some get both.
I suspect from your tales that you are happy with your choice Willis.

March 2, 2011 8:13 pm

Outstanding post. Second one today. Thanks.

March 2, 2011 8:17 pm

Ah Willis! Tusitala would be proud of his successor.

Mike McMillan
March 2, 2011 8:18 pm

Google Earth
S 8 06 20 E 156 50 30

George Turner
March 2, 2011 8:48 pm

It’s a great post, Willis, but this is a science blog and it needs more sciencey stuff.
I would suggest you make edit the stake-driving part of the story to reference Galileo’s theory of percussion, in which he explained how driving a stake or pole in the ground worked. The impulse delivered by the gearbox, which is the change in momentum of the gearbox due to the impact, also has units of force multiplied by delta T, the interval in which the force is delivered. As Galileo argued, this force could become almost infinite if the two impacting materials could withstand it.
You could also include a discussion of the sociology of groups trying to drive a stake in the ground, and compare the wedding party to Galileo’s observations of workmen, then compare those to a crew from BP or Exxon, with a graph of feet per day per worker.
WUWT readers love stories that include fish, weather, and beer, but they also love charts and graphs.

graham g
March 2, 2011 8:57 pm

Great article Willis.
Thank you.
I suspect there are many people who regularly view WUWT that can happily identify with your life experiences on the Solomon Islands. I was on Bouganville Island for a while. A few Australian men working there married local island girls, and chose to remain with their new families instead of returning to Australia .
Just like your friend Mike did, instead of going back to the USA.!

hotrod ( Larry L )
March 2, 2011 9:12 pm

Brings back fond memories of my time in Guam, sitting on the patio of the local watering hole Andies Hut, near where my ship was moored. Watching a curtain of torrential rain fall creep across the harbor at walking speed.
It was like a light gray curtain, slowly advancing across the water. As it got closer you could hear the hissing of thousands of tons of water falling into the harbor at rates only comparable to a water fall.
We sat there sipping our drinks, with the warm sun on our back, smelling the cool breeze rolling across the water and washing away the sweltering heat of the afternoon, until the curtain of water was just a stones throw away. Whe we could feel the mist on our faces, then we calmly walked in the bar and moments later were engulfed in the should of a torrential down pour on the sheet tin roof.
Like you, the storms were always a visual treat and an almost daily ritual. You quickly learned to look up wind and see if a storm was headed your way when you came down the ships gangway. If you were not paying attention, you would get drenched with a down pour when you were halfway between the “yacht club” and the ship and get soaked to the skin in seconds.

March 2, 2011 9:19 pm

Way cool. I’ve been to some obscure islands in the S. Pacific too. Chatham Island in ’95, and Rurutu island in 2001. I loved it. These people don’t really know how good they have it. The pace and traditions are amazing to us gringos.
I agree with an earlier post – best WUWT post ever. 🙂

March 2, 2011 9:21 pm

Thanks for this article – brought back warm memories of the South Pacific – pigs and laughing children in the garden of the corrugated-iron family house of my hosts in Rarotonga, folks dancing to beat the world at the fish market on a Friday evening in Aututaki, camping solo on a beach on the Fiji island of Taveuni, Moorea empty of tourists after 9/11 so just the islanders to talk with, balmy kava nights in the Yasawas, Polynesian/Latin American mixture in Rapa Nui – Easter Island. I have never heard anyone talk of rising sea levels !
Beats the winter cold of London any day.

March 2, 2011 9:50 pm

Ho – good talk story, brah – get chicken skin! Malama pono.

March 2, 2011 10:02 pm

Much appreciated.

March 2, 2011 10:28 pm

Sweet, pal!
Just how I like my global warming portrayed.

Gary Hladik
March 2, 2011 10:39 pm

Willis strikes me as a glass-half-full (of beer) kind of guy, which is a nice contrast to the CAGW doom-mongers. For example, I can’t see James Hansen drinking at the wedding without agonizing over the beer’s food-miles. 🙂

anna v
March 2, 2011 10:57 pm

Lovely, Willis. My advice about writing when you retire retire is expanded. Not one book, books.
In your story above there are two Mikes, which is a bit confusing. Maybe you could use the handle of the first Mike, nativeiowan , as a surname. ( sorry for this editoring, I went through a creative writing course in college way back then, when you were floundering around finding your way).

March 3, 2011 12:22 am

If the amount of information in a message is indeed inversely proportional to its probability, then this must be a very informative message.

March 3, 2011 12:43 am

I hope you’ll push your CuNims as governors theory. Could one aggregate an albedo 20N/S for the sun facing side of the Earth? Variations in that aggregate should tie in with SST measurements??

March 3, 2011 1:56 am

When the book comes out – I will read it.
When the film comes out – I will watch it.
When I hear or see AGW scare stories – I will think of you – and calm down.
Thank you.

March 3, 2011 2:15 am

Willis has clearly missed his vocation. Perhaps he should have a beer and consider his non-sceptical literary options. In the meantime I’ll pass the link for this quiet anecdote on to a few friends. However there’s no rush – I’ll have a beer while I ponder which friends will appreciate it most.

March 3, 2011 2:15 am

Terrific story. What excellent friends you have. 😀

Alexander K
March 3, 2011 3:18 am

Willis, Tusitala, I don’t care what you write about, just keep doing it, man! Your stories of humans doing warmly human stuff are right up there with those of Steinbeck.
Anywhere in Polynesia is both very special and very different from the rest of the world. My English cousins here in the UK look at me strangely, confused by my very Anglo/Scots appearance when I tell them I am Polynesian, on the basis that I was born in the Southernmost part of Polynesia.

March 3, 2011 3:38 am

A wonderful story that also told us something about thunderstorms. Absolutely fascinating.

March 3, 2011 4:17 am

Incredible. As was the fairweather gale post. As soon as I saw the link, I guessed it was something by Willis. Just goes to show the incredible power of Nature.

March 3, 2011 4:18 am

Hi Willis,
looking forward to reading this at my leisure. When you find time, have a look at the post I’ve put on my blog in answer to your assertion that the oceans would feeze if energy from greenhouse IR wasn’t absorbed into them.
Your considered, collegial and gently given opinions would be greatly appreciated.
Just click on my name to get there 😉

Viv Evans
March 3, 2011 4:20 am

A beautiful story, beautifully told – thanks, Willis! Reading this felt as if I was watching over your shoulder, standing right behind you.
As for thunderstorms: location is important. Here in these British Isles, they are majestic but not that forceful, even though the rain and hail can sometimes be so.
Some very impressive ones occur in Switzerland, where they seemingly bounce back and forth between the mountains, stationed over a river. The thunderclaps seem to be constant, echoing across the valley, and the lightning is seemingly aimed straight at the observer. The rain afterwards is most refreshing – nothing compares to dancing in such rain …
From now on I shall always think of them a grazing dinosaurs – what a wonderful image that is!

George Tetley
March 3, 2011 4:25 am

Thank you Willis for reawakening wonderful memories.

March 3, 2011 5:06 am

Pteradactyl and I are of the same cloth. Willis, I will buy your book when the muse finally strikes. Well, the fiction one (assuming that you write about Wind Pumping Systems too 😉 ).

Doug Taft
March 3, 2011 5:11 am

“ great grazing dinosaurs that feed off of warmth”
They say “A picture is worth a thousand words” but your eight words have painted so many pictures in my mind!!
Thanks for another wonderful read

March 3, 2011 5:35 am

Great story! Now back to the local -20C (-4F) global warming swirling around outside.

March 3, 2011 5:59 am

Nothing to say but, ahhhhhh.
Loved it. The lumbering dinosaurs appear over Kansas too. Great description.

chris from bordeaux
March 3, 2011 6:25 am

Thanks a million for sharing this beautiful story!
Makes you want to hitch a ride and spend a few years waiting to be invited to such an event.
A warm hello from the wine and cheese country! 😉

March 3, 2011 6:46 am

The grazing dinosaur analogy was excellent.
I guess I can now call the afternoon rains “Dino Pee”.

March 3, 2011 7:04 am

And I thought I was the only one who spoke to thunderstorms!
One observation: you wrote, regarding thunderstorms, “They move in the direction of warmer areas.” I think you should consider the possibility that some — perhaps many — do not actually move; instead, they are a somewhat linear sequence of development, like a wave is a vertical displacement of water, not horizontal.
This kind of thunderstorm development seems to be more common when there is a prevailing wind, which tends to organize the convection into “cloud streets”, and these “cloud streets” end up being the highway down which that the wave of over-development occurs, giving the illusion of a moving thunderstorm…

Jim Bob Turner
March 3, 2011 7:36 am

Good story, Willis, but way too long and rambling for a science blog like this. You need an editor to condense your stories.

March 3, 2011 8:16 am

“In reference to the Point Cruz Yacht Club, “The Point Cruz Yacht Club (above) is misnamed, as much more drinking than boating goes on there.” This is different from other yacht clubs how?”
I know of a small yacht club in Port of Spain where that behaviour is frowned upon. Everyone turns up, piles into boats, moves a few hundred yards offshore where it’s a bit cooler, and then does their drinking. 🙂

March 3, 2011 8:36 am

It is so nice to be able to read a post that has no vitriol in the comments. I think a regular post like this where Willis shares some of his amazing life(say once a week or more) would be just the thing to remind us all to breath and not stress the small stuff. Thank you Willis for a very amazingly well written story.

March 3, 2011 8:45 am

Nice story (but needs editing): however, your interwoven narrative about thunderstorms is perhaps too caught up in the shaggy dog tradition:
“In its original sense, a shaggy dog story is an extremely long-winded tale featuring extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents, …”
Where I live, around 35 degrees south in inland Australia, we get thunderstorms at all times of the day or night (although not as often as in the tropics). If the points you were making about thunderstorms apply only to the tropics, you should say so. They certainly do not apply here. We get very violent thunderstorms as part of moving fronts of cold air across land – and I daresay that US residents who live inland have the same experience. These storms, which may include impressive hailstones, are not respecters of day or night.
Then there are the ‘dry storms’ which people who live inland in low rainfall areas know well. Deafening thunderclaps, plenty of lightning, but not a drop of rain.
If you believe that storms are as important as you say, some discussion of how they work outside the tropics would be helpful. Storms are exhilarating – I won’t bore you with details, but have been out in them at sea – but the main thing I get from these stories is the courage and skill of explorers like Cook and Magellan. It doesn’t tell us much about weather or climate.
So, how about a post about storms, mundane as it may seem, which covers storms from the tropics to the poles?

Pull My Finger
March 3, 2011 9:11 am

After a couple near death experiences with severe thunderstorms I have no romantic ruminations about them. I’ve had lighting obliterate a tree five feet from me (yes, I know, but I didn’t have a choice) in a storm where I literally could see 5′ in front of me for the sheer volume of water; raced out of the Presidential Range trying to get to trail head before narrow streams I’d crossed became raging torrents (Good old Mt Washington weather); watched a tornado obliterate part of my town as I raced to get to shelter (was playing baseball); and most harrowingly, spending a night at a remote Boy Scout Camp with my son, in a tent, surrounded by 100 foot trees, no shelter, and in absoulte pitch blackness as t-stroms and tornadoes (as I found out the next day) ripped through the mountains from about 11pm to 4 am. The latter ended any desire I had to “rough it” ever again. Many deals with God were made that night, especially with my son 2 feet away.
But sitting in my nice brick home watching them cross my little valley is still very cool. The worst part of t storms in mountains regions is that they are very hard to predict and you can’t see them coming til they are practically on top of you.

Pull My Finger
March 3, 2011 10:31 am

Just found an article about my first twister encounter, and the only one where I actually saw the tornado and the blueish-greenish electical explosion when it or debris hit the power transformers. My house was about 1/4 mile from Wayne Ave. It’s kind of exciting and novel at 12, not so much at 40.

March 3, 2011 10:40 am

Fun reading. But you wrote much of this before, somewhwere…

March 3, 2011 11:22 am

I enjoy reading your writing. Some of it is beyond my training, but I can usually understand enough to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
This story was incredible. I have to admit though my daughter is about to be wed soon. The saying “sait blong Meri”, pretty much says it all.
Keep up with the post.

Alexander K
March 3, 2011 12:36 pm

When I was a farming lad, one of our regular contracts was to clean out farm drains and creeks on the swampy flats on top of the ranges overlooking the Manawatu Plains in the lower North Island of NZ. Watching rain bands march toward us from the Tasman Sea and the West coast, twenty-odd miles away as the crow flies, was an impressive sight. When they approached us, the roar of the rain falling was almost deafening and, if they caught us out in the open, we felt as if the air was being sucked out of our lungs under the force of the falling water. A rain band, always of brief duration, would be followed by blue sky and calm air. Great storm systems with majestic and towering thunderclouds would sweep in off the Tasman and if one of those was on its way it was pointless even being outside as it was impossible to do anything but hunker down until it passed, and that could take hours. The danger of lightning strikes was high, and at the early signs of such storms we would jump in our truck and go, heading for home before any of the fords on the road out became impassably flooded. Those days were a long time ago but I have never lost my respect for thunderstorms and the trail of damage they could leave behind them.

March 3, 2011 2:05 pm

Thanks so much, Willis. I enjoyed every minute of that.
I grew up on the South African “Highveld” where thunderstorms are common in the summer. I enjoyed running outside and playing in them, I loved going to sleep with one pounding the tin roof, and eating the hail stones afterwards was a delight. But as I grew older, I appreciated them most for the release of tension they seem to bring. Often before the storm, the land is dry and hot. Many plants and trees get a dusty, dirty look to them, and people become stressed and their tempers begin to fray. The moment the storm hits, the tension is released, people smile and the world cleans up. The cool down-draughts breathe life back into everyone and everything, and the heavy rain washes it all clean again. A true re-creation.

Malcolm Miller
March 3, 2011 2:10 pm

A beautiful story, full of celebration of the art of being human. I agree with Johanna about thunderstorms. Here in Canberra at 35 degrees south they occur at any time of the day or night, and result from violent mixing at the edges of moving weather systems.

Atomic Hairdryer
March 3, 2011 3:41 pm

Thanks for this Willis. I knew little about the Solomon Islands before, but this inspired me to find out more. Being me, that was partly about the practicality of bringing broadband to the islands, which may bring me to the islands, but may not be the best benefit to the islanders. Nice example of how the ‘net can bring people together though and make the world a smaller place.
Also thanks for the link to the Native Iowan’s site, there’s some great wave photos there, and I really like the one showing the scouring sand. Excellent shot.

Jim Barker
March 3, 2011 3:56 pm

Great story, made me smile. Thank you.
There is a good chance, that at this rate, WUWT will be the best science and literary blog in 2012. 🙂

Michael Larkin
March 3, 2011 4:48 pm

Good grief, Willis – so you can write soft as well as hard. Is there nothing you cannot do with a pen?
I’ll say it again: Write!

March 3, 2011 4:49 pm

At several points in this story, I literally laughed out loud. A great read. Thanks for letting us see just a bit of your intriguing life Willis.

Don V
March 3, 2011 5:18 pm

Hey Willis,
I loved the story! Brought back fond memories of my childhood growing up on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in Niger. As you might expect storms there are quite infrequent, but when the do come they are preceded by that tremendous wind you described. The wind has a scouring effect because it picks up and drives sand hundreds of miles and coats any place there is opportunity for eddies with a thick layer of dust. Just after the ‘dust storm’ there is a very brief period when you know that what will follow next is rain, because of the smell!
Your story brought back that memory – the smell of a Sahara wind storm just before the rain. The odor that just precedes a rainstorm is phenomenal! I suspect that this air possesses a singularly different make up than any normal run-of-the-mill air because of the quite thorough washing, and electrifying, freezing, and thawing, and rinsing it has received as it made it’s way up and down and up and down inside a thunderstorm. Because they are so infrequent, the storms that actually make it to the southern Sahara, contain so much sustained energy, they are formidable to behold. But what is truly amazing is what happens right after they pass. All of the buried and dormant life, that survives this hostile place is triggered to go through another cycle and things you never saw before suddenly just appear right out of the ground, like for example these little tiny bright red spiders that look like pieces of Christmas decoration fluff, and desert toads, and locusts.
Anyways, your account reminded me to mention something else I was wondering about the energy that is dissipated and moved great distances as a result of thunder storms. It reminded me of a movie I saw once that was taken during one of the space missions of a scene taken at dusk and into the dark of night of a massive storm that was occuring over North America. During that storm, the movie recorded the electrical activity that was occuring over very great distances within the storm. I never thought about it until now, but where you and I see and hear lightning strikes only once in a while during a thunder storm, when seen from outer space the lighting strike seemed to be occuring nearly continuously. From space the clouds seemed to almost glow continuously! Has anyone ever tried to account for how much radiative energy is return to space as the direct result of electrical activity within the never-ending progression of thunderstorms that are always occurring somewhere on this planet? It would seem that when lightning occurs it is yet another safety release of excess energy. But forget about IR, lightning is visible and probably has lots of UV as well!
Thanks again, and keep up the good work. Love your posts.

Don V
March 3, 2011 5:26 pm

HA HA HA . . . falls out of chair. . . HA HA HA . . . holding side . . . ouch sideache. . . can’t breath.

Don V
March 3, 2011 5:28 pm

Dang it! What made me laugh so hard didn’t show up in the post!
It was “Dino pee”.

Ric Locke
March 3, 2011 8:30 pm

Willis, if you have any tolerance for science fiction you might enjoy Waves by M. A. Foster.
Never mind the cover illustration — the payoff should be right down your alley.

Hilary Ostrov (aka hro001)
March 4, 2011 2:26 am

Willis … like many here, I so much enjoy your wondrous way with words. That was a wonderful story. Thank you!

March 4, 2011 12:15 pm

Only Willis can provide TOTAL climate reporting. Eat your heart out, RC!

March 4, 2011 12:19 pm

Thanks Willis,
Brought back memories of Guam in the 1930s. You may infer that I am not a young man. But the thunderstorms were majestic and the steam rising from all hard surfaces after the storms ended was fantastic. In the 1950s, as a fighter pilot, I had the interesting experience of flying through a few of those monsters. I did not enjoy them from the inside.
You add wonderfully to this site.

March 4, 2011 12:49 pm

Don V says:
March 3, 2011 at 5:18 pm
I took special note of your childhood experiences in Niger. The most intense TS in West Africa–locally called “tornadoes”–are usally produced by easterly gravity waves in the discontinuity between the hot, dry “harmattan” air aloft and the ground-hugging, cool air advected by the SW monsoon. (This is a different mechanism than that which produces isolated TS in tropical waters, about which Willis wrote. ) As someone who had experieced “tornadoes” only along the Gulf of Guinea, I much appreciate your description of the distinctive nuances of this common phenomenon at the edge of the Sahara.

March 4, 2011 9:43 pm

What a great read this was..
It was pleasing to see how many comments there were too.
We have a great little community here.

March 6, 2011 3:06 am

Willis Eschenbach says:
March 3, 2011 at 10:09 am
tallbloke says:
March 3, 2011 at 4:18 am
Hi Willis,
looking forward to reading this at my leisure. When you find time, have a look at the post I’ve put on my blog in answer to your assertion that the oceans would freeze if energy from greenhouse IR wasn’t absorbed into them.
Your considered, collegial and gently given opinions would be greatly appreciated.
Will do as time permits, many thanks.

Great, still looking forward to the discussion.

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