Awe, shucks …

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Wintertime was magic when I was a kid. When the snow came, it transformed our world. It turned the forest that surrounded our ranch into an infinity of marvels, mysteries and delights. We could track the animals and follow their secret ways. We didn’t get a lot of snow, most years there wasn’t enough to dig tunnels even for kids on their stomachs. Every few years, though, we’d get two or three feet of snow that would stick. Then we would build the tunnels, sliding and pulling ourselves through them on our stomachs like demented penguins.

What I remember most about those snow tunnels was the color. It was an icy blue that only lived one place in my experience, in the snow tunnels. That color had a strange fascination for me, it was a source of some strange wintry warmth that could only be produced by the weather. Nothing else on my planet had that same color, nowhere was there that same icy blue as the snow tunnels. Even today, I get the shivers thinking of it.

ice marbles 1


Over at Judith Curry’s excellent and perennially interesting blog, there’s a discussion about what makes for a good scientist. One thing that has always pushed me to search for scientific explanations has been my never-ending awe at the size and the power and the endless varieties of weather around the world. I always find myself asking, how do they do that? What mechanisms explain that? How is that possible?

One of my first experiences of this kind of awe was at something I’ve never seen described anywhere since. That’s what got me thinking about the winter.

Near where I grew up, there was something called the “German ditch”, which exists to this day. It was dug by hand, maybe around the turn of the last century, by the early German immigrants. It brought water from a noble watercourse yclept “Atkins Creek” to a whole string of ranches along the lower hillsides. It was maintained by the collective labor of those who benefitted from the water, on the eponymously named “Ditch Day” which occurred once a year, or more as necessary. It picked off water from the creek and brought it in the ditch, which up at the head was maybe three feet wide and two feet deep (.9 m x .6 m), for some miles along the ridge.

Along the way, there was another creek that the German ditch had to cross over. It was spanned by a wooden framework holding up a wooden channel of about the same dimensions as the ditch. It was a lovely piece of work, all hand-done back in the day, with notches and mortice-and-tenon joints in the framework. At places, it was maybe twenty feet (6m) down to the creek below.

And of course, it leaked some. Not a lot, it was kept up, but some, as such wooden sluices are wont to do. Now, I used to like to walk the forest when I was a kid. And so on one very, very cold winter morning, somehow I ended some miles from home, up at the wooden aqueduct where the German ditch was dripping water. I had to walk through new snow to get there, and everywhere I looked it was that blinding white. Dark glasses? We’d never heard of them.

When I got there, I looked around. Where the sun was striking at the bottom of the framework holding up the aqueduct, I saw the most astounding, coruscating, vibrant, refulgent, wildly alive rainbow of light and color I had encountered in my young life. It was like the illustrations of the pirates’ chests in the books I loved to read, chests full of real jewels, gems I’d never seen with names like rubies and emeralds and sapphires, with light that comes blazing out in all colors when you lift up the lid of the chest. But this was for real! I was stunned. I remember just standing there, entranced, amazed that nature could be so full of wonders.

When I climbed down to the bottom, to my great surprise I found a conical pile of ice, from the drips from the German ditch. It had grown up to maybe waist height. At the top of the conical pile of ice, there was a hollowed-out ice bowl. And to my amazement, the ice bowl was full to the brim with loose ice marbles. The marbles were of various sizes, most about the size of the marbles we played with in the summer, some as large as the “aggies”, the larger shooter marbles we used. But these marbles were all made of ice. And I could pick up handfuls of them.

I watched, astonished. After a while, I figured out the reason that the ice marbles were loose was that every time a splash of water came down from the aqueduct above, it was strong enough to move the loose marbles around. That constant motion had kept them from freezing solid. At the same time, it had rounded off all of the corners of the marbles and made them into perfect spheres. It was also what was responsible for the shimmering, changing light—as the sun hit the moving ice marbles, it was broken into a thousand colored shards and spun in all directions. And even when the ice marbles weren’t moving the water was dripping down them and refracting the sunlight in changing ways. I saw how the conical pile of ice had been built up out of marbles that had spilled out of the bowl and frozen solid and gradually built up to waist height. I could not have been more gobsmacked. I walked away half in a trance, stunned by what I had seen.

I bring this up and I write about it for a simple reason—to recapture the energy bound up in that sense of childlike awe at the untold mysteries of the weather. I believe that for everyone studying the weather, there must have been some such sense of wonderment that started them on the path of scientific discovery. Sadly, far too many of us, including myself, often lose that sense of merry wonderment and infantile amusement at the antics of the weather. In the tropics, to keep the feeling alive, I’d go out in the pouring rain and laugh and jump at the thunderclaps. My mad mate Mike taught me to do that, to dance and cavort in my lava-lava at midnight with the raging thunderstorm tossing lightning around the sky.

I once walked out into the face of a cyclone (a southern hemisphere hurricane). Can’t remember the cyclone’s name, it was in Fiji. I was living up on a hill, it was blowing 70 knots and gusting above that. First I tried going out with no protection, but I couldn’t look upwind, the rain just bulleted my face and any exposed skin, it was unbearable. Plus when I opened my mouth to breathe, the hurricane wind just filled my lungs up.

So I went back inside and reconsidered, and I got out my dive gear. I put on my dive mask, and I put on my snorkel. I put on my parka and pulled the hood down around my face mask. I got out and put on my long pants that I never wore in the tropics, and I went back outside. Then, at least, I could face into the wind. It was all I could do to walk out on the hill, I had to lean at a steep angle. I’m sure I looked a right lunatic, with my parka and my mask and snorkel, nothing of my face exposed. But I could see, and I could breathe.

When I got up on the hill, I saw an amazing sight, the kind of sight to loosen the bowels of a sailor. The moon was out so there was some light under the clouds. I could see far out across Suva Harbour. The sea had risen up, the waves were coming over the reef that normally protected the Harbour. Only somewhat impeded, they rushed across the harbor and were breaking down at the foot of the hill where I stood. The whole of Suva Harbour, normally a placid blue lake, was nothing but wave after wave after breaking wave. Boats were jerking around on their moorings like crazed horses, rearing and plunging. Around me buildings were losing roofs, and coconut palms were losing heavy fronds that were picked up and tossed about.

The thing I remember feeling most at that time? Other than feeling really, really glad I was on solid ground and not at sea, no matter how big the boat?

Totally insignificant. Nothing that I could say or do, nothing that anyone or any group could say or do, would make the slightest difference to the scene unfolding below me. A ship was drifting ashore, to hit where it would hit. My sailor’s soul wept to see it go, it meant heartbreak for the owners. Telephone wires were keening for the loss on all sides. I went back inside, feeling somewhat like the little bird that picks the crocodile’s teeth …

That’s what I lose too often, and what I don’t want to lose, that feeling of curiosity-filled wonderment and total insignificance in the face of the magical marvels of weather, because I think a sense of awe is a crucial ingredient in what makes a good scientist.


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Phil's Dad
December 27, 2012 7:01 pm

Some people make the world a better place just by being in it.
December 27, 2012 7:06 pm

Magnificent Willis, you have made my day much brighter, thanks for reminding us of what is really important and also joyful,

December 27, 2012 7:08 pm

Thanks for the great read. It most definitely spawned old memories and infinite wonderment from my early years.
I just have one thing to say 🙂

December 27, 2012 7:10 pm

Excellent. I have often thought I would hate to lose the childlike wonder that has me watching out a window for hours taking pictures of the partridges that only come around every twenty years or so. I skip the dusting and cleaning and instead watch a hawk eating a rabbit in my yard. On road trips, my husband and I both stop and watch anything that catches our eye–eagles taking down an antelope, a lost lamb with eagles circling and feeding on it’s mother, badgers, clouds, dust storms. I never ever want to see the world as anything but exciting and new. That is what makes a scientist–watching and learning. Keeping the awe and wonder.

December 27, 2012 7:14 pm

Thanks Willis. I feel like I was there with you!

December 27, 2012 7:16 pm

Elegant and purposeful prose, Willis…

December 27, 2012 7:17 pm

Thanks, Willis.

December 27, 2012 7:20 pm

Willis I to remmember snow fort’s and tunnels In Whitecourt Alberta Canada in 1972 and guess what they have been back for 2 year’s now :>)

D Böehm
December 27, 2012 7:22 pm

Another fine article by Willis.
Re: ice marbles. I recall reading somewhere that folks would make perfectly round marbles by putting a stone into a hole in a rock that had water constantly pouring into it. After a while the stone would be worn into a perfect sphere.
Also, thanks to Willis my vocabulary has increased: coruscating, yclept. Had to look them up.

December 27, 2012 7:22 pm

Willis I to remeber snow fort’s and tunnels in Whitecourt Alberta Canada in 1972 and guess what they are back just the same as they where. ;>)

December 27, 2012 7:25 pm

Newness abounds,
wondering eyes.
Nature astounds,
ecstatic cries.
Years passing,
memories chill.
Sweetly lasting,
recurring thrill.
Passing years,
vision strong.
Recall cheers,
Nature’s song.

December 27, 2012 7:34 pm

Thanks. You perfectly described same feeling of awe, wonderment and insignificance I get when I hike the slot canyons in southern Utah. Around each corner is something new and amazing. It boggles the mind that nature could create such beautiful sculptures. The sheer massive size of some of the features I rappel off is breathtaking. It seems impossible for nature to sculpt a canyon a hundred feet deep and a mere foot or two wide. The slot canyons constantly lure me back, to explore their untold wonders.

Steve Keohane
December 27, 2012 7:38 pm

I always loved that blue. We had plenty of snow just 20 miles north of Boston in the early 60s, for tunnels as far as we could dig, and on special occasions, drifts deep enough to jump from the roof into, unharmed, engulfed in that electric blue cool.
Thanks Willis.

Steve in SC
December 27, 2012 7:46 pm

Alternate title: More of the Marvels of Willis.
Some people look at things and never see them.
Thanks for seeing.

Michael J. Bentley
December 27, 2012 7:53 pm

I wouldn’t worry about loosing your child-like awe of weather, not with the way you write. I was shivering with you, feeling the rain bulleting onto my face, and understanding my smallness when facing a cyclone. You can dance in a thunderstorm all by yourself though – I’ll watch from safety if you don’t mind.
Keep up the good work, words and wonder.

December 27, 2012 8:04 pm

Tunnels in ice also have a wonderful blue. During my stint as observer at station Inge Lehman [aka as Project Blue Ice] on the Greenland inland ice [77.92ºN 39.23ºW, 2400 m (7900 ft), in 1967] we cut ice [to melt for water] with a chainsaw making a tunnel going down at an angle of about 20 degrees. The walls turned a most wonderful blue as we got deeper. [the ppt version has movies]

December 27, 2012 8:16 pm

Way too many “I’s”, W. Reads like an Obama speech. Sorry.

D Böehm
December 27, 2012 8:36 pm

It’s sad that someone’s always got to be the turd in the punch bowl.

Old woman of the north
December 27, 2012 8:37 pm

RE the stones being ground to balls by water: in Austria outside Salzburg there is a stream and a stonemason’s business that has channels feeding water onto stones that are tumbled until they form spheres.
In the sandstone creek beds on the Blackdown Tableland, in Central Queensland,and other places, there are ‘pot holes’ – perfectly round holes up to 6 feet deep that are worn by stones pushed around by the current when they flood or are running at strength. They are difficult to get out of but a not too deep one is lovely to drop into to cool off when bush walking.
Never having lived where there is snow and ice your description of the aqueduct trestle and the ice marbles was lovely.

john robertson
December 27, 2012 8:59 pm

Thanks Willis, you remind me how easily I forget the wonder around me.

Roger Carr
December 27, 2012 9:03 pm

You just don’t need all these promotional pieces, Willis… we’re all hanging to buy the book.

December 27, 2012 9:09 pm

Willis, like always, you are a great and insightful writer. As a person of the sea, I thought you might like this poem:
A wave is a spirit restless and free
Sired by the wind
And born on the sea
Dashing and splashing
And battering the shore
Dashing and splashing
And then is no more.
By Scot Kolbus

December 27, 2012 9:19 pm

Nice thoughts. It always astounds me that CAGW believers and extreme environmentalists claim that anyone who disagrees with them has no feeling for the natural world.
Me, I still get a buzz out of watching ants. And peering into rockpools. And observing the birds in my yard. And watching as a new spray of fronds comes out on my cycad, checking progress at least once a day. And, and, and …
The secret is to stop and look – really look, for a while. It’s like a slowly magnifying lens, as you start to observe rather than just look, and begin to understand a bit of what is going on. Never, never gets old.
Happy New Year to all!

December 27, 2012 9:26 pm

I was a kid again, even my childhood town, turned to magic with snow on the ground, good old Liverpool. Thanks a million.

Pete Olson
December 27, 2012 9:30 pm

Where else can you get modern science in Middle English…?!

Pete Olson
December 27, 2012 9:31 pm

And I like the pun in your title, too…maybe only English majors would catch it?

December 27, 2012 9:35 pm

Thanks Willis, took me back to the 50’s in south central Wisconsin. Then I have also noticed that myself and few select other have never quite grown up. Today I pride myself on that fact. I did assure my grandson that I would let him know if I ever do.

Lil Fella from OZ
December 27, 2012 9:37 pm

Thank you WIllis, it does us all good to be humbled from time to time, it keeps our feet firmly on the ground. Although I have never been there (one day I hope I can see it) I have heard people having similiar littleness experiences when viewing the Grand Canyon. Keeping things in perspectiveis vitally important to life!!!

John F. Hultquist
December 27, 2012 10:01 pm

jae says:
December 27, 2012 at 8:16 pm
“Way too many “I’s”, W. Reads like an Obama speech. Sorry.

You mean like this: In his 1,600-word eulogy for Sen. Daniel Inouye last week, Pres. Obama said “I” 30 times, “my” 21 times and “me” 12 times. Eulogies are generally expected to be more about the deceased than the eulogizer, but not with Mr. Obama, who even described a childhood summer bus trip to Disneyland. [mentioned in the Weekly Standard’s blog]
‘Awe, shucks …’: This post is called a First-Person narrative. You could look it up.
Oh, wait – I see Willis just explained it to you. Were you an English instructor also, Willis? Blue is my favorite color. New hay barn has a Caribbean Blue © (#881) roof.
Rocks in scour holes are common along fast moving streams (glacier, high mountain) and made nice photos when the water is low. A few show if you do an image search.

December 27, 2012 10:09 pm

Wilis, I really like your writing and your perspective. Coming from warm Australia I don’t have any affinity with your Northern Hemisphere stories, but I’ve heard plenty that sound with your island stories, and they ring true.
I think we have way more to learn about how our planet’s climate functions than you can learn from studying lines of numbers in a laboratory. Donning underwater gear to face a cyclone on a South Pacific Island will teach you more in 30 seconds than a spreadsheet will teach you in 30 days. I think you’ve demonstrated this, and many, many post-grads could do worse than emulate your experience.
Best wishes of the season.
Glenn GP

Michael Tremblay
December 27, 2012 10:17 pm

Your story about going out in the cyclone reminded me of the time my brother and I went out into a blizzard. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face when you were walking into the wind and the snow hitting your face was like getting hit with millions of needles. The good thing was we didn’t lose our sense of direction because the wind was blowing continually from the same direction.
I didn’t mention it in your article about the moon wind, but I’ve sailed across the Pacific a few times myself, albeit in a powered ship. My fondest memories of those trips is going to the upper decks in the middle of the night and looking up at the stars without all the light pollution. Absolutely beautiful and humbling at the same time.

December 27, 2012 10:30 pm

Beautifully written…..You have a tallent for writing stories that are a joy to read.

December 27, 2012 10:31 pm

Awesome Willis, hoping that you are having a glorious holiday season. Your little vignette was perfect for today….

Policy Guy
December 27, 2012 10:39 pm

I loved your story. I recently drove from Carmel to Sacramento CA through back roads and chased a rainbow to within 15 ft to my left and 100 ft to my right. Quite extraordinary!! What a site. I have another comment to follow.
Thank you

Policy Guy
December 27, 2012 11:00 pm

I love Discover Magazine, at least I used to. I used to use it as an example for my kids about how science is so much a part of our every day life, and here is an easy way to read it so that you don’t have to wade through Scientific American, as I did, to get essential information.
But now I hang my head because of the page 22, of the January, 2013 edition of Discover Magazine. Written by a Linda Marsa. As far as I can tell, this is a political/religious belief statement, rather than a scientific statement of the climate/weather of 2012.
I could spend an entire response refuting her unrelenting misstatements of proven facts in this article. Will someone please reach out and try to educate this poor lady?
I know i’m not alone.

December 27, 2012 11:32 pm

Q/ What is the colour of water? a) colourless b) blue. Ans/ The colour of water is blue. Yes, a lovely blue. Some days I look out over the bay soaking up the blue sea and sky. Even the mountains in the background are blue. This beautiful blue planet. mmmm…..I wonder what the radiative absorptivity/emissivity of that blue colour is…could it be about 0.82? …… damn science again spoiling my thoughts .

December 27, 2012 11:46 pm

Gerald Manley Hopkins got it:
Pied Beauty
GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough; 5
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 10
Praise him.
(I’m not religious, but that poem perfectly expresses how I feel.)

December 28, 2012 12:19 am

Willis said;
‘So I went back inside and reconsidered, and I got out my dive gear. I put on my dive mask, and I put on my snorkel. I put on my parka and pulled the hood down around my face mask. I got out and put on my long pants that I never wore in the tropics, and I went back outside. Then, at least, I could face into the wind. It was all I could do to walk out on the hill, I had to lean at a steep angle. I’m sure I looked a right lunatic, with my parka and my mask and snorkel, nothing of my face exposed. But I could see, and I could breathe.”
Rain in this part of the world is not unknown and the conditions on the nearby uplands of Dartmoor can get pretty difficult. I have often contemplated putting on my wet suit-used to brave the waters of the English Channel-when going for a walk in the rain on the moors. I’ve never had the courage to do so and my wife would disown me. But If I do and anyone looked at me I can just murmur, ‘my name is Willis, its what I do.
Have a great New Year

UK Sceptic
December 28, 2012 12:33 am

I love your reminiscences, Willis. This one was your best yet. Keep ’em coming please. 😀

December 28, 2012 12:41 am

A thoroughly enjoyable read. Thank you.

December 28, 2012 12:47 am

Nice read. And don’t let the naysayers get you down. It was a first person narrative. That’s the way it is. Obama’s flaw isn’t that he uses “I” a lot. It’s that he uses it a lot even when it’s not about him. It’s the context.
Anyhow, nice story about the sense of awe that inspires innovators and researchers. In the Burt Rutan talk posted earlier, you could see his enthusiasm when he talked about rockets and new planes. He mentioned that it’s at an early age that people get inspired. In fact, I’ve read that the kid in all of us is what keeps us feeling young and healthy.

James Bull
December 28, 2012 12:55 am

Dear Willis
I have spent many happy hours watching the birds outside my door as they go about their daily routine, looking into a flower wondering at how beautiful and ordered it is or standing in my garden at night looking straight up at the stars for hours at a time (when the boring ones say I could be doing something useful ) and it is good to be reminded of these times.
Thank you.
James Bull

Gail Combs
December 28, 2012 12:59 am

johanna says:
December 27, 2012 at 9:19 pm
Nice thoughts. It always astounds me that CAGW believers and extreme environmentalists claim that anyone who disagrees with them has no feeling for the natural world.
Me, I still get a buzz out of watching ants. And peering into rockpools….
Agreed. From what I can see many of us here are ‘environmentalists’ to some degree. No adult messes their own nest and that is what ‘environmetalism’ boils down to.
I too absolutely love rock pools. Forget boring sandy beaches I much prefer a beach with rock pools to explore.
I gave up TV not long after I got out of college. I much preferred to spend my free time outside in the woods especially since I was stuck in an apartment for those first decades out of college. Hiking, caving, climbing, backpacking, horse back riding, nature photography, cross country skiing, crewing on a sailboat, rock hounding – I rarely spent a full day inside and I never spent a weekend at home. Pack the truck/car on Thursday night and meet the gang at quiting in a parking lot to take-off for the weekend trip of caving, ridge walking, rock hounding or whatever.. It was amazing we ever got any work done on Mondays.
You are correct Willis there is nothing like that icy blue light you get shining through the walls of snow tunnels or snow forts.

Peter Hannan
December 28, 2012 1:00 am

Thank you. Being from Britain, I have to go back to the winters of ’62 and ’63 to remember similar snow. Implicitly, you talk of humility before and in nature, through concrete experiences: this planet, where we live, is greater than us, at so many levels. The opposite of humility is hubris, the ancient Greek concept of overweening arrogance; as a young environmentalist in the late ’70s, and later, I saw as hubris the idea that we humans could continue polluting and destroying and changing landscapes and making species extinct and using limited resources for ever, without negative consequences; I still think that. But, in the last 30 years of climate alarmism, there is a different hubris: the idea that we humans, a small percentage of the biosphere, with all our activities, can significantly affect enormous planetary systems of the oceans and the atmosphere. As far as I can tell, we really need to understand that we are subject to the processes of this planet, as you eloquently express, we live in nature, we do not dominate it / her. Climate alarmism is hubris.

December 28, 2012 1:17 am

Willis, another excellent article, but with a different slant. I don’t think anyone can be a true scientist unless they have a sense of awe about their speciality. On this side of the pond we have very sadly lost Sir Patrick Moore whose enthusiasm and awe for all things astronomical gave him a career in broadcasting that lasted from 1957 until his death earlier this month. Your article was very similar to Patrick’s writings.
The sad thing is, the impression I get of the warmists is that there is no passion (apart from the desire to have opponents of their views, flogged) there is no awe about their chosen subject, just doom, gloom and research grants.

Stephen Richards
December 28, 2012 1:22 am

One of my many ‘awe’ moments was in the London, england area in the winter of ’62 ’63. It was fairly rare, even then, to get much snow in London but on Dec 26, after an exciting christmas day, we woke up to a blizzard of proportions not seen for maybe 60 yrs.
I rushed out, fully clothed of course, into the teeth of the blizzard on the pretence of seeing an ‘aunt’, about a mile away, who lived in a block of flats ‘appartments’. When I arrived, with the blizzard beginning to die, I found a 3foot drift around the flats about 100 yds long.
I just had to find out why the weather did this. I’ve been studying ever since.
Good write Willis.

Stephen Richards
December 28, 2012 1:24 am

[trimmed, Mod]

December 28, 2012 1:25 am

Every college-level student in the world should read this, Willis, as part of gaining an understanding of the World we live in.

Ron Sinclair
December 28, 2012 1:32 am

I noticed another wonder of nature the other morning after an overnight fall of snow. On the rectangular trays on each side of the barbeque, the snow had formed in a perfect conical shape about 6-8 inches high. The slope of the sides were at the natural limit of a snow slide and the cone raised to a rounded point at the top. A beautiful shape created by nature.

December 28, 2012 1:42 am

Let’s remember the good words of Henri Poincaré (1903. Science and Method)

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.

December 28, 2012 1:59 am

Wintertime was magic when I was a kid. When the snow came, it transformed our world
Magic of a snow flake

December 28, 2012 2:25 am

Has to be a book of essays or an autobiography eventually, Willis.
“Mixed Moss”, by “A Rolling Stone”?
((No, J. Arthur Ransome never published it.)

December 28, 2012 2:26 am

What a delightful article Willis. Your sense of wonder and curiosity reminds me of how Richard Feynman thought and wrote. You see the beauty and the science.
Just what we need at this time.

December 28, 2012 2:35 am

Amen, brother. Carl Sagan called it “the numinous”. I prefer Ralph Waldo Emerson’s formulation: “Science does not know its debt to imagination.” Imagination – the ability to wonder at the near-infinite novelty displayed by the natural world – is the spark.
We do science because we are human, and to be human is to possess two ineluctably human traits: the curiosity that drives us to understand; and the reason that provides organization and focus to that drive. We do science, we seek to learn, because we are explorers at heart.
Of course, these traits come at a cost. One of the first lessons I ever tried to teach to my children was to never stop asking “Why”, and to never be satisfied with the answer “Because”. That led to innumerable attempts to set alarms, and eventually a trap, for Santa Claus. My kids were looking for data to validate or falsify their hypotheses, and I’ve never been so proud – but let me tell you, I tip-toed around the tree those years.
It just goes to show that to a genuine scientist, nothing is off-limits. Legitimate scientific inquiry knows no boundaries, and respects neither sacred cows nor jolly fat guys in red doeskin. It also demonstrates the impact on otherwise legitimate experimentation when a bunch of nefarious scoundrels alter the experimental results after the researchers have gone to bed – e.g., by leaving boot-prints by the fireplace, consuming the ritual offertory cookies and milk, and purloining Rudolph’s carrot.
The role of cheating in science, and the chance that some nogoodnik might be manipulating the data, is, of course, another useful lesson for the kids to learn. But that can wait until next year. Maybe.

December 28, 2012 2:44 am

Thank you Willis. A beautiful picture.
I came across the work of Rudolf Steiner at about the age of 19, and from him I learned profound respect for this sense of awe. And that this awe is the beginning of the scientific process or method. I found that if I just looked with open eyes, open to the Universe as a mystery full of awe and wonder, I would start to see patterns even in “ordinary” things… significant patterns under our noses, that nobody else had noticed…
Yes, how important it is to nurture the child in one’s own soul.

A C Osborn
December 28, 2012 2:54 am

Willis this reminds me of an early winters morning walk when the Sun struck the dew on every branch of the trees and bushes and the whole landscape was covered in ” coruscating” Diamonds, coruscating is a perfect description of effects of Sunlight being broken down and reflected in this way.
Nature is truly magnificent.

Ian W
December 28, 2012 2:57 am

Willis – you brought back memories of a long time ago – on the Pevensey Levels my father had taken a group of us out late at night looking for ‘glow-worms’ in the rough grass explaining their bioluminescence. It was a warm but rapidly cooling summer night and very dark so the stars were brilliant in the sky with no competition from streetlights, which being from London was a rare experience for us. He had us lay down on our backs looking at the stars and described some constellations and what people in the past had thought they represented. Then said how far away they were – that light can go around the world 8 times in a second but the light from some of those stars was hundreds of years old -so imagine how really far away they were. But the next part was the ‘wonder’ part Willis – he said “Of course, there is no ‘up or down’ in space, so we are actually looking down at those stars a huge distance below us. The only reason we don’t fall off the Earth is gravity is holding us onto it as it spins around – you can feel the force of gravity as you are pressed against the grass – but nobody really knows what it is.” . It is learning moments like those that stick with you.

December 28, 2012 3:02 am

Simply beautiful Willis.

December 28, 2012 3:37 am

Lovely writing Mr. Willis Eschenbach.
Thank you for your tale.
Might you have a novel in you?
I would buy it.
All the best.

Doug Huffman
December 28, 2012 3:50 am

Two compliments, I hope.
I used to walk above Lake Cushman in Olympic NP winter, from full dark, booting up, to noon. Once I walked through a tree tunnel of diamonds as the heavy frost melted in the sunrise and each droplet scintillated reflected rainbows. Even writing remembering tears come.
My life is on an Island in Lake Michigan, clean drinkable fresh water. Death’s Door Passage still freezes. The shove ice erects walls of clearest blue, even in moonlight. Come visit in a few years, at Solar Minimum when our winters are glorious again.

December 28, 2012 3:53 am

I too, lived a youth outdoors and have witnessed the random marvels of nature. Unfortunately, most people today don’t have the patience or lifestyle for it.
Bless you for sharing this, Willis. You are gifted.

Dr. John M. Ware
December 28, 2012 3:56 am

Beautiful essay, Willis–it makes me think back to some of the times that I–usually an unobservant clod–have been moved to awe by what’s outside. Two years ago I saw a mini-tornado come across the lawn right through our yard. It was not big enough to have an opaque funnel, so I could see the individual sticks, limbs, and leaves whirling around as the column approached, and hear the whaking sounds as they hit the house. It took maybe four or five seconds to cross our yard (150 feet or so) with a roaring sound, and then it was gone, and so were two mature trees, a 20′ x 30′ rosebush, an even larger euonymus, and many branches from other trees. I had been outside just a minute or so before, and something told me to get in and watch through our front storm door. On a quieter note: I grow daylilies (Hemerocallis), both species and hybrids (I also hybridize), and every day during bloom season (April to November here) I can go out and marvel at the beauty of the blooms, whether a single vibrant color or one of the multitudinous combinations of colors, shapes, and sizes that daylilies can produce. Other flowers have similar or very different beauties. This is enough for now–Thanks, Willis, for wakening or reviving the feeling of wonder in your readers!

December 28, 2012 4:05 am

“Science does not know its debt to imagination.”
“And that this awe is the beginning of the scientific process or method.”
“Nature is truly magnificent.”
And I see same kind of a beauty and awe when mathematics shows aspects of nature otherwise invisible
I sometime call it symphony of natural oscillations, never get dispirited by shrieks of ‘spurious’, ‘pseudoscience’ even ‘fake’ or ‘fraud’.
I just wander how, why, what caused, causing what …. ?

December 28, 2012 4:19 am

Wonderful, actually “full of wonder” you took me way back to remember how things looked when, as a child, you really looked.
On a more mundane level I too remember the UK winter of 62/63, particularly trying to ride a scooter wearing stiletto-heeled boots (O Tempora, O Mores) over frozen snow and ice!!

December 28, 2012 5:53 am

Willis, I was hoping you would follow up your comment at Climate, Etc. with a post here. Nice to see you didn’t merely repeat what you said there. Instead you conjured up memories of special natural occurrences in all of us (except maybe jae). For me it was a thunderstorm that rained on one side of the street while leaving the other side dry, and one that sent fingers of lightning crawling from east to west across the sky and then back again as if searching for some hidden treasure, and a single cloud at sunset that contained it’s fury like the image of the Lord meeting Moses on Mt. Sinai. Then there are the double rainbows, the brief eerie calm in the eye of a hurricane, and the ice storm that tore down the tree limbs with crystal heaviness. Thanks for awakening the memories.

Chris Marrou
December 28, 2012 5:58 am

Your use of the word “refulgent” reminded me of a W.C Fields line in a 1930s movie, which went something like this:
“What a glorious day, what refulgent sunshine. Yes, yes. Reminds me of the day the McGillicuddy brothers murdered their mother with an axe…”
Luckily, your memories are on a slightly higher plane…

December 28, 2012 6:11 am

Thanks, Willis!
A wonderful story.
Happy New Year!

December 28, 2012 6:23 am

And some claim that the earth is in “dynamic equilibrium” that is being upset by an increase in an anthropogenic trace gas, and we can quantify the “upset” by calculating an increase in an average global temperature. Your observations are just a few that show that weather is dynamic but seldom ever approaches equilibrium. Models built on a bad assumption.

December 28, 2012 6:32 am

Reminds me of the time my family got caught out in a storm over Puget Sound and environs. We managed to drive our way into safe harbor on Indian Island; tied up to the horizontal 4X4 at the dock, and spent the night being rocked to and fro. The next morning, our lines had cut grooves into the 4X4. Meanwhile, on the day we arrived, we heard on the weather channel that a sailboat had been torn from its moorings in Port Townsend and was being blown our way. My son and I ran up to the highest point on the west side of the island and (with binoculars) watched while the sailboat was overtaken, lassoed, and pulled back to harbor. Running back to our boat was with the wind at our back…felt like I was sitting in a swing and only had to move my legs to keep up with the wind. The next day, a couple of kids caught a big rayfish off the docks…on a tangled mess that they had put together to catch crabs!
Ah, the days of youth.

Steve from Rockwood
December 28, 2012 6:39 am

Nice read Willis. I can just imagine your neighbor looking out the window to see you standing there in a winter coat and scuba gear, watching the hurricane.
Regarding climate science, anyone who can take 40 years of satellite data and explain the results with the term unprecedented does not have a scientific mind.

December 28, 2012 6:45 am

Thanks Willis,
A similar sort of color effect as the snow tunnel can be found in the interior of a Swiss glacier. On a bright summers day you need sunglasses despite being shielded by many feet of ice.

Jim Barker
December 28, 2012 6:51 am

Wonderful. Thanks, Willis!

December 28, 2012 7:03 am

You’ve lived an amazing life Willis, thanks for sharing.

Philip Peake
December 28, 2012 7:07 am

My (sorry Jae) most intriguing discovery was while on honeymoon in Scotland. We were married on Dec. 27th, so Scotland was a bit on the cool side. While driving around sightseeing we stopped to look at a lake. When we got out of the car there was a sound like tinkling fairy bells. It took a few minutes to determine that it was coming from the lake.
I was so intent on finding out what it was that I braved the semi-frozen marsh around the lake and walked up to its edge. There, I found the source of the sound. Small waves in the water were wetting the stems of reeds growing out of the water. The thin layer of water on the reed froze. The next wave added another layer. Over time an ice “bell” formed on the reed.
Now, a light wind was stirring the reeds and the “bells” touched each other, tinkling in the breeze.
Never seen that before, or since.

December 28, 2012 7:12 am

I spent too many years paying no attention. Tritely, a near-death experience in 2008 retrained my attention.
Since then, I’ve been amazed at the way winter demonstrates the world. For instance, you don’t think of a pine cone as a ‘warm-blooded creature’ until you notice its evaporative effect on a thin film of snow.
It’s those marginal effects, those near-zero-crossing observations, that tell me what Nature means. Fortunately, our senses are designed exactly (and logarithmically) to make those observations.

Sam the First
December 28, 2012 7:56 am

Beautiful writing Willis – thank you for sharing your sense of wonder, and for expressing it so imaginatively

Jim Clarke
December 28, 2012 8:07 am

It was around this time many winters ago, that I ventured into the Missouri Ozarks for a camping trip with a couple of friends. We were ‘roughing it’, as we planned to sleep in the forest without a tent or any other shelter. When we left our homes in the city, the ground was cold and bare, but when we arrived at Taum Sauk Mountain, the highest point in Missouri, we discovered an overnight snowfall of 5 to 7 inches. The amazing thing about this snowfall is that it apparently happened without a breath of wind. Consequently, every branch, stick and twig had about 5 inches of snow piled neatly on top of it.
It was a precariously beautiful scene. The slightest breath of wind would have dislodged the snow flakes so delicately balanced and piled up on even the thinnest reeds. But no wind came to the forest that day. We walked with a sense of awe, like one might experience walking into one of the worlds great cathedrals. Our breath and snow-crunching footfalls were the only sound. When we were still, there was a profound peace and silence, as the snow laden trees quickly absorbed all acoustic intrusions.
That night, we slept in our sleeping bags on top of pine boughs in a small clearing. The woods were dark and still all around us and the sky was overcast. Sometime during the night, I awoke to perhaps the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. The moon had risen behind the clouds, casting its pearly glow upon the land. The snow laden trees bounced that light around until it seemed like the forest itself was the source of the luminescence. It was a magical display, made even more special by its exclusivity. We were pretty sure that there were no other humans in the forest that night, as ours were the only trails in the snow.
As we hiked out the next day, the wind began to pick up, creating cascading snow events all around us, and sometimes on top of us. They were beautiful and amazing in there own way, but it was also kind of sad, as our crystal white wonderland began to tumble into memory.
Thank you, Willis, for prompting my own memories of the many times nature has awed me with its power, majesty and sublime beauty.

December 28, 2012 8:08 am

jae should stop counting and start comprehending.

December 28, 2012 8:32 am

It’s good to hear you’re sailing again Willis. I just started living aboard a friends Tayana in So.Cal. The boat’s not going to be delivered to his new residence location for a few years, so I’ve got a year at least to get familiar with liveaboard status before I consider purchasing my own cruiser.
One thing I’ve learned very quickly, even aboard a boat that’s sitting in a marina 90% of the time, you don’t lose track of the weather around you, it’s a sin.

December 28, 2012 8:44 am

Thank you, Willis. (And thanks for having him, Anthony.)

Lady in Red
December 28, 2012 8:56 am

Well, Willis. *I* think your unkind message to jae was unnecessary, unkind, jarring against the beauty of your writing.
(But, I hadn’t realized how very very important you are, until you mentioned it.)
Perhaps I should re-read with your importance in mind. …..Lady in Red

December 28, 2012 9:12 am

“That’s what I lose too often, and what I don’t want to lose, that feeling of curiosity-filled wonderment and total insignificance in the face of the magical marvels of weather, because I think a sense of awe is a crucial ingredient in what makes a good scientist.” W.E.
Good words Willis; I often remind myself just to pause and take that closer look…it is the entertaining satisfaction of discovery we had as youngsters chasing our endless curiosity. Today, the distractions can be overwhelming. Happier New Years!

John F. Hultquist
December 28, 2012 9:31 am

I just went to the faucet to check the color of the water. It was neither colorless nor blue, mostly clear with a tinge of yellow. It gets that way when I fail to replace the main sediment filter. Something to do with all the rocks and sand down there where the pump is. Anyway, Earth is called the Blue Planet because of the interaction of sunlight with the Oxygen and Nitrogen molecules. Water, when deep and clear and with the sun above the observer, will appear black. Other times and other places it can appear blue, or green, or brown, or red, or . . .
I just re-read W’s essay and found the phrase “Totally insignificant.” Perhaps I misinterpret that but it seems he is referring to himself. If so, that hardly warrants your multiple use of ‘important’ while chastising him for responding to a rather silly comment.

December 28, 2012 9:31 am

This jae is the best of the lot who support the Earth First cult.
They have stood under a long long flood of lies and are somewhat rounded smooth by said lies.
Little sparkle, and should be of little notice except for the msm enableing co-cult.

Mark Whitney
December 28, 2012 9:34 am

Thank’s Ellis!
Mine is a biology degree. A few years ago I was running the Colorado in Grand Canyon. We took a hike up South Canyon. My usual habit of looking closely at things around me resulted in my peering into a crack in the canyon wall. A spider had built a large, disorganized web, and in the web were two good-sized stick bugs. I looked closer, and realized they were not stuck in the web, but ever so slowly, almost imperceptibly, they were creeping into the spider’s lair in what can only be described as two-by-two cover formation.
I don’t know if they were after the spider or the arachnid’s eggs, but it was chilling, and thrilling to see.

Mark Whitney
December 28, 2012 9:52 am

Oops. Willis! Sorry.

Don Monfort
December 28, 2012 9:56 am

If Willis actually considers himself to be “totally insignificant’, he would not have responded in such a silly way to jae’s totally insignificant comment. Willis has a thin skin. I wonder why he makes room for that in his otherwise admirable character. Anyway, nice essay

The Iceman Cometh
December 28, 2012 9:57 am

Lovely images! I often wish those who try to model climate could spend a little time in the great outdoors and experience the sorts of things you describe. You only begin to understand the sheer might of Nature when you are alone with it. I once sat out a force 10 gale in a small, disabled boat somewhere down around 54 degrees south, and all you could see was spray – you couldn’t even see the sea beneath the boat. We finally ran the sea anchor over the stern – it was far easier to steer.
I gave up models when I discovered they didn’t take into account the energy of even a small tropical cyclone.

Power Grab
December 28, 2012 10:09 am

“Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic.” – Jean Sibelius
I enjoyed the story, Willis. If my kid had a living grandparent who wrote letters like that, fewer hours might be spent in front of said kid’s laptop.

December 28, 2012 10:10 am

Alarmed by the stream of propaganda about global warming, I turned to WUWT in 2008 for some sanity and scientific perspective. I come here still, for I found what I sought. More than that, Willis for in your posts I find writing of renaissance eloquence. You are incomparable.
Thanks, Willis.

Luther Wu
December 28, 2012 10:22 am

Once found one of those sandstone marbles in a hole in creek- side sandstone.
The older folks told me they called them “Indian marbles”, as they had found them when playing along the same creek as kids. Since the area had only been inhabited by whites for around 70 years when I found the “marble”, who knows if the stones had been washed into the holes or placed there by Indian boys, of if the Indian kids even played with marbles?

Larry Ledwick (hotrod)
December 28, 2012 10:27 am

Great story Willis reminds me of several similar moments when circumstances allow you to see something new you have never seen before or see something old in a new way.
For me your story brought back memories of one magical morning when on a business trip to northern Colorado I happened to be driving up US 40 just west of Hayden early on a winter morning. That route parallels the white river and its slowly meandering flood plain as it weaves its way across the valley. The area between Hayden and Craig is featureless and unremarkable in the summer and in the winter can get brutally cold, with record lows near -40 deg F. This morning was one of those brutally cold mornings, and the relatively warm water of the white river was steaming creating a ribbon of ground fog along the river. As the sun rose you could see that everything you could see near the river was covered with inches of hoar frost, the delicate lace like ice crystals turned the scene into a magical winter wonderland, accented by the golden glow of the sun trying to break through the light over cast.
It was one of those moments that gets burned into your memory because it was so unexpected and at the moment so beautiful and magical.
I’ve had many similar moments while storm chasing, watching a down draft tear the back side of a thunderstorm cloud apart as if a giant hand it wipes down the the back side of the cloud, or driving with the wind as heavy rain starts and you realize that you are traveling in formation with a thousand huge rain drops moving at almost the same speed as the car and on a gentle glide slope to the ground, they appear to just float and quiver as they fall. Hard to keep your eyes on the road when such a display is occurring just outside your drivers side window.

S Basinger
December 28, 2012 10:41 am

Wow, what a beautifully written account. Thanks for that, Willis.

Matthew R Marler
December 28, 2012 12:39 pm

Thank you, again.

Jim Clarke
December 28, 2012 12:45 pm

Thanks to all those who have shared their ‘awe’ moments. And thanks to Anthony for hosting. I often come away from WUWT with my blood pressure a little higher and my spirits a little lower, but not today. Today I know a little more about the wonders of the world, and that is a good thing; a beautiful, holiday gift.

December 28, 2012 1:54 pm

Thank you Willis for your well written essay. It brought back memories of personal magic moments in nature. Those moments that would not have been so magic for me if they had been shared with some one else at the time. One of them was sailing a Piver trimaran on moonless night several hundred miles off the coast of California. The sea was flat and there was a fresh night wind, making the trimaran move fast but without much deck motion or sound. There were three glowing contrails in the inky black sea behind me. The other one was while cross country skiing on a moonlight night along hoar frosted willows, next to the Trail Creek in Sun Valley. I could tell the temperature had dropped well below zero because the entire landscape had become silvery and the crystals on the willows were breaking up the light like jewels. I could faintly hear in my mind Dorogoi D. (Дорогой длинною).
I share your antipathy for language orthodoxy enforcers. If the orthodoxy had their way, language would stop evolving. They remind me of fashion enforcers.
You are in in good company, Kurt Vonnergut and Ezra Pound had very little use for them also.

December 28, 2012 2:27 pm

Willis – much, much appreciated. Vivid writing better than I aspire to, even.
With forty years in shipping, I know that there are sights – and sounds, and even odours – that need to be experienced.
None in my experience, perhaps, like those described by other commenters – never mind your good self – so I’ll just add one minor comment.
Recently, I’ve been driven much more than driving – and the things I’ve noticed! Even in the three miles about home there has been so much [and a suburban part of London, at that!].
There is a wonderful, beautiful, sometimes surprising world out there.
Experience it – and get your kids to do so, too [and their kids . . . .]!

December 28, 2012 2:48 pm

“My point is, of course, that the intellectual qualities that we neither
teach nor know how to teach, and hence tend to suppress, are precisely
the ones essential to dealing with the complex systems of this planet, and
since these qualities are suppressed in our educational system, untutored
people often possess them in more highly developed form than do the
“I have much greater faith in simple observations and untrammeled
thinking than I have in sophisticated observations and simplistic thinking!
And I have much greater confidence that man’s relationship to the sea and
its resources will be enhanced by thoughtful and observant people closely
involved and broadly acquainted with the sea – scientist and non-scientist
alike – than by frantic bureaucratic responses to public hysteria or by the
pontification of the scientific hierarchy. ”
John Isaacs, Renaissance man, scientist, engineer, oceanographer, biologist, author, inventor, and his own favourite description, teacher.

Mr Lynn
December 28, 2012 4:04 pm

It has been said that wonder is the truly religious attitude.
And of course, wonder is the source of science: it raises questions.
/Mr Lynn

December 28, 2012 5:21 pm

Read this wonderful post earlier, but only now getting round to saying how much I enjoyed it, Thanks Willis.

December 28, 2012 6:33 pm

Back in the day I remember reading a sci-if short story wherein weather systems were sentient creatures, and the storms, winds and lightning were the results of battles being fought to avoid being pushed around. Now, many years later I stand on my mountain side deck and watch the weather systems move across the valley, fighting, yelling and spitting as one is pushed out and another moves in. Who says engineers don’t have poetry in their souls?

December 28, 2012 7:32 pm

I searched for a way to find your WUWT posts easily, as they are too good to miss. I found a URL:
That’s very helpful, and I’m delighted. I was less delighted to find that it is not the first Google hit for your name. The first is the address of a biased and negatively critical blog about you in the warmist desmogblog. I wonder – is that a coincidence, or activist manipulation in the search engine? It seems hard to imagine that the desmogblog article is the most searched reference for you.

D Böehm
December 28, 2012 7:38 pm

Put “Eschenbach” into the WUWT search box. You will find dozens of articles by Willis. Every one of them is worth reading.

December 28, 2012 7:52 pm

ln my childhood l saw a weather event that l have never seen before or since.
lt was in the early 70’s ( l think l have nailed it down to Jan 72). We were having very cold frosty weather. l was looking out of my bedroom window at the frost, when suddenly ice pellets began to fall out of what looked to be a clear blue sky. The only cloud in the sky was a patch of high Cirrus cloud right above me. When l went outside to take a closer look, a even more amazing sight was there to meet me. For everyone of the ice pellets that had fell was in the shape of a 5 pointed star.

Steve Tabor
December 28, 2012 9:04 pm

Willis’ description of his magical find of the ice cone reminds me of a similar find of my own many years ago. It was in February in the plateau country of Utah near the Arizona border, above the rim of the San Juan River near Monument Valley. I think it was in Mike’s Canyon. I was wandering up the canyon, a shallow trench encased in solid rock, on a cold but dry morning, when I came to a low rim about twelve feet high spanning the drainage. A minuscule stream went drip-drip-drip over the rim rock, falling on the bare stone wash bottom below. Below the drip was an amazing ice structure about four feet wide and six feet high. It was in the shape of a vertical head of romaine lettuce. Water had dripped continuously on the point in the center, probably for many months, just enough to maintain the structure, but not enough to wash it away or damage it with any force. Various cycles of partial thaw (to slush?) and refreeze had cause ice “leaves” to sag outward from the center toward the perimeter, then refreeze solid before sluffing off. Each night’s temperature of 10-15 degrees F. would set the structure in place for the next day’s partial melting and sagging outward. It never got warm enough to do any serious melting, and the structure, in the bottom of a gulch, probably got 1-2 hours of sunshine at the most. This huge ice structure must have been there for months, slowly modified by ever so gentle forces of heating and freezing, never enough to cause it to collapse outright.
It was remarkable sight, a huge ever-changing ice stalagmite kept at a temperature just right to maintain its shape. I will never forget it. I saw it before I ever had enough money to afford a camera, so all I have is the memory.

December 28, 2012 9:09 pm

Willis, great to hear that you are a fan of Gerard (I mis-spelled it the first time) Manley Hopkins. He must have been an awkward priest. I can just imagine the priestocracy, humming and ha-ing – what the h*** are we going to do with this guy?
Anyway, further to your comment about him ‘worshipping nature’ – I suspect that you have committed a heresy. There are countless poems and poets, some very good, who worship nature. What I like about “Pied Beauty” is that it also says:
“Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough; 5
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;”
GMH regarded humans’ toil as part of the Lord’s work. Like you (and me) he wondered at the tools and output of tradesmen and craftsmen. He seems also to have been interested in science and inventions. As a great intellect, he was not bounded by conventional views about Man and Nature.
Thanks to those who have shared their experiences here. They have brightened my day considerably. I’ve had a few similar ones, but am clearly outclassed.
Oh, and further to my mention of watching my cycad sprout a new round of fronds (which happens once a year in this climate) – despite snailbait to the wazoo, I found one contentedly munching on the precious new fronds this morning. Bastard. I flung it to oblivion.
It had overcome distance, snailbait, and a rough, spiky surface to feast on the new fronds. They must be like catnip to cats, or bacon to dogs, or something. The snail passed by several juicy, leafy plants to munch on my once-in-a-year fronds.
Anyone who imagines that nature is kind and benevolent has been watching too many Disney films.

Bob in Castlemaine
December 28, 2012 9:53 pm

Great piece Willis. It’s good sometimes to recall the wonder of the world that surrounds us, it’s too easy to become entrapped in our own bubble.
“Your” German ditch wooden channel reminded me of a bit of “old timer” ingenuity that I came across a few years back (I hasten to add not as a youngster) where the old time prospector miners of central Victoria had encountered a steep narrow gully with one of their many aqueducts dug to bring water to their mining works. Rather than dig another half mile or so in the hard shale ground along the contour of the gully they constructed a siphon, using tinsmith techniques to fashion the pipe, and a wire rope catenary to support it. That it still remains after around 120 years is testament to the ability of these pioneers.
I did photograph the construction on an old mobile, but couldn’t find the picture today, when next I’m in the area I’ll photograph it again.

December 28, 2012 10:26 pm

Marvelous writing Willis … a very wonderful read.
Jae just seeks to remind us that everyone in fact does have a voice.
And Jae’s apparently happens to be a whiney, snarky one with that slight echoing tone caused by speaking whilst using a finger to excavate debri from one’s nostril.

December 29, 2012 12:01 am

There was a puzzle from my childhood that I only solved 30 years later outside an office highrise in the Singapore central business district of all places.
One of my favourite pastimes as a child was fishing in the small ponds that dotted the woods and fields where I lived. The ponds good for fishing were old claypits dug by hand hundreds of years ago. These ponds were small, not much more than 10 meters across and usually sheltered by trees. The water surface was generally as flat and calm as the proverbial mill pond. While the water in the ponds was turbid from the fish constantly stirring up the clay bottom.
When you are fishing you spent a lot of time watching the surface of the water, and I observed a phenomena that you don’t see on larger bodies of water, thin lines of disturbance that develop across the surface. These thin lines were invariable straight, although some times they shifted in direction, but were rarely curved or irregular. They were typically 2 to 4 meters in length, propagated at perhaps 1 or 2 meters per second, and perhaps a centimeter or two wide.
The puzzle was were these disturbances caused by fish swimming just below the surface, invisible in the turbid water, or was the breeze blowing over the surface the cause. As a child I never satisfactorily answered the question.
Fast forward 30 years, and I am standing outside the Singapore highrise waiting for a friend. At the side of the entrance there is a water feature comprising a granite pool about 5 meters across and not much more than a centimeter deep. Across the surface I see identical lines forming in the light breeze as the ponds of my childhood. Puzzle solved, it was the breeze.

Don Monfort
December 29, 2012 12:30 am

Self-importance is best kept to one’s self.

December 29, 2012 2:42 am

Don Monfort says: December 29, 2012 at 12:30 am
“..Willis,…..Self-importance is best kept to one’s self….”
More so are some people’s opinions.

Roger Carr
December 29, 2012 4:14 am

This guy had the Willis in him:
     Norman Joseph Woodland, co-inventor of the barcode that labels nearly every product in stores worldwide, has died aged 91.
     One day he drew Morse dots and dashes as he sat on the beach and absent-mindedly left his fingers in the sand where they traced a series of parallel lines.
     “It was a moment of inspiration. Instead of dots and dashes I can have thick and thin bars’,” (his daughter) Susan Woodland said.

Keith G
December 29, 2012 4:41 am

“It was through the feeling of wonder that men now and at first began to philosophise.” – Aristotle.

Viv Evans
December 29, 2012 4:41 am

I share this sense of awe and fascination, but for me it always was and still is the fascination of being able to watch animals go about their business. Once I got severely scolded for being late coming back from school. Well, there was this tree, and there were ants crawling up and down the trunk. I was riveted. I was seven years at that time, and all my life this fascination never left me. Didn’t matter if it was sheep playing (yes, they do), or watching a wasp going in and out of her burrow, or barnacles waving their tentacles under water, feeding, scallops swimming, whatever: if it moves, I’m riveted!
As for ice marbles: I still got a smooth stone I picked up on Chesil Beach, which has a hollow on one side,in which rests a tiny, round and smooth pebble of that same material. Who knows how long it took to arrive at that form, who knows how long it sat on the beach where I found it …
Losing one’s childhood feeling of awe and wonder is the worst thing to happen to anybody.

Lady in Red
December 29, 2012 5:29 am

Willis…. I’m sorry. I did not know the “jae backstory.”
However, I stand by my comment:
There is a flow, beauty to your essay. jae’s comment was irrelevant noise, easily passed over, ignored — which I did… ….until *you* elevated it. Then, suddenly, out of the blue *your* tone changed: yelling, screaming, whining, complaining as it were…. breaking *my* mood.
In future, I’d suggest ignoring him. Or, if you must, something simple and dismissive, implying your backstory history.
Without that backstory history, the comment did not reflect well upon you. ….Lady in Red

Don Monfort
December 29, 2012 7:48 am

Let me guess. The people you are talking about are those whose opinions differ from your own.
I am sorry that my less than complete fawning adoration for everything Willis says upsets you. I humbly suggest that you avert thine eyes, whenever you see my name preceeding a comment.

Curious Canuck
December 29, 2012 8:16 am

We have a colloquial honourific here in eastern Canada that can be applied so well to Willis.
With all compliment sir, you are a gentleman and a scholar and an ol’ trawl hauler.
Thank you for yet another wonderful read and tight lines to you.

Luther Wu
December 29, 2012 9:13 am

Roger Carr says:
December 29, 2012 at 4:14 am
This guy had the Willis in him:
Norman Joseph Woodland, co-inventor of the barcode that labels nearly every product in stores worldwide, has died aged 91.
One day he drew Morse dots and dashes as he sat on the beach and absent-mindedly left his fingers in the sand where they traced a series of parallel lines.
”It was a moment of inspiration. Instead of dots and dashes I can have thick and thin bars’,” (his daughter) Susan Woodland said.
The fellow who came up with Velcro was similarly inspired, as well as the fellow who invented…
such is the history of mankind’s innovations.
Innovation is honest science.
Innovation proceeds from observed reality.

Don Monfort
December 29, 2012 1:46 pm

You are confused, Willis. I did not say that you expected universal fawning adoration. I wasn’t talking to you. I was responding to the clown, who suggested that I should not express my opinion.
I like your writing. I said above that this current post is a “nice essay”. Maybe that was too faint praise, short on content and clarity.
“Self-importance is best kept to one’s self.” Another way of saying it can be unseemly to toot your own horn. But I am just an old ranger (not cowboy, airborne) and I could be wrong, on that and many other things.
Bottom line, you have turned a nice experience into doo-doo for some of us. No doubt very few, but still some. And you have given your inconsequential clown friend jae another opportunity to tell his mom that he has gotten under the skin of the famous Willis E.
Now I will give you the last 500 words. I have better things to do.

Lady in Red
December 29, 2012 6:14 pm

Good night, Willis.
Ask your ex-fiancee: stroke my cheek tonight, dear. Remind me. It’s all ok.
….Lady in Red

December 29, 2012 7:25 pm

Don Monfort says: December 29, 2012 at 7:48 am
“….markx,…..Let me guess. The people you are talking about are those whose opinions differ from your own……I am sorry that my less than complete fawning adoration for everything Willis says upsets you….”
No, no, Don, not at all. Just giving you little heads up that sometimes personal opinions are best not unnecessarily aired, simply out of good manners.
And yeah, I’m not sure if it I’d call it fawning adoration, but even though I have never met Willis, I do sort of like the guy.
Might be having some similarly shared experiences. My mind goes back to my early years of living on a farm in a mountainous area with tens of thousands of hectares of forest I could ramble through. And perhaps the few years I spent as a builders’/brickies’/concreter labourer. (Man, I loved the hard physical work I could do then.. and never realized how fit and strong I was!).

Roger Carr
December 29, 2012 7:34 pm

Viv Evans said at 4:41 am (29th): “… Didn’t matter if it was sheep playing (yes, they do)”
     Delighted to read that, Viv, having watched groups of young lambs “racing” in natural saucers (much like little veladromes) on the slopes of a paddock (field).
     There was no compelling reason for this (and groups repeated it often), just an apparent joy in the stretching of fit young muscles in a structured environment.
     It has always seemed improbable that animals were “playing” in such an organised manner; but your short “yes, they do” is a form of confirmation which adds to my pondering of their returning to the saucers and not simply just running in circles on the open paddock.

December 29, 2012 8:51 pm

After 49 days at sea (single sailor), they are nearing the Horn, icebergs (or remnents) are forecast in their path:

December 29, 2012 9:27 pm

Thanks so much for your essay. This is my second time back so that I could enjoy more of the responses as others shared their ‘awe, shucks’ moments. I spent a portion of my youth about 10 miles from your ranch, near Little Cow creek. We lived for a time in a 20’X40′ cabin on what was left of my great-grandfather’s second homestead. I too had the experience of two room schools and living in the woods to stare in wonder at the revelations that were to be found every day for those who could just open their eyes and really see. From the fascination of a wooden flume, still in use from the days when it was built to power a sawmill, to noticing that one dog always grabbed the head of the skunk when the fight started, to looking for the remnants left behind by those who had been on the land before we came along. I still remember the wonder of standing outside the cabin as big snow flakes cascaded from the sky. Not so odd. But what made it memorable was the thunder. The clouds were so thick that there was no hint of lightning. But for the first and only time in my life I experienced a thunder snow storm. Unforgettable. Thanks for bringing back some memories.

December 29, 2012 9:46 pm

Restless Farewell – Bob Dylan (last two verses) …seems apt:
Oh, ev’ry thought that’s strung a knot in my mind
I might go insane if it couldn’t be sprung
But it’s not to stand naked under unknowin’ eyes
It’s for myself and my friends my stories are sung
But the time ain’t tall, yet on time you depend
And no word is possessed by no special friend
And though the line is cut
It ain’t quite the end
I’ll just bid farewell till we meet again
Oh a false clock tries to tick out my time
To disgrace, distract, and bother me
And the dirt of gossip blows into my face
And the dust of rumors covers me
But if the arrow is straight
And the point is slick
It can pierce through dust no matter how thick
So I’ll make my stand
And remain as I am
And bid farewell and not give a damn
Read more:

December 29, 2012 9:59 pm

Something fun about snow tunnels and igloos: 2 fun items!
1: Snow is a good thermal insulator. With some winter outerwear, even
only a little, it’s easy to be warm in a snow tunnel or an igloo. Please
consider that Inuit were able to reproduce, probably in igloos.
They may have used makeshift rugs and bedsheets, possibly they even
partially clothed their bodies for activities often done by others when they
are naked.
2: Snow is a good acoustic insulator. Snow makes things quieter.
Then-again, I have heard of an Inuit practice of lighting a candle in an
igloo, to melt its inner surface – and afterwards, let the melted inner
surface refreeze into a glaze of ice. That makes the igloo stronger.
And, I expect that hard icy interior glaze to be largely reverberant, as
opposed to the sound-deadening aspect of snow. (Less-badly-so if the
floor of the igloo is unglazed snow or better-still rugged with animal furs.)

Don Monfort
December 29, 2012 10:08 pm

Looks like more than 500 words, cowboy. You really got a burr under your saddle. Nobody said that you are doing it all wrong. A couple of us offered some mild, constructive criticism on your overreaction to that varmint jae’s inconsequential comment. But you got to blow it up and make a spectacle of yourself. You are a big baby, Willis. That’s why Mosher doesn’t like you anymore. Get a grip on yourself.
I hope you don’t get really mad and turn that flaming torch on me. I had enough of that rough stuff, during my time in the real wars.
I am out of this now, really. Unless you go off the deep end and start talking about my momma.
You should have your therapist read this thread.

December 30, 2012 7:51 am

W.. that was really the best ‘last word’ I’ve ever read. If I were at a bar with you I would offer you a drink.. heres to you.. an amazing wordsmith!
And yes, I agree that maintaining some semblance of blog coherence in an open forum like WUWT requires the schoooling of many a troll. I know that I do not have the talents to do it. So please hang in there, as you are one heck of a natural scientist. You amaze me.

December 30, 2012 11:44 am

I finally teased a reply out of Willis.
Even if, it was my only comment worthy of reply, it still happened.

December 31, 2012 9:37 am

Donald L. Klepstein:
The Inuit often had more permanent shelters than igloos, probably animal skins over whale ribs (precursor to modern tents).
Igloos were more of a temporary shelter, relatively easy to make for overnight shelter (if snow was good – drifted snow works well, out in the open with some variation in terrain or with ice ridges there’d be drifting though not a huge depth of snow as source). I don’t know about partly melted snow which would have a hard crust but not necessarily cohesive depth, icing on the inside of the igloo would help if you could get one erected.
I don’t know if they planned their procreation so the baby was born in early spring. They usually had food in winter in the form of sea mammals.

Chris R.
December 31, 2012 9:38 am

My love for science has always been driven by my sense of awe at
the wondrous nature of our universe. I have read Willis’ story, and
the comments of many who have shared their own moments of
transcendent awe, with recognition from moments in my life that
have stoked up that same sense of awe.
To those–usually English majors–who have said to me in the past
that: “….describing something in an equation takes all the magic
out of it …”, I have developed a standard comeback. This standard
comeback? “Being able to scientifically describe the phenomenon
that you call ‘magical’ only increases the wonder
of it. For, if you add to the aesthetic appreciation of that phenomenon,
and the feeling of luck to have been able see it, the intellectual appreciation
for just how it has been shaped by nature and how all of the various
laws of physics cooperated to produce this spectacle, your sense of
just how ‘magical’ it is can only be increased.”

December 31, 2012 9:40 am

Similarly tribal people to the south had portable and more permanent abodes. Teepees were used by some, the long poles used as crude sleds (rest one end on shoulders, or on horse once the Spanish introduced those), other portables were used as well. More permanent structures may have been partly sunken, using various materials including animal skins, sod, and cedar planks (split trees).

Rational Persuader
December 31, 2012 10:47 am

I say even “Lady in Red” is way off base.
Does she expect your story of what you did, when by yourself, should be written like “The person featured in this story stood in awe of the scene….”?
Some people have no sense!
Notice the subtle mis-representation in “I am sorry that my less than complete fawning adoration for everything Willis does upsets you.” and the blatent mis-representation “The people you are talking about are those with opinions differ from your own.”
The tactics of a con artist.
Willis, you are wasting your time trying to respond to the jerks.
What you and the decent people herein might think about is why people are attacking you (as different from on-target critique of your technical work in other threads).
Perhaps it is akin to the “tall poppy syndrome”, perhaps just plain envy.

Brian H
January 1, 2013 9:48 pm

Now we know where you first lost your marbles!

Brian H
January 1, 2013 11:26 pm

Lady in Red says:
December 29, 2012 at 5:29 am
Willis…. I’m sorry. I did not know the “jae backstory.”

In future, I’d suggest ignoring him. Or, if you must, something simple and dismissive, implying your backstory history.

How about: “You, again?”
Effective troll-smacking is indeed necessary work. Otherwise a troll-feeding thread highjack is a near certainty. It’s what they post for, after all.
The OP is necessarily the best one to do it, and keep it within bounds. Otherwise “off-topic” is the least of what happens to the thread and discussion of its message. “Flame war” comes closer.

Alice Cheshire
January 2, 2013 6:25 am

Brian H: Perhaps the same method used to discourage phone solicitors: just keep asking questions until they hang up. After all, the goal is to disrupt. Keep repeating the on-topic questions and comments over and over. (It’s okay if “they” read this–trolls have a compulsion and will continue even when outed.)

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