Monday, November 30, 2009

Exeunt Hurricanes

Today was the last day for hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin. Which is not to say there have never been hurricanes in December...but we can have reason to hope for a few more months of relative peace and quiet in the Keys. Winter storms can be nasty sometimes, but one of the things I like about the weather here is that rainy season comes in the summer when it's hot, and the cool of winter (relatively) is mostly dry, so we are usually spared endless days of drizzle and damp. I guess we'll meet again with the hurricane season June 1st next year, and hope not to see a storm before August, if at all. I could get used to these hurricane-free summers.

Unchanging Climate

I find to my surprise the scandal known elsewhere as "Climategate" gets no headlines in the newspapers, or on television in the US. My colleagues who are all agog about a famous golfer's car wreck look at me with incomprehension when I mention the extraordinary series of e-mails leaked from a scientific instituion in Britain. I have always been rather sceptical about claims that humans are to blame for the changing climate, yet the news that in fact numbers have been hidden and manipulated to "prove" human culpability leaves me concerned not elated..

I copied the following e-mails from the Global Research Website in Canada. They are correspondence between scientists in Britain and the US discussing nothing less than lying about climate change and obstructing opposition to their deliberately flawed research. The comments following each e-mail have been added by a commentator either from Global Research or the originator of the e-mails, Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper- the author is not made clear in the article I copied though the term "Climategate" was coined rather unimaginatively by a climate change sceptic on the Telegraph's staff.

Here are a selection of quotes from the e-mails stolen from computers at the University of East Anglia. Many involve Phil Jones, head of the university's Climatic Research Unit.

From: Phil Jones. To: Many. Nov 16, 1999
"I've just completed Mike's Nature [the science journal] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie, from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."
Critics cite this as evidence that data was manipulated to mask the fact that global temperatures are falling. Prof Jones claims the meaning of "trick" has been misinterpreted

From Phil Jones To: Michael Mann (Pennsylvania State University). July 8, 2004
"I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"
The IPCC is the UN body charged with monitoring climate change. The scientists did not want it to consider studies that challenge the view that global warming is genuine and man-made.

From: Kevin Trenberth (US National Center for Atmospheric Research). To: Michael Mann. Oct 12, 2009
"The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't... Our observing system is inadequate"
Prof Trenberth appears to accept a key argument of global warming sceptics - that there is no evidence temperatures have increased over the past 10 years.

From: Phil Jones. To: Many. March 11, 2003
“I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor.”
Prof Jones appears to be lobbying for the dismissal of the editor of Climate Research, a scientific journal that published papers downplaying climate change.

From Phil Jones. To: Michael Mann. Date: May 29, 2008
"Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise."
Climate change sceptics tried to use Freedom of Information laws to obtain raw climate data submitted to an IPCC report known as AR4. The scientists did not want their email exchanges about the data to be made public.

From: Michael Mann. To: Phil Jones and Gabi Hegerl (University of Edinburgh). Date: Aug 10, 2004
"Phil and I are likely to have to respond to more crap criticisms from the idiots in the near future."
The scientists make no attempt to hide their disdain for climate change sceptics who request more information about their work.

Supporters of "anthropogenic climate change" (climate change caused by human behavior) have responded to these e-mails by pointing out they were obtained illegally, that they illustrate scientific methods in all their every day ugliness, that their authors are excessively passionate, that they don't alter the fact that polar ice caps are melting. However no one denies that the evidence that human activity is causing climate change is now most definitely up in the air.

Even though I have been sceptical myself that humans are responsible I continue to support the notion that better stewardship of the world's resources is critical- be it money, petroleum, clean water, clean air, trees or endangered species. The authors of these e-mails and their flawed scientific approach have made all that much harder to achieve, because in the politically charged atmosphere of economic meltdown and ecological catastrophe in which we live, we have one other source of previously reliable information we can no longer trust. A pox on them.

Thankfully Tortugas

The campground at Fort Jefferson is tucked into the area under the trees in front of the fort. The back of the campground is a little sand dune that spreads out into a fine swimming beach off the west side of the island. The Thanksgiving Day afternoon was lovely and sunny after the rainy start I described yesterday. Air and water temperatures were in the mid 70s (20C) but even I managed to take a swim with a skin on. For day tripping visitors the Dry Tortugas National Park was a chance to get some exercise......and work on their tans in the time honored ways of beach goers everywhere:
Even though white caps churned up by north winds made the deeper waters rough, the worst effects of the cold front were mitigated on the beach which was protected by the walls of the Civil War fort. Indeed it can be said conditions were quite pleasant for people wearing not many clothes: If staring at the water or swimming in it wasn't enough, there was always the chance to kill something:Or to go and look at bird nesting grounds, even though the birds (boobies) are away at this time of year. Bird Key and Long Key (the wooded island in the background) are one of the major booby nesting grounds in the spring months.For me a wander through the fort is always in order, a time to ponder the huge waste of building a brick fort to protect an important harbor, just as rifling was coming of age and cannon were being built that could easily demolish these ineffective walls: Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the US and young members of the Coastguard got a portion of the day off as well. Their ship parked off the Tortugas for a day and they were ferried in to enjoy the beaches. Being organized people they had to wear flower pots on their heads and life jackets for the ride to and from the mother ship. Which gave them an incongruously efficient air in a place that celebrates informality. The Coastguard cutter was anchored quite a ways south of the fort and disappeared before the next morning: We civilians shambled on evading the black clouds that piled up as the cold front pushed south: I tried out some artsy photography involving sea oats and waves: And then I found some rain puddles and bricks. The sky was what auteurs call "pewter' and it made the day rather...pewter-like or leaden. Besides we were all waiting for the main event. And there were sailboats and bricks. And the remains of a washed out campground.
Cultures that don't celebrate Thanksgiving find the New World habit of giving thanks rather quaint. For myself I am always grateful to have escaped the dreary monotony of the Old World so I am quite fond of Thanksgiving. If I could find one I might put a bumper sticker on my Nissan if it read something like" Glad To Be American" or "Cheerfully American." I find all those suggestions of pride to be tempting fate, and rather rude frankly (Matthew 23:12). If it weren't ungrammatical I might like a bumper sticker that read "Thankfully American" or "Hopefully American" but all I ever see on the roads are the repetitive "Proud To Be American" stickers, so I make up for my loss with large portions of food on the anointed day.
I don't think the Puritans who reputedly bellied up to the first Thanksgiving would have thought much of some horseman who showed up to the meal with "Proud To Be A Colonial" branded on the rump of his horse. Pride was not part of the package back then, as wasn't alcohol music dancing or gambling. Gluttony was definitely off the menu, but luckily not many of us are strict historians or else Thanksgiving, even 70 miles out in the middle of the ocean, would not look like this:It would be invidious to discuss my own level of gluttony but happily I had the presence of mind (much to the amusement of my dinner companions) to record the moment for posterity. This was round one, and Puritans be damned as seconds were available for everyone: Ham, turkey, mashed sweet potato, potatoes with a cheese sauce and beans in a casserole, mushrooms in breadcrumbs and stuffing and gravy (and hearts of palm, olives, gherkins and roasted red peppers for a pre-banquet snack) so we didn't suffer at all despite our distance from civilization. We ate apple crumble pies and pumpkin pies and sprayed whipped cream and mixed wine and beer and rum and we invited in two German tourists; confused they were, poor young women, by the concept of gratitude as a national holiday; and two Americans, stranded on a desert island with strange natives. Matt was the youngest member of our party, sixteen and coping manfully with the onslaught of adults:
And quite possibly the oldest participant, his father Jan:I quite like both of them and they seem to like each other so there's something else to be thankful for.

Dan was one of our strays from Maryland, sitting next to Rebecca, a teacher colleague of my wife's. He gets my eternal thanks for introducing me to a delightful elixir called Bud Lime, a beer from the execrable Budweiser school of gnat's piss, made delicious by the addition of lime. Sarah from Fort Lauderdale was Dan's buddy from Up North (she dressed in black on the edge of the picture) and they got together for a little vacation in the Keys. Then they blundered into us. Oh well, Kathy sitting next to Sarah tried manfully to put her at ease. Bud Lime might possibly have helped.
After dinner we did the walk-the-moat-wall-routine around the fort and watched the sun do it's thing.We didn't get far because a sudden gust of wind pulled the out-of-towner's baseball cap off his head. We stood on the wall and made rude comments as we watched the cap fade into oneness with the watery universe. Dan, being from Up North and not at all resigned to his fate, started to undress, which I thought was an extreme reaction to this minor setback. "They have lots of caps for sale in the gift shop," I protested. "I'm going in," he declared like the hero in a disaster movie. And he did, and I don't mind telling you it did cross my mind that jumping off the moat wall is actually illegal. As well as bloody stupid when the water is that cold.He bounded through the waves like a retriever after a favorite tennis ball with the Key Westers huddled on the wall spectating and sucking air through their teeth unable to imagine how cold the water was.Success! I was laughing too hard to hold the camera steady in the half light but clearly he was pleased. The seas were really rough:I found some sandals on the wall and motioned to them as I asked young Matt if he knew whose they were. In classic Key West youthful fashion he shrugged and stared at them with the uninterested eye of a man who is well shod and has no interest in anyone else's footwear problems. " Probably they're Hat Boy's, " he muttered as he turned to check out something, anything more interesting than a damp pair of flip flops. "Hey, Hat Boy!" I called out to the raw pink lump crawling up the beach. "Got your shoes!"
The drama ended, the sun went down...And thus it was a new Key West nickname went into the lexicon. People love to give out nicknames in Key West, it's a way of stamping an identity on someone and Matt's easy application of this eternal southernmost attribute stamped Dan from Maryland as "Hat Boy."...and thus, with a little more wine and rum and stories we concluded Thanksgiving on what used to be called the Gibraltar of the Gulf of Mexico.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Very Wet Tortugas

The story of our Thanksgiving at the Dry Tortugas started for me at around two o'clock in the morning of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Thursday. I left work after my Tuesday short shift and walked into a rain storm. It started out as a rain storm, and I thought "Ho hum," and kept riding snug in my waterproofs. After Big Coppitt Key at around Mile Marker 11, as I left the warm glow of the street lights behind me and plunged into the darkness of the Saddlebunch Keys the heavens opened and I was suddenly drenched in the worst storm I have ever had the pleasure of commuting through. The water came down like I was on a stage set and someone was pouring a bucket of water over my head every ten seconds. Visibility was so bad I could barely see ten yards down the road and the yellow cat's eyes appeared in the gloom as my only guides to the location of the roadway in front of me. Water cascaded off the visor on my open face helmet and speckled my glasses. More water poured down my collar and soaked my shirt front under my jacket. The lightning show overhead was amazing- white glowing clouds illuminated momentarily across the entire night sky, followed by the deepest possible darkness. It was scary and yet it resembled nothing quite so much as a B movie setting... I took this picture from under my house when I arrived shaken, stirred and surprisingly dry under most of my waterproofs, an hour after leaving work:I crawled into bed muttering something about how at least I didn't have to water the plants. My wife mumbled something from her side of the covers about whether or not the ferry would run.

"The weather has to have cleared up by the morning," I said with all the confidence of a man who has no idea what the hell he's talking about.

It takes a lot to persuade the ferries not to run. We assembled on the dock under threatening skies and in a break in the rain we piled our mountain of gear onto the boat. The perennially cheerful guide on the Yankee Freedom II spent much of the trip cheering the troops by chattering noisily about how the radar showed clear weather at the Fort. Ha! It was raining merrily when we arrived two and a half hours after leaving Key West.The decks were swept by the non existent rain, but the cheerful guide assured the day trippers the rain would let up soon. Ha! "Campers upstairs!"ordered the Park Volunteer . "So some guy from Ohio can tell us how to camp!" Carol muttered morosely. She's camped at the Fort more times than you've had hot meals and each time she has to listen to the same old litany of rules (no propane, no gas fuel of any kind, no water supplied etc...). We nicknamed the volunteer Jed Clampett but he did warm up a bit by the end of our four-day stay.Here is a shot of day trippers huddling in the entrance to the fort, avoiding the non existent rain, the stuff that wasn't on the radar.
The rain continued to come down in fits and starts and we tried to assemble our tents. My wife and I managed to mis-time our tent erection to a moment when wind and rain started gusting through the campground with particular intensity and fury and we did manage to get a few buckets of water inside the tent, though our stakes were solid enough it did not blow over in the subsequent hellfire squall. However Jed Clampett made his way over in the lull and informed us we were too close to the trail so with the help of our friends we raised the damp tent and lurched across the campground to a more suitable spot. Then we retreated to the covered docks and watched the rain pitter patter into the harbor.
We spent the afternoon exchanging pleasantries with park personnel, our spirits rising as the rain tapered off, then sinking as another squall blew through and drenched the landscape some more. "Good for our cisterns," the helpful young ranger from North Carolina pointed out with a cheery grin. The fort still uses many of the original cisterns, as many as aren't broken to collect rainwater for the National Park personnel stationed at the fort. Personally I felt the drought could have hung on few more days with no harm done.
We made a picnic on the dock, under cover as darkness fell and the rain with it. It seemed to be unceasing. "This is not how it's supposed to work." "This sucks." "If I wanted this crap I'd move to the Pacific Northwest." The grumbling went on as we scarfed pre-Thanksgiving food and drank wine and sipped rum and contemplated a night spent on the floor of the information room on the dock. Finally the rain let up and we dashed to our tents,mopping up the worst of the damp with towels and bundling ourselves in our damp bedding.

"Sweetheart, " I said to the morose bundle next to me, " if this isn't any better in the morning we go home." Her hands were like claws from the effects of the cold and damp on her arthritis. She grunted. I slept.We crawled from our tents like survivors of some disaster, groping for sternos and coffee pots and struggling to articulate our joints. Happily the fort is built on sand which is bad for the Civil War era building's foundations, but is great for dissipating moisture. We stood on the barely moist sand and studied the omens. Jan had never used sternos before so he read the instructions with care:And the familiar logo of the local coffee company helped put us in the mood for a hot cup of joe:Our neighbor took a meditative walk and I have no idea what thoughts she brought back to her camp but I thought the weather looked mildly promising:My wife and I agreed it was worth staying on, as things seemed to be improving with patches of blue overhead as we cleared up the breakfast things:There was some mild sun on harbor waters:I think these dudes, who were everywhere are terns or warblers or something. The previous occupants of our site had left some rather rank pieces of fish on the barbeque. Not a problem, these guys had it all cleaned in minutes.

A percolating coffee pot is a thing of beauty:Our al fresco laundryroom started to take shape after a breakfast washed down with copious hot coffee. Luckily Jed Clampett didn't put in an appearance to advise us of some nagging failure in our camping style because we were rather taken up with the minutiae of getting life back to some semblance of normal and wet beds and wet clothes were not part of the relaxed Thanksgiving Plan.For this lot life was the usual hardscrabble pecking about in the grass. I found their mundane fixation on daily routine rather reassuring. Not that birds have much choice.After a few hours of sun and brisk breezes things started to look quite cozy inside our tent:Carol laid her mattress out to dry and Kathy, (seen here) pottered about not the least bit worried that she had forgotten her inflatable mattress at home. She slept fine without it, which made me feel like a pansy on my Coleman mattress.The gusty winds did a number on the tent while we struggling to put it up but Carol had a brilliant solution to the insurmountable problem of a tear in the strap supporting the fly sheet. She put a pebble in the corner of the cloth, tied it off with an electrical zip tie and attached the hook with a series of ties looped together. It was a brilliant solution and gave us no further trouble:Sailors who were anchored in the harbor ventured ashore and made remarks about the comfort of a boat versus the damp of a tent, " long as the anchor holds!" Jan and I retorted in unison from lots of personal experience. The man on the left lives Up North (Michigan? Minnesota?) and spends his winters in Key West on his Fountaine Pajot catamaran while the dude in the electric blue shorts is his buddy down for a visit. They enjoyed the cool temperatures, did some sunbathing (erk! 70 degrees- 18C) and even went for a swim and enjoyed the water temperatures. They told us delightful stories of driving their cars on rivers in winter and bizarre tales of fishing through holes in the ice. Last nights' endless drizzle, squalls and rain were enough for me.The beauty of Florida winters is that rain is really of short duration normally and lovely summer-like weather comes back in short order. My wife and I decided to put on some skins and risk a plunge:The rangers made their tours of the harbor checking for park fee payments and all that:After we got used to the spectacularly cold initial contact, the water was we found quite bearable and we swam energetically for an hour or so.
Thanksgiving at Fort Jefferson was shaping up quite nicely, thank you.