Questions for a Conspiracy Theorist

The other day I was chatting with an acquaintance of mine. He’s very gregarious and therefore quick to start up conversations. He’s a pleasant man, the kind of person that makes you grin, but in truth we don’t have that much in common. Mostly we stick to safe topics, such as the weather.

But on this day, it turned out that the weather wasn’t as safe a topic as one would hope. He said, “Well, you know that all those tornadoes that are being kicked up out East are because they’re seeding the clouds over California to make it rain, don’t you?”

True confession: I’m not particularly quick on the uptake. I kind of blinked at him for a few seconds. I mean, what does one say when hit with such a loony concept? It’s probably best that I am a little slow in these instances, because the first thing out of my mouth would otherwise be, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

I could easily disabuse him of this belief if he were willing to listen, which I’m sure he wouldn’t be, and if I had the energy, which I’m sure I don’t possess. I could just pepper him with the following statements and questions until he was left realizing he didn’t have a retort.

  • What are they seeding the clouds with? Because it sure isn’t working. California is dry as a freakin’ bone.
  • California consists of 163,696 square miles. How much of that stuff do they use, where do they store it, who supplies it, and how have we overlooked the hundreds of planes flying back and forth in a grid pattern to distribute the stuff?
  • If you are referring to “chemtrails”, see, also, my blog post entitled, “Debunking Chemtrails.” And besides, contrails are in sloppy, messy patterns over well-established flight paths, so these wouldn’t equally distribute this substance, whatever it’s supposed to be, and it would interfere with commercial flights, so private passengers would get awfully cranky.
  • The whole problem with having a drought is that there are very few clouds to be had, so where are the clouds coming from that they are seeding?
  • And who is “they”?
  • How do the chemicals in the West wake up the tornadoes in the East? Do they use Twitter?
  • And how are the hundreds of people it would take to pull off this little caper, the pilots, the materials producers, the distributors, the logistics personnel, the air traffic control people, the accountants, the support staff, and so on and so forth, able to keep it a secret when three people can’t keep most secrets?
  • Where are the Smart Phone pictures?
  • And if this project is causing so many weather disasters and not producing rain for California, why don’t they just stop?
  • And why is it a secret?
  • Isn’t it much more likely that it’s all of us doing our own horrible part with our disastrous carbon footprints trampling the planet (especially the major industries who are the very ones paying a great deal of money to prop up your conspiracy theory), who are the cause of the weather problems? Hmmm?
  • And even if global climate change caused by man didn’t exist, despite the fact that 95 percent of the world’s scientists say it does, why would you resist the urge to take care of the only planet we have, just in case?

But you know, while I was blinking at this guy, I suddenly felt tired. Nope. Nope. I couldn’t. I just didn’t have the energy. Because some people, as nice as they may be, just have no grounding in science, education, and critical thinking to grasp reality.

So instead, I just stammered and said, “Erm… well… California could certainly use the rain…”

And we both went on our merry ways, his way comprised of utter fantasy, and mine, at that moment, full of frustration and disappointment and shock.

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Water Light and Dark

As I write this, I’m in the midst of an epic downpour here in Seattle. Six inches in a 48-hour period. Now I completely understand why the least favorite word in the English language is moist.

This has me thinking about the love/hate relationship we all have with water. We can’t live without it. It’s refreshing on a hot day. It’s fun to swim and surf in. It is vital for food growth and production. And since the world revolves around me, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that my job as a bridgetender depends on its existence.

On the other hand, as global climate change plagues us all, the sea levels are rising, and areas that used to put up with mere nuisance floods are now inundated. In other parts of the world, severe droughts are destroying crops and causing fires the likes of which the world has never seen. People the world over are being forced to relocate. Thanks to our meddling, nature seems to be struggling to find that balance between too much water and not enough. At either extreme, the results can be deadly.

In this current downpour, as I descend the hill from my house, I’ve witnessed water jetting up to three feet out of the storm drains, either because of a blockage down below, or because they simply cannot handle the volume. This has caused the street in the valley below to be closed. Landslides are happening in the region, and more than a few large Pacific Northwest trees are toppling because of the waterlogged soil.

If I were Queen of the world, I’d send some of this water down to California, where it’s desperately needed. But as it stands, I can barely convince Quagmire, my fastidious dachshund, to go outside to potty, so that tells you how powerful I am in the face of this storm. Water can be quite humbling that way.

Singin in the Rain Adam Cooper

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Dog Mom Diaries

My dog Quagmire is soft and warm and relaxed at 5:30 am. It’s so sweet. I almost hate to disturb him. Almost. Then I remember the millions of times he’s woken me up out of a sound sleep without even a hint of remorse. So…

“Wake up, Fuzz Head.”

He groans. Burrows deeper into the blankets. Gives me the hairy eyeball.

Quagmire is not a morning dog.

I pick him up. He’s as limp as a dishrag. He’s hoping that if he plays dead, I’ll leave him alone.

“It’s time to go pee.”

As I carry him toward the back door, I notice that the rain is coming down in buckets. And it’s cold. Great.

I open the door and put him down. He looks at me as if I’ve taken leave of my senses. He attempts to come back inside.

“Errr.. no. Go potty.”

Maybe I have taken leave of my senses. I’ve only had about 2 hours of sleep myself, as is pretty much standard on Friday mornings, given my insane work schedule. The room is kind of spinning, if I’m honest. I need caffeine. But first, I need this dog to go outside.

He attempts to scoot past my legs. “Quag. Mire. Go. Pee.”

He reluctantly steps out onto the covered deck. He considers doing his business right there. But he forgets that I can read his mind. “Nooooo. Go potty.”

Appearing really resigned and grievously put upon, he trudges out into the downpour. I am so grateful that I’m not a dog. He can’t grasp that this is for his own good. He just knows that no one should have to get one’s paws wet.

He does his thing and runs back inside. He shakes. I towel him off and give him a hug. I put him back to bed, and he falls back to sleep instantly. Okay, maybe I do wish I were a dog.

I put on my raincoat. I grab my backpack. I trudge out into the downpour.

Somebody has to bring home the kibble.

Quagmire
Quagmire

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Dry Sneakers

While traveling through the deep south, a friend of mine stopped at a fast food restaurant. While he ate his hamburger, he watched the pouring rain outside. (You haven’t experienced rain until you’ve experienced it in the south. This was what was known as a “frog-choker” in local parlance.)

As he sat there, he noticed a young man take off his shoes and socks, put them in a plastic bag, cinch it up tight, and then leave the restaurant. He was walking down the street, in that downpour, barefoot. My friend turned to his companion and said, “Have you ever loved your shoes so much that you would go barefoot before getting them wet?”

Well, I must admit that I try not to wear suede shoes in the rain. They’d be ruined. But in that case, I just avoid wearing them on days when rain is in the forecast. I don’t see myself walking barefoot down a dirty public sidewalk.

But nowadays, shoes can cost upwards of a hundred dollars. I kind of admire this kid’s fastidiousness. I admire it even though I can’t imagine spending that kind of money on shoes. But who knows. These could have been some discount knock offs that didn’t cost much at all.

Value is relative. These might have been that boy’s first pair of new shoes, ever. Maybe he worked hard for those shoes. Scrimped and saved. Maybe they were the first things he ever bought with his very own money. Maybe those shoes, for him, were an achievement that he was truly proud of. Maybe they were the beginning of a lifetime of goal-setting and ultimate success.

We’ll never know the rest of this story, but I hope that young man keeps on walking. At that pace, he’ll go places.

Sneakers

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Reveling in Sunshine

When I lived in Florida, I used to take sunshine for granted. As a matter of fact, I kind of looked upon it as a creator of sweat, sunburn and humidity, and avoided it whenever possible. Mine was a closed-in, air-conditioned existence.

Not so in Washington State. Here, I glory in the sunshine whenever it’s available. (I haven’t gone completely native. I still tend to get hindered by the rain, but I go outdoors every sunny chance I get.) About half the year, I even eat dinner on my back porch.

Recently it actually got up to 70 degrees for a whole day, and I had the opportunity to go hiking with a friend, and afterward we just sat on a lakeside park bench and soaked up the sun. It was glorious.  It was transforming. It was the perfect way to spend the day. Bliss. Simple. Free. It still makes me smile, just thinking about it.

Don’t you just love it when you feel glad to be alive? The sun’s rays and a friend with a sunny disposition. What gifts.

Come on, Spring! Hit me with all the goodness! I can take it!

ScrapALatte_YouAreMySunshine_WordArt01

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Weather Weirdness

Moving to the Seattle area has been quite the education in more ways than one. For instance, I lived in Florida for so many (too many) decades that I assumed that weather worked the same way everywhere. Not that everyone had the pleasure of the unbearable heat and oppressive humidity that we experienced there 11 months a year. No. What I mean is, in Florida, I could look out the window, see what the weather was like, and pretty much bank on the fact that everyone within a hundred-mile radius was experiencing that same exact weather. I thought that was normal, you know?

Another thing I grew to assume in Florida was that the weather was predictable. (Granted, I left there before global warming kicked in with a vengeance. Maybe that has changed.) For the bulk of the year, I used to be able to count on what was referred to as PC-CHAT (Partly Cloudy, CHance of Afternoon Thunderstorms). In fact, in Central Florida you could practically set your watch by it. You would get a torrential downpour every day at 3 p.m.

Then I moved to the Seattle area. And boy, did I ever get schooled. I had to add the word “microclimate” to my vocabulary list. I had never even heard that word before moving here. It’s definitely a thing. You can literally drive 2 miles down the road and experience completely different weather. Two neighborhoods, just 5 miles apart, can have an average difference of seven inches of rain per year. The little valley that I live in, I’m told, almost never sees snow. But if you climb up the slope on either side of us, you can be hit with a snowstorm that requires the roads to be plowed.

I can sometimes experience a 10 degree temperature difference between work and home. (It’s very weird to think that when I go to work, my dog and I are experiencing different weather. He refuses to talk about it.)

And predictability? Forget it. Just this year, city government officials were expecting a storm with such high winds that they actually activated the Emergency Operations Center, and many city employees worked through the night, expecting disaster. There was the usual panic as residents rushed out to buy last minute supplies and batten down the hatches. But the storm took a sharp turn and missed us entirely. And just the other day it snowed. That wasn’t even in the forecast. It took everyone by surprise.

The meteorologists around here certainly have their work cut out for them. Why is that? Well, there are a number of factors that come into play around here that cause us to be in a climactic washing machine of sorts. The first is that we are nestled between two north/south mountain ranges—the Olympics and the Cascades. These ranges are the cause of another new vocabulary term for me: “rain shadow”. As the weather travels eastward, the mountains rob the atmosphere of a lot of the moisture, so people living just to the east of the mountains experience a lot less rain. And those to the west have the pleasure of seeing the clouds stall right above them as they hit the mountains.

And north of Seattle you tend to get a light, ever-present drizzle, whereas south of Seattle you may not see rain as often, but when you do, it comes down a lot harder. And the closer you are to the water, the less rain you tend to see. Go figure. It’s like crossing the border into another country or something.

Another factor, of course, is elevation. There are a lot of hills and valleys in this area. The higher up you are, the more apt you will be to be snowed upon. That makes sense. But since the elevation shifts so abruptly here, the weather is notably different from one neighborhood to the next. And then being right on Puget Sound adds another level of complexity that I have yet to fathom.

So, yeah, there’s a learning curve to living out here. And now that I’ve bought a house in a completely different microclimate, I’m back to square one. But I think I’m up for the challenge.

Seattle microclimates

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Working a Tropical Storm

We’ve had our fair share of natural disasters this year. But when you pair that with an increasing disregard for workers, you get a toxic combination. People are getting fired for having to mandatorily evacuate and therefore being unable to show up for work. People have been forced to work in extremely unsafe situations, leaving their families at times when they’re needed most. When human life stops being the most important factor, we have reached a new low.

What follows is a letter I was forced to write back in 2008, when I was a bridgetender in Jacksonville, Florida, and the Florida Department of Transportation put my life at risk. As per usual with them, I never got any response, and there seemed to be no consequences. I hope they are treating bridgetenders more fairly now, as these disasters increase in frequency. But I doubt it.

Dear Mr. XXXXXXXX:

Hurricane season is once again upon us. As a bridgetender who had to work at Ortega River Bridge in the early morning hours of Friday, August 22nd during the very worst of Tropical Storm Fay, I feel compelled to give you some insight as to what that was like.

I had to drive to work in 50 mph winds, detouring around downed trees and power lines, and then walked up the bridge to the tenderhouse, getting drenched in the process, and nearly being blown into the street on more than one occasion, only to find out that the coast guard had closed the bridge to boat traffic. I was informed that FDOT was aware of this, but since your wind meter did not match the speeds registered by the one in the tenderhouse, you decided we had to work.

Every weather channel said that the winds were going to be at least 50 mph. Clearly the Coast Guard believed this and took boater safety very seriously. Apparently, we were only there to monitor the radio, but the only transmissions I heard all night were the many Coast Guard announcements that informed boaters of the bridge closings, because no boater in his right mind was out in that weather. No cars were out either, except for the bridgetender who was compelled to relieve me at the end of the shift.

During the entire length of my shift, surrounded by electrical equipment, I was forced to mop water down the hatch and bail as it literally poured in the doors, windows, and through the air conditioner. At one point the heavy traffic cones and life ring blew into the street and I had to wrestle them indoors. Not only should the traffic gates be secured in such weather, but also the traffic cones, life rings and convex mirror should be stowed indoors to avoid becoming projectiles. Apparently that was left up to me during the height of the storm.

When my bladder could no longer hold out, I was forced to venture outdoors and across the street to the bathroom in a downpour, and once again I was nearly blown off my feet. Had I been hurt, no one would have known for hours. Not once did anyone call to check on me.

In the meantime, the power was continually going off and on, which caused the generator to kick in as I watched transformers exploding on the horizon. I found out the next day that water spouts were spinning up on the river. The wind shook the building and the waves crested over the fenders.

When it was time to go home, I once again had to walk down the bridge, and the wind was blowing so hard that the rain was physically painful. Once again I was drenched as no rain coat in the world can stand up to those conditions, and by the time I detoured around even more downed trees and power lines to get home, my lips were blue from the cold and I had to stave off hypothermia by taking an extended hot bath. Thank God my electricity was not out or I would probably have been hospitalized.

The worst part about the whole experience, sir, was that I spent the entire shift afraid, and my family was afraid for me. And the whole time I kept thinking, “I haven’t had a raise in 5 years, and I have $5,000 in medical debt because of substandard health insurance. Must I risk my life, too?”

I can’t speak for other bridgetenders. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to climb the ladder at the Main Street Bridge under these conditions. I’m sure my life would have been flashing before my eyes.

I hope you will take this letter into consideration when making decisions in future storms. I hope I never have to have another experience like that as long as I live.

                                      Sincerely…

Tropical Storm Fay
Tropical Storm Fay. Would you have expected your employees to work in this?

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A Single Flower

It had been raining for several days, and that wasn’t helping my already gloomy outlook. I can’t seem to shake off the fear and uncertainty that the most recent election has brought down upon the shoulders of many of us. It almost feels like I woke up on a different planet. I don’t know what to do. Does anyone?

I was looking out at the grey sky and the mud and muck and thinking those thoughts, when a flash of color caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, it was a single bloom on my extremely neglected azalea bush. (Hey, gimme a break. I’m a renter.)

Please understand. It’s November. It’s Seattle. We’ve gone weeks without seeing the sun. It’s been warmer than usual, yes, but it’s still cold at night. And yet here was this flower.

I must admit it was kind of a sad little flower. Lonely. Smaller than usual. A few petals were chewed on by bugs. But it persevered. A flash of fuchsia in an otherwise bleak landscape.

And I thought, if something like that can blossom in a place and time where, by all accounts, it should not thrive, then why can’t I? Maybe, just like that flower, I can break all the current rules, go against the flow, and add some contrast to a world that is becoming increasingly, drearily, monochrome.

It won’t be easy. I’ll probably feel a bit bedraggled with all the extra effort. But I’ll be here. So will you. And that makes me feel much better.

img_2089
All alone and a bit chewed up, but she’s still here!

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Making Waterfalls

There’s a certain graceful beauty in a moving drawbridge. It’s awe-inspiring to watch a million pounds of concrete and steel in motion. It says a lot about human ingenuity.

I’m lucky because as a bridgetender I get to make this happen every day. Opening a drawbridge never gets old. A friend of mine likes to say I do so with the power of my index finger. That makes me feel like Superwoman.

I love to watch the wandering shadows that my opening bridge casts when it’s sunny out. I love to feel it sway when a truck crosses over or when the wind gusts. I enjoy watching people stop to take pictures as the bridge rises. I wonder how many thousands of pictures I’ve created for people throughout the years?

But most of all, I love raising my bridge in the rain. When I do that, all the water that has accumulated on the sidewalks comes cascading down. It’s beautiful. It’s clean. (Well, it probably isn’t, but it feels that way.)

How many people get paid to make waterfalls? How lucky am I?

brooklyn-bridge-with-waterfall-2008
Brooklyn Bridge with waterfall. From an art installation in 2008.

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Sightseeing in the Fog

I’ve been vacationing on the Oregon coast. I’d never been to Oregon before. It’s gorgeous. I could totally see myself retiring here, if retirement weren’t some distant fantasy for me. And if I hadn’t seen so many Donald Trump yard signs.

My first two days were sunny and clear. Not a cloud in the sky. You could see for miles. I had no idea how spoiled I was.

After that, the fog rolled in. But that was okay, because I’d written a few “lazy days” into my itinerary. Days to just cave up and read books, write blogs, nap… that sort of thing.

I spent one foggy day luxuriating in my own company and cuddling with my dogs. Something about this place made me sleep that good kind of sleep that causes you to wake up feeling refreshed and renewed. It’s been a while.

The next several days, it was pouring rain. I had to do some of my sightseeing anyway, because I only had so much time left. I saw glimpses of a lighthouse through the fog. (Which made me all the more glad it was there.) I listened to waves crashing up on the rocks. I stood inside a cave as the rain fell.

At first, I was irritated that I couldn’t see through the fog. I spent a great deal of time annoyed that I was missing out. Silly me.

This is the Oregon coast. This experience is the Oregon coast. I saw exactly what I was supposed to see.

And it was beautiful.

 

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