Sunday, December 20, 2015

Survival of the squiddest

The other day I found myself (placed myself, actually) in a bit of a dicey situation.

I'd gone out to feed cows just before 3 p.m. When I say feed cows, I mean that I took a couple of big round bales of grass hay aboard the hydra bed pickup, drove out into the pasture, and rolled out the hay for the cows to eat. Which they appreciated.

As an aside, we make our cows work for a living, which is of course, racist. We don't have cows for fun. Well, not only for fun. They have to pay their way and generate enough income to make it worth owning them. All told, that means making more than their maintenance cost, which is about $900 per year per cow. This includes the cow herd enterprise share of feed, water, electricity, vet bills, land taxes, and so forth. They do this by making and raising babies, which we trade for cash. When calves bring $900 per head, we break even; That is, we pay all the bills associated with the cow herd and have exactly zero jingle left in the pocket to show for a year's effort. Even in good years profit margins are tight, so we have to keep expenses down. This means raising cows that can feed themselves on winter grazing, without a lot of supplemental feed. The weather gets to vote, though, and when the cured-on-the-stem winter grass is covered with snow, we have to feed supplemental hay. It's a bit more complicated than that, but in a nutshell it's important to keep expenses down.

At any rate, when I'd finished feeding, I took and went and tried to drive back out of the pasture. The 4WD failed on the truck though, and there was just enough snow of just the right consistency to make it extremely difficult to drive out. To cut to the chase, I got stuck.

So there I was, stuck, four miles from home, with the sun quickly marching out of the sky. What to do? There were options, of course. What I decided to do was to hike out and return on the morrow for to extract the truck.

Why that decision? The weather was fine, with temps in the low 30's and no wind. As the sun set it would get cold, but I was dressed correctly, in layers, and wearing superb winter hiking boots.

I am fit. I'm no cut and sculpted model of peak physical fitness, but I get by. I don't enjoy trudging through deep snow or walking home when it would be more convenient to drive, but a mile of deep snow and three miles of county road isn't much more taxing for me than a dash to the refrigerator.

I like to hike. I prefer to hike in the season of easy living, but that's mostly because I'm lazy. Winter hiking takes a bit more preparation and thought. I do it at least once a month, but it helps to have something or someone light a fire under my @$$. A stuck pickup is a good fire lighter, I was dressed for the occasion (I never set out to do winter chores unless I'm dressed and prepared to exercise non-optimal procedures), the evening was absolutely gorgeous, and I was up for the adventure.

I could have called for help but I wasn't too keen on asking friends and neighbors to bail me out of this bit of self-inflicted buffoonery. I could have called the old man to meet me part way, but he wasn't feeling so great, so no, I really couldn't have.

I had my cell phone to call for help in an emergency, but the plan was to not let the situation deteriorate into an emergency. Emergency services being what they are in my little slice of paradise, a call to 911 would almost certainly put under-trained and overconfident folks at unnecessary risk.

So I hiked out, and it was a smashingly lovely experience. It was cold but I was warm enough and more, and hiking through nature's winter -- particularly when there's not much wind -- is just magical. The taste and feel of the air, vibrant sunset palette all around, the sound of boots crunching and the feel of muscles working, heart beating, air rushing in and out...

The first part of the hike was the hardest and least fun. The pickup was stuck about 450 yards from the road, but the direct path to the road was through fairly deep snow, including a dozen or so deep drifts. The more sensible way was to follow my tracks, taking advantage of the already compacted snow to make the going easier.

Easier is not the same as easy though, it's still a lot of work to hike a mile of snowy pickup tracks. Cold, dry snow is rather like dry sand (remember that ice is technically a mineral). The passage of the pickup tires had compressed the snow a good bit, but not completely. With each step my smaller-than-a-tire footprint would sink in, compressing the snow first down, then down and aft. This takes quite a bit more energy than walking on dry, clear ground. Enhances the workout for sure.

Once I made it out of the pasture it was clear sailing and only a matter of a three-mile walk along a mostly clear county road. 
Yield, hell!
The moon was also a hiking companion.
The cows were not concerned enough about my plight to pause from their repast.
Heading north, looking northeast.
Looking northwest.
Blurry, telephoto view of the mired truck.
Christmassy cheer of KIBM's runway lights.

Back in the olden days when I was doing sailor type aviation stuff I attended SERE school up in Maine, during the winter. Twice. Part of the winter survival lecture included case studies of real survival situations. They all kind of run together in my mind now, but the successful survivalists had some things in common, including pre-thinking and/or training, preparation and basic supplies, and most importantly, perseverance. Suck it up and drive on. The unsuccessful survivalists -- the ones we heard about anyway -- failed that last station. The failure I remember best was the light plane guy who had a forced landing on a frozen lake up in Canadia somewhere. He never even got out of the plane after making a successful landing. He just gave up before he started, pulled out a pistol and shot himself. His body was still warm and leaking when the residents of a lake-shore cabin less than a mile away arrived to offer assistance.

Well. Just imagine St. Peter's greeting. "You idiot!"

I can't imagine panicking over being stuck in the snow and having to deal with an unplanned winter hike. But I know a lot of people who could or would panic.

Morals of the story?

Plan and prepare for, but stay the hell out out of emergency situations.

If you land up in an emergency situation, suck it up and drive on. Which, to paraphrase Yogi, is 90 percent mental and the other half physical.

Enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Seven inches of too much fun

Let's see what that title does to the hit count. Gonna disappoint some porn surfers?

Normal December snowstorm yesterday. Conditions were dogshit most of the day with steady snowfall and just enough wind to cut viability and promote some minor drifting.

I've got a really unique set of tools in my box (another porno keyword?) which include a superb 4WD pickup stocked with winter survival gear, training and experience in both winter driving and winter survival, and enough experience and cognitive ability to stay the hell out of the storm. Which is what I did yesterday.

This morning the cows and calves were, of course, fine. They are outdoors creatures and have the insulation, metabolism, and instincts to survive much, much more than yesterday's little flurry.

I chopped ice this morning and this afternoon I'll feed a little hay.

May the warmth be with you!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Typical Decembler

While all the cool kids have been anguishing over climate change, I've been enjoying a perfectly normal December. So far this month we've had a daytime high of 66 and an overnight low of 15. Highs have averaged 49.38 and lows 25.69, compared to the long term (1893-present) average for December of 41.5 and 15.2, respectively.

At first glance, that might look like global warming, December's temps being 9.18 degrees above average. But keep in mind that the sample thus far contains only 13 of December's 31 days. It'll even out and by the end of the month the numbers will be very close to average.

How do I know? For one thing, the forecast is for colder weather over the next two weeks. We had snow on Saturday, following a couple of days of very nice weather. For another thing, I've experienced enough Kimball Decembers to know that the month always features warmish and coolish weather. And finally, daily weather data collected over the last 122 years shows the same thing.

Saturday evening was a treat. We were in the midst of what the National Progressive Weather Service calls a "winter storm" these days, and what normal folks call a little snow flurry. A weather front had moved in earlier in the day, nudging the mercury back down to the freezing point of water and pushing along an overcast that was soon spitting big white snowflakes. Delightfully, there was no wind.

As I drove from town to the ranch just after sunset, my headlights illuminated the big, soft, gently falling flakes. It was rather like being inside one of those snow globes, and the experience prompted a strong sense of déjà vu, taking me back in time. Hey, look, I figured out how to make the videos more bigger!

The memory I have from 40 years years ago is disjointed and incomplete. It was sometime between 1973 and 1975, and almost certainly occurred in December, close to the time of the winter solstice. It was early evening and the sun had already gone. My brothers and I were forking hay and bucketing corn to our backgrounding calves in the dry lot behind the barn. It was dark, so we'd switched on the barn floodlights. As we worked the snow began to fall, big, soft, fluffy flakes tumbling straight down in the still air. The light of the floods turned our world into the inside of a snow globe then, too. It's a good memory.

By morning the weather front had moved through. Skies were clearing and it was cold and still. An astonishingly pretty morning. One of the things I love is the beauty of the prairie. I may prefer to live and work in the season of easy living, but winter has beauty every bit as powerful. The harsh conditions are also a foil against which the easy living time seems much more enjoyable.

My friend and fellow agriculturalist Elwyn sent this video of December 13 in Scotland:

And this one of the same day in Herefordshire:

And while we're at it, let's hear it for ice!

Stay well and enjoy the gifts of nature's seasons.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Who are we?

Fundamental Principles.

Look at this young fellow. Listen to this young fellow. If you're an American of my generation or of my parent's generation, you gotta ask yourself whether you've been phoning your principles in for most or all of your life. Lock yourself in the bathroom in the middle of the night if you have to. But do it. You owe it to yourself, and more importantly, you owe it to your country.

Look at and listen to this young man. How is it that someone so young and so lacking in the "experience" so many old duffers cherish can have such great principles?

Tell ya one thing, principles don't come from the firetrucking government, or from the firetrucking talking heads in the idiot box, or from firetrucking "passions" about social justification of depraved incivility.

Look and listen and thank god that there are young men and women all across the land who actually can be bothered to give a firetruck about the Constitution and about principles and about the bright shining beacon of American Exceptionalism.

Ben Sasse. Entered the Federal Service from Nebraska.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


I sometimes wonder as I interact with my fellows whether I'm the only one who realizes that the vast majority of the so-called news available in the media is entertainment and propaganda. I wonder if I'm the only one who isn't addicted to the constant injection of sensationalized crap peddled by television and radio "news" programs/channels, or addicted to the simplistic, fourth-grade hagioplatitudes vomited up by the print media.

I know I'm not the only one, but I may be the only one in this neck of the woods.

Most of my fellows seem to believe that all is malleable, that physical laws and facts and the principles of ethics and morality are nothing but a matter of perspective. That they can opt out of physical reality and ignore physics and chemistry, that they can let others worry about being civilized while they live their feral existence.
"Our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."
It's ironic and amusing that so many folks are worried that vicious islamic terrorists walk among us, when they and their brethren in moral equivalency wear just the thinnest veneer of civilization.
S -- BalmerSun
Humanity has far more to fear from unprincipled and uncivilized narcissists than from religious zealots. The zealots are few, the animals in shoes are many.
What, your friends and neighbors would never riot?

You can't start at the advanced level. I don't care how special you mom tells you you are.

Civilization has to start from the proposition that all men are created equal.

Civilized men cannot simply say that they believe this. They have to get there via rigorous and objective reason.Then they have to live it. Emotional reflex is not reason. Most of my friends and neighbors seem not to have advanced beyond emotion. That's not good enough.

Science has to start from the principle of uncertainty

and be built on a foundation of facts which are reproducible and falsifiable.

Fads are not facts. Lies are not facts. Reality does not exist in the realm of childish tantrums and demands.

Climate change

This week the world is being screeched at. Climate change is real, it’s caused by human activity, and humans can do something to fix it.

Of that statement, only the first proposition is correct.

The Earth’s climate has been changing since the very moment the planet formed.
It will continue to be a changing, dynamic system up until the moment the planet ceases to exist.
The behavior of our planet’s climate isn’t caused by mankind. It’s not caused by anything really. Earth, like the rest of nature’s universe, is a dynamic place which does what it does because of the complex interaction of matter and energy. Our planet is made up of countless particles -- atoms and molecules of gas, liquid and solid matter. The sun shines “down” on Earth from a distance of 93 million miles, adding energy to the mix. That energy causes all those particles to move about at ever changing velocities. Those particles are constantly interacting -- bumping into one another, as it were. This is what causes the climate to be dynamic, to be ever changing.

Human beings, like bacteria and insects, mammals, birds, fishes and plants, are part of the planet’s dynamism. We interact with the rest of the planet in a dynamic way. The present manmade climate change theory holds that our ever growing population is adding energy and greenhouse gas to the ecosystem, fundamentally shifting the climate’s dynamic balance toward a world wide catastrophe.

This is nonsense on stilts. Despite all claims to the contrary, there is no evidence or sign that the climate has been adversely affected in any way by human activity. If humans were affecting climate, there would be clear and unmistakable evidence.

What the evidence actually shows is that the planet’s climate continues to behave exactly as it has behaved since the very beginning.

What the present crowd of climate activists call evidence of anthropogenic causation are computer models which are designed to produce predetermined outcomes showing anthropogenesis in climate dynamism. This is not simply my assertion, this is fact, backed up by evidence.

Honest scientists will tell you that the notion of mankind inadvertently affecting climate is worth investigating because the consequences could be devastating. They will also tell you that try as they might, they can find no evidence of mankind exerting any increasingly or even fundamentally deleterious effect. They will tell you that human energy use is becoming ever more efficient, and despite a slowly increasing world population, human energy use is not adding exponentially to the climate. They will tell you that the rate of increase of the population is slowing markedly and shows every sign of stabilizing at well short of nine billion souls. They will tell you that the theory of greenhouse gas trapping heat and changing the climate in fundamental ways is an intriguing one, but the climate is vastly complex and little understood, and that there is simply no evidence that that it’s significantly affected by mankind at all.

They will tell you that since there’s no evidence that mankind is fundamentally changing the climate unintentionally, it’s hardly credible that man can “fix” something he can’t affect and doesn’t understand to begin with.

The proponents of anthropogenic climate change and anthropogenic solutions tell you that there is “consensus” that mankind is destroying the planet, and that only really smart people in government can stave off the looming disaster. They tell you that the evidence is very clear, but that the science is so hard and complicated that only the really smart people can understand it.

As I said, nonsense on stilts.

If you’re smart enough to dress yourself,
and count the change in your pocket,
you’re smart enough to understand climate change.

The questions is, why are you allowing activists in government and media to do your thinking for you?

If you’re concerned about whether the present anthropogenic climate change narrative could be real -- and you should be -- why are you taking the word of politicians, talking heads, and bureaucrats, each of whom have a vested interest in gaining power and wealth through the scheme of controlling the climate by controlling human activity? Why don’t you do a little bit of checking on your own?

The good news is that you’re every bit as smart as any scientist,
and that you already have the tools to understand the problem and assess the evidence. All you have to do is compare the claims against facts, data, and the known laws of nature. Be objective. Be observant. Seek not the counsel of your fears. You can do this. Start with the basics. Stick with the basics.

Water is one of the basics.

What is water?

Water is the one common substance required by all forms of life on planet Earth. Our planet’s position in the solar system, about 93 million miles from the sun, places it in the “habitable zone,” where abundant liquid water can exist. Water on Earth can also exist in the solid phase, as ice, and in the gaseous phase, as water vapor.
As most of us learned in grade school, the water molecule is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. In chemical shorthand, therefore, water is H2O. The hydrogen and oxygen atoms are held together by covalent bonds, where the molecular elements “share” electrons. Hydrogen atoms have a slight positive electrical charge, while oxygen atoms have a slight negative charge. The unlike charges attract, allowing the atoms to come together and form the molecule. The electrical charges don’t cancel each other out, however. Because of the somewhat higher negative charge of oxygen, compared to the negative charge of two hydrogen atoms, water is a polar molecule, negatively charged on the oxygen side and positively charged on the hydrogen side.

This characteristic polarity is a big part of why water is special and essential for life. It gives water its properties of surface tension and capillary force, as well as its ability to act as a “universal solvent” for other polar molecules such as carbohydrates.

What’s it good for?

At the most basic level, living organisms require water to function at the cellular level. Water provides the medium in which cells live, and also provides the intracellular medium where metabolism, or cell-function, and replication takes place. Water also acts as a solvent and transport medium for the many substances required for metabolism to proceed. For instance, after the food you eat is broken down by the digestive system into simple sugars, the sugars are dissolved in the water in your bloodstream and carried throughout the body to the cells, which use the sugars to power cellular metabolism. Likewise, the waste products of cellular metabolism are also dissolved and carried away by water in the bloodstream and ultimately excreted.

Plants use water in a similar fashion, though they use the sun’s energy to drive photosynthesis and create carbohydrates (sugar and starch) and cellulose. Unlike animals, which generally have a pump-driven circulatory system (the heart, arteries and veins), plants rely on the capillary action of water to distribute nutrients and wastes through a series of tiny cellulose-bound tubes. Capillary action is powerful enough to push water up against gravity – all the way to the top of the tallest tree.

Water world

Because of the importance of water to life, Earth is sometimes referred to as a water world,
though the fraction of our planet’s mass made up of water is tiny, about 1.25 percent by volume. Still, this volume of water, 326 million cubic miles, is enough to cover 71 percent of the planet’s surface.

Of the very large volume of water on Earth, 97 percent is sea water, and only three percent fresh water. Of that three percent, about 0.1 percent is groundwater, and only about .03 percent is surface water in lakes, rivers and streams. The remainder of the fresh water is present in ice caps, and a very tiny fraction is present as water vapor in the atmosphere.

Water is constantly moving from place to place on the Earth in the water, or hydrologic, cycle.
In this cycle, water is evaporated from sea and surface sources, spends some time in the atmosphere as water vapor, then condenses into clouds and precipitates back to the surface as rain or snow. Some of the annual overland precipitation, which totals about 107 teratonnes annually, percolates through the surface and becomes groundwater. Some flows downhill into the system of streams, rivers and lakes. Most, of course, falls back into the sea.

Three faces

Here on Earth, we’re accustomed to seeing water appear in all three phases: liquid, solid and gas. Though we aren’t able to see water vapor directly as it evaporates or transpires from plants into the atmosphere, we do see clouds on a daily basis, and clouds are made largely of water vapor.

When temperatures are above the freezing point of water, 32 degrees Fahrenheit or zero degrees centigrade, we see liquid water as rain and in rivers, lakes, streams, puddles, etc. 

When the temperature falls below 32 F, we see water as ice and snow.

Solid phase water, or ice, is just as interesting as liquid water. Though we curse it when the roads and sidewalks are slippery, when our hydrants or pipes freeze, and when we find ourselves chopping holes in it so livestock can drink, ice has it’s own special beauty and interesting properties.

Cold and heat

Ice, in fact, is technically and scientifically speaking, a mineral. It meets all the physical requirements to be classified as such, being a solid with a crystalline structure.

And a funny thing happens when water becomes a mineral. It actually grows in volume, or, scientifically speaking, shrinks in density, which is the same thing. Water is the only non-metallic substance known to have this property. This is in part due to the polarity and geometry of the water molecule, which when it freezes, cannot form a tight and regular crystalline lattice. Rather, it forms a loose, rather clumpy structure that takes up more room than liquid water.

This is a critical property. When liquid water leaches into rock and freezes, the power of its expansion is so great that it splits the rock on both the microscopic and macroscopic level. Over the eons since water appeared on the planet, this freeze-thaw rock splitting has produced regolith, or powdered rock, a basic constituent of soil. Take some regolith, mix in decaying plant and animal material, add bacteria and other microorganisms and just a touch of water and you have natures soil, the perfect medium for growing plants.

Expanding ice doesn’t just pulverize rock, either. It can damage and destroy most any solid object, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. When there is an early, sudden and very hard freeze, for instance, the water frozen in trees can split them wide open. The same mechanism “kills” your garden tomatoes by rupturing the tiny plant cells from stem to fruit, turning them to mush.

Since ice is lower in density, it floats on water, which is another fascinating (and quite fortuitous) property. Just imagine what would happen if ice were more dense than water. It would freeze at the bottom of the lake, river, stream or stock tank and build up toward the top, reducing the volume of the container, causing flooding and overflows, and eventually, during a long cold spell,  becoming a solid block of ice.

Speaking of cold, another of water’s amazing properties is its ability to hold heat.

Water second highest heat capacity of any known substance, after ammonia, and a high heat of vaporization. On the smaller scale, this allows liquid water to exist beneath the ice in a stock tanks, lakes, rivers, and seas, even though the outside temperature is well below freezing. Water simply holds on to heat, through its natural molecular motion, for a very long time. Even in the depths of glaciated ice ages, trillions of tons of liquid water is present.

On the large scale, water’s ability to conserve heat allows the oceans to act as a heat sink, moderating temperature and weather extremes around the globe.

Water is a key driver in Earth’s dynamic climate. Understanding water is to understand one of the foundational building blocks of climate and climate science. Think about water. Look around and try to see what water is doing. Compare your observations to what you know, and look for real and fundamental answers whenever you scratch your head over something.

You don’t have to be a lettered expert to understand climate and climate science. A little bit of study and observation can be the path to freedom over the activist narrative.

But you have to do it.