Monthly Archives: December 2009

New Year’s Eve Guest: ‘The Snow Man’

I don’t know much of Wallace Stevens. But what I know, I like and never tire of coming back to. Here’s “The Snow Man,” a poem one critic terms the best short poem in the English language (it’s a claim made on NPR a few years ago and is worth reading in its own right.)

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

nd whether you get around to reading any of this tonight or not, have a great New Year’s Eve, wherever you are, and a wonderful new year.  

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Pirate Cat

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21st and Florida streets, the Mission, San Francisco. I like the sign. Who wouldn’t. There was a chalkboard on the sidewalk in front advertising “Maple Bacon Latte.” If it’s a caffeinated beverage, it’s a flavor I haven’t yet sampled. I’ll go in and find out next time.

I happened to be walking by this corner because I fell asleep on BART–an old trick I have that dates back to days and nights on the Illinois Central in Chicagoland–and rode past my usual stop at 16th and Mission and wound up at 24th. It’s happened once before since I’ve worked at KQED, and maybe I should make it a habit. The walk from 24th is immensely more interesting and pleasant–more life in the neighborhood, less of a feeling of a place that’s been pounded flat by poverty, crime, indifference and desultory redevelopment–than the one from 16th Street. Such are the impressions of the work-bound walker, anyway. You need to sleep in a place, hear the street noise at night, spend a while seeing who’s going where during the day to get even the faintest sense of a neighborhood.

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A Fan’s Notes on Water Supply

When you first move to California from someplace where rain is just a normal part of life all year round, some of the information that shows up on the newspaper weather page seems a little odd. I'm thinking especially of the rainfall totals, calculated between July 1 and June 30, and of the reservoir and snow-depth reports. Yeah, it's vaguely comforting to know some big lake somewhere is nearly full of water, and it's troubling when it's not. The snow report makes sense when you, the auslander, learn that a lot of the water that will wind up in the reservoirs starts out as vast quantities of white stuff in the higher reaches of the Sierra Nevada. The snow and water tables in the paper generally include references  to the total for a year ago and to what's "normal" for the date. If you spend any time at all on the weather page, you develop a sort of rooting interest. Wet years with more than 100 percent of the expected rain and snow can make you feel like the home team is playoff bound. Dry years resemble those lost seasons when all the supposed stars flop and nothing quite goes right.

If the precipitation and snowfall reports are the daily standings of the water year, then meteorologists  serve as both play-by-play announcers and analysts. If you're a serious fan and want to go beyond the entertainment offered by most TV weather presenters or the few vague words that make up most newspaper and online forecasts, then you have to go to the meteorological analyses published online by government weather services. Even in that world, there are circles within circles: for the interested generalist, there's the Area Forecast Discussion posted several times daily by most National Weather Service offices (for example, here's the AFD from the Monterey, California office). Informing those discussions are weather models–vastly complex, supercomputed pictures of the weather many days into the future; the true weather fanatic learns at least the rudiments of the models, their individual peculiarities, and what they might mean in terms of observable local weather.

Me, I haven't pushed the geek level much. I'm pondering the meaning of terms like "500mb heights" and  "pressure surfaces" but don't employ them in polite company or even bar-room conversation. However, my interest is real. We're nearing a key date in our water year–the California Department of Water Resources will take its first formal snow measurements of the season in a couple of days. Fans will be watching closely because frankly our 2009-2010 water year hasn't gotten off to a great start; while most reservoirs are a little fuller than they were a year ago, most are also well under average levels.

Now, while I'm waiting for the pre-measurement festivities to begin, I'm consulting the oracles of the sport. Among my newer winter weather reading is the California-Nevada River Forecast Center's daily "Hydrometeorological Discussion." Issued at 9:30 a.m. every morning, it summarizes rainfall and snowfall for the last 24 hours, then reviews what the weather models are saying about incoming storms for the next three days. Whereas the Area Forecast Discussion focuses on conditions in the geographic districts they cover, the CNRFC discussion looks at conditions in watersheds and river drainages. If you live in California and you're preoccupied with  water supply, the rain falling in the mountains above Lakes Shasta and Oroville, the state's two biggest reservoirs, probably means a lot more than whatever happens to fall on your neighborhood–where there's no place to store all the water that's coming down.

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Christmas Buddha

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Christmas Eve, on Vine Street in Berkeley. Try to untangle all the religious/cultural traditions here. I just like the fact someone so artfully lit the sleeping Buddha.

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‘Always on Christmas Night …’

luminaria122409a.jpgThe closing lines of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” My favorite part of one of my favorite poems. Merry Christmas, wherever you are on this Christmas night.

… Always on Christmas night there was music.
An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang
‘Cherry Ripe,’ and another uncle sang ‘Drake’s Drum.’
It was very warm in the little house.
Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip
wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death,
and then another in which she said her heart
was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody
laughed again; and then I went to bed.

“Looking out my bedroom window, out into
the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow,
I could see the lights in the windows
of all the other houses on our hill and hear
the music rising from them up the long, steadily
falling night. I turned the gas down, I got
into bed. I said some words to the close and
holy darkness, and then I slept.”

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Money for School, or Something

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The ad above appeared, maybe not for the first time, on Yahoo! Mail tonight. In its way, it’s a come-on that’s as old as time, or at least as ancient as print advertising: Get free money from government programs. What throws me is the picture. What role does this guy play? Is he making the pitch? Is he representative of the disheveled multitudes who could use a hand bettering themselves? Or is he someone who needs financial aid to buy more grow-lights or meth lab equipment? All of the above?

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Chicago Weather Update: Midwinter Slop

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Alley, Oakley Avenue between Greenleaf and Estes, Chicago.

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Journal of No-Look Windshield Photography

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The holiday-lit peristyle of Soldier Field, captured as I drove past during last night’s odd snow nonstorm (the nonslaught, which continues to nonrage this morning, consists of constant extremely light snow accumulating at the rate of “a few tenths of an inch per six hours,” according to the National Nonweather Service).  

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The Forecast, Chicago Style

Gfsimage
 As mentioned many times in the past, we here at Infospigot Information Industries are fond of reading the Area Forecast Discussion (AFD) published online by National Weather Service offices around the country. The AFD gives a broad-brush explanation for the upcoming forecast; they discuss the latest trends in the output from the numerous weather models they follow and give the rationale for why they believe it will be windy and cold but dry tomorrow and the next day instead of warm and rainy. It would not seem to be the kind of writing that has a lot of character to it. Most of the time it isn't. Every once in a while, though, some personality leaks through. In this morning's discussion of upcoming weather from the Chicago office, a forecaster mentions that the weather models show that storms next week will be warmer than expected. Thus the region can expect rain instead of snow. But what about white Christmas? Here's the forecaster's summary (with some of the arcane AFD abbreviations spelled out and the all-caps style left intact): 

HEADING INTO EXTENDED RANGE…GUIDANCE HAS MADE A MAJOR SHIFT IN SCENARIO WITH MID WEEK WEATHER SYSTEM. GFS [GLOBAL FORECAST SYSTEM MODEL] NOW BRINGS DEEPENING LOW NORTHWARD ACROSS ILLINOIS WEDNESDAY NIGHT-THURSDAY SUGGESTING MAINLY A RAIN EVENT FOR MOST OF FORECAST AREA. 00Z [6 P.M. CST THURSDAY] EUROPEAN [MODEL] HAS COME IN FOLLOWING SUIT. THIS LOOKS LIKE A VERY SIMILAR SITUATION AS WHAT WE HAD THE FIRST WEEK OF THIS MONTH. THEREFORE…RATHER THAN RIDE COLDER SNOWY FORECAST INTO THE GROUND…HAVE BEGUN TO TREND AS WARM WITH THIS SYSTEM AS GRID TOLERANCE WILL ALLOW. HOPE NO ONE GOT THEIR KIDS SLEDS FOR CHRISTMAS UNLESS THEY CAN BE ADAPTED FOR USE IN MUD."

As I said, these folks can be a riot. (Picture above: the current GFS Model Forecast from Unisys Weather.)

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Road Blog: Chicago Skyscape

Westernave121709
At Western and Coyle avenues on the far North Side. It was warmer today — we were above the freezing mark — partly because we were under a blanket of overcast all day. Then, just as the sun set, the sky got some color. I went out around the corner from my sister's place to try to get a picture and had to go down Western a little way before I had a view past the street-front buildings to the west. Snow is in the forecast for tomorrow and the next day (Friday and Saturday), though it seems like sort of a non-storm event: continual light snow that may or may not wind up with a few inches on the ground. I'm supposed to fly back to San Francisco on Saturday, so I'm rooting for no big storm until I've escaped. 

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