A week ago we returned from sunny Florida. It was eighty degrees every day. We ran in shorts and swam in the afternoon. I walked a boardwalk taking photos of semi-tropical birds. It was lovely.
This morning (back in Illinois) I ran 4.5 miles in 18-degree (F) weather with a wind that made it feel like it was 2-degrees above zero outside. I wore nice thick Thor-Lo socks, my Saucony Triumph ISO running shoes, a set of Saucony windproof sweatpants, some shorts, a long-sleeve tee recently earned in the Fox and the Turkey four-miler on Thanksgiving, a hard-fleece long-sleeved overshirt with a neck gator, the new Proviz 360 Reflector jacket and a black balaclava for the full Ninja look. I was prepped for the weather.
And was plenty well-dressed with the exception of the top of my head the first mile. On really cold days like this it pays to put a thin Saucony hat over top of the balaclava, which isn’t quite enough thick enough to protect the top of my bald head.
Yet it warmed up soon enough and the run went well until I turned NW into the teeth of the wind. The left side of my face while running west had gotten quite cold. That was the result of a wind shear formed around the side of my head opposite the true wind direction. Perhaps you don’t know about the principles of wind shear. For your convenience, here is a somewhat fabulous illustration providing perspective on the fact that wind can split in two, causing havoc on all sorts of events ranging from airplane flights to the spread of pollution. It can also “race around your face” causing the side away from the wind direction to get even colder than the side facing the brunt of it.
But isn’t that an interesting phenomenon? Perhaps you’ve seen the dynamic of wind shear in action, and wondered, “How the hell can the wind blow in two directions at once?”
Well I have news for you. If you’re a cyclist you know bloody well the wind can feel like it is blowing in all four directions at once. Go ahead and ride out in an open space some windy day. For twenty miles you can ride into a headwind thinking your big reward will be a tailwind on the return trip. Think again. Because when you turn around the wind feels just as bad in that direction. You think to yourself, “WTF?”
The truth of the matter is that crosswinds can be just as bad for cyclists and runners as headwinds. In some ways, they are worst. It’s all about angles, you see, and air pressure.
So let’s talk about angles. That’s part of the reason why sunny Florida feels warm this time of year when windy Illinois feels cold as the freezer box at a grocery story. The northern hemisphere is currently tilted in relation to the angle of the sun’s rays. In summer the northern hemisphere is treated to longer days and warmer weather. In winter the days are cut shorter by the angle of the earth relative to the sun, and the power of those rays is not strong enough to overcome either the angle or shorter time the sun’s rays reach the northern portion of the earth.
Way up by the north pole of the earth, the days grow short during the winter and long during the summer months. The sun does not even set before another new “day” begins.
Interestingly, that simple fact makes a farce of the somewhat biblical notion that the earth was created in seven literal days. After all, if a day lasts 24 hours in the land of the Midnight Sun, then there is no such thing as a “day” at all. But of course, the authors who wrote the Book of Genesis in the Middle East during a period 2000 years ago had no way of knowing that the earth was even round, or that it tilted in space, and that seasons and even entire climates depend on the earth’s rotation and / or its relative position to the sun. So they conveniently grouped all theological notions into “days” and left it at that. Along with a flat earth and the dome of heaven, that explained things pretty well in that hot spit of land along the sea.
But if God had gone to work at the North Pole in wintertime and was perched on the top of the world creating his stuff, then he had all night to work on that creation stuff and deliver it all around the world. And that, my friends, is how the legend of Santa Claus was born.
As Santa proves, time itself expands when you’re having fun. But time can also run out when you least expect it. That happens when people get selective about what they want to believe, versus what’s staring them right in the face. We have Christians screaming about the “War On Christmas” when it was Christians who propagated the legend of a Santa Claus character that has nothing to do with the birth of Christ other than immersing ourselves in selfishly motivated gift-giving. I say this to the War On Christmas whiners. Fuck off. You brought this on yourself.
And just like the Christmas farce, America is now engaged in massive tax cuts for the rich and a go-go mentality with markets surging. It’s 1929 all over again, and people are none the wiser. But don’t worry! The newly ensconced Wizard of Emerald City with his golden hair is in charge. They not only look alike, they sound and act alike as well!
But people forget this important fact: The so-called Wizard of Oz knew a lot less than he pretended to know. But he was quite good at fooling Emerald City into making him the Wizard. Of Oz.
So should we trust the man behind the curtain to guide the fate of the earth? All the man really knew how to do was give our awards and make speeches. Yet he was popular in Oz for being the Liar-in-Chief in Oz. How interesting.
But we really can’t afford to play charades with reality. Se let’s get real with our thinking about the relative climatology of the earth. There’s a reason why it’s hot at the equator and why tropical plants and animals thrive there. It’s not some random aspect of God plopping them down and things never changing. They all evolved in kind with the environment in which they now exist. The same is true of Arctic species. But when any given environment radically changes, living things that depend on it either adapt or die off. It’s a harsh truth: 99% of all living things that once existed on the earth are now extinct.
And it doesn’t help to pretend we’re all still running down a Yellow Brick Road.
But that blind belief happens because human beings always think they’re special. We have the ability to seemingly manipulate environments to our favor. It’s a nice attribute, but hardly foolproof. The experiment we’ve conducted with mass industrialization over the past 100 years is just that: an experiment that flies in the face of billions of years of evolution. We’ve only just begun to ascertain what the real outcomes could be.
Whether it’s the markets of economic reality or the dangers of environmental indulgence, people always seem to forget one thing: the scourge of the Flying Monkeys. They always seem to show up at the worst times, don’t they?
Like the Wicked Witch and the Wizard of Oz, what we’ve accomplished is a massive alteration of the “control” side of the experiment without a secondary or conservative alternative. And should the experiment somehow fail, overheat or blow up in our faces, there is no turning back. It’s a frightening foreshadow that the Wizard of Oz movie finishes with the Wizard blowing away in a balloon that he never knew how to navigate in the first place. And back home in Kansas? He was a flim-flam medicine salesman.
What fun! What frivolity. Make Oz Great Again. Give the controls to a real wizard.
Meanwhile the earth keeps tilting and the sun keeps roiling within itself. The sun’s rays course through 93 million miles of space to penetrate the earth’s atmosphere at whatever thickness it exists. It’s both a coarse and delicate process when you think about it. So much energy, yet rather precisely balanced to allow life on earth to exist and propagate. Some credit the power of God to that balance. Others give credence to time and the existential fact that everything must exist, or nothing would ever exist. It’s that simple.
There have been fluctuations in the earth’s climatological processes over time. Both oceans and glaciers have spread over the face of entire continents. That’s why we have limestone bedrock in Illinois, but also a flattened landscape produced by ice a mile thick. That’s how the prairie soils got started, and grasslands grew where ice once roamed. The prairies built soil up to a thickness 6-8 feet deep, but human activity over the last 100 years has dragged and washed and blown away billions of tons of topsoil downstream to the Gulf of Mexico.
What an experiment.
So this morning as I stood over a small salt granule on the sidewalk outside my office, I studied how the angle of the sun cast a long shadow even with that tiny object. Then I bent down to look at the cool blue tone of the shadow, and the cold hard appearance of that salt granule. It would melt soon enough, and return to the earth. That is what it is designed to do: fight the ice on sidewalks so that people can walk and ride and run down those paths without falling on their ass. We can imagine we’re separate from nature all we want, but it isn’t true. There are seven billion people on this earth. All of those individuals will someday day and rot away like cosmic road kill, only to replaced by others waiting their turn to “run the race set before them.”
It’s all a grand experiment, this existence of ours. There is so much we take for granted, and yet so much depends on the angle you take in thinking about it all.