Tag Archives: nature

A Day Observing Natural Phenomenon

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It was never the most ideal setup for a storm chase. The convective environment was not too strong and the storms were poorly organized. It ended up being a fairly major day for severe thunderstorms with strong winds in the Southern Plains, as well as Upstate New York and parts of New England.

However, traveling about 90 miles to observe what did happen in Northeast Colorado would only cost me half a day. It was also my first chance to hit the open road since COVID-19.

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It turns out, a panoramic view of several different storms is beautiful and inspiring even if it isn’t damaging property!

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Maybe it was the relaxed pace life had taken over the past two months. Or maybe it was the amount of time we have all started spending in front of screens during this strange period. This storm chase felt less like a mission to get to the best storm possible. It took on kind of an artistic feel.

It is easy to imagine the lone barn in front of an approaching storm, or the seemingly abandoned tiny town of Last Chance, CO with storm clouds gathered all around it as a painting or large photo hanging on someone’s wall for decoration.

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I would later catch up with the one storm that did produce large hail, which I would had to quickly escape to avoid car damage.

After returning home, another storm would pass right over my house right around sunset.

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As a child, weather was the first thing I became deeply fascinated with. The cycles of the seasons and the way the atmosphere moves around transporting warmer, colder, wetter and drier air impacts everyone. On a day to day scale it can often decide what people are doing with their day. On a longer time scale, it impacts business, food supply and health.

My pursuit of meteorology as a career ended up being kind of a disappointment. What began as a desire to investigate and understand the atmosphere scientifically got lost in a sea of equations, coding, and later egos and corporate buzzwords. Observing the weather through a screen caused it to eventually lose its luster. Seeing powerful lightning up close and hearing the raw power of the thunder put me back in touch with why I love the weather so much.

That evening, after the storms passed through, I took a walk through City Park.

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The orange-y lights shining onto a wet sidewalk adjacent the a lakeshore made me feel as if I were in a different place. I imagined the lake, which is not too big in real life, was the shore of one of our Oceans or Great Lakes. I imagined the high rise apartments nearby to be vacation rentals and I imagined crowds of people once again flocking to the beach.

I couldn’t stop staring at how the lights of different colors were sparkling on the water, gradually shifting with the slow movement of the lake.

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I wonder why I had gone years not noticing things like the way the water makes the light twinkle. Are our lives that out of balance? Maybe recent obsessions with things like yoga, meditation, low carb diets and workout “boot camps” are just our attempts to get our lives back into balance, ways to push back against all these forces in our culture that have lead to unhealthy lives. 

I think about all the beautiful experiences we have with the natural world and wonder if we are obsessed with technology. Technology has undoubtedly made our lives better. Technology has made the whole concept of storm chasing possible. However, I am not convinced all technological developments have been beneficial. To me, there is far more beauty in the air and in the clouds. There’s beauty in the smiles we give one another, the relationships we form and the feelings we get from experiences. There is beauty in love and passion. There is even beauty in things often held in less regard, like causal sex (when consensual of course), some drug related experiences (when not taken to a destructive extreme) and anger when it is born out of the passion associated with fulfillment (when it doesn’t lead to violence of course). At least those things feel more meaningful than staring at screens all day to me now.

Unlike many other people who are old enough to remember a world before people could pull a device out of their pockets and look up whatever they want, I am not “wowed” by technology for technology’s sake. I’ve seen plenty of people impressed by the latest technology, often doing things like moving data around and producing charts.

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Charts like this one, as is the case with scientific investigation in general, mean nothing unless something is learned and something is done based on them.

Technology has the potential to help us work more efficiently, improve our health and even form communities. But, let’s not forget who is in the driver’s seat. Technology and computers are here to enhance our experiences with the world around us, not the other way around. Thank God we occasionally have these moments, where thunder claps louder than any of our devices or when wildlife interrupts our travels, to remind us.

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Winter Slowly Comes to an End

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We just shifted our clocks forward for Daylight Savings Time. For the first time this year the sun will set later than 7:00 P.M. Each footstep we make in the snow feels like a crunch through cycles of nighttime freezes and daytime thaws. I gaze to the East in the middle of the day. Despite partial cloudiness, the sky feels quite bright. The ground, partially uncovered by recent warmth, appears as a somewhat random assortment of the season that was and the season that is to come. Vertical development in the clouds off on the horizon provide a preview of what’s to come; the types of powerful storms that truly embody the power of nature during springtime.

This time of year is quite unique. After several months of cold and snow, snowpacks in the Central Rockies are often near their peaks.

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This year is no exception, as measured snowpacks are quite close to the long term average.

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At the ski resorts, the trails remain bright through the entire day, with the possible exception of some of the densest glades. In December and early January, shade starts to creep in sometime between 2 and 3 P.M.

We skied until 4 P.M. then sat out in the sun having drinks at the base.

The high elevation mountain towns showed a kind of bright, snow-filled winter glory in a manner that felt like the setting of a movie.

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Passing through towns like these, I could not help but imagine movie characters doing things like training for winter sports, falling in love, or singing Christmas carols. It even inspired me to wear a Christmas sweater over two months after the holiday.

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Winter’s end will be slow. It starts with days like this. However, many places in the high elevations of central Colorado can expect to see several feet more snow before summer comes. The transition of the seasons is not unlike many other transitions in life. It is neither abrupt nor continuous. Whether it is a recovering alcoholic having periodic relapses or a group of people adapting to some major societal shift, the new and the old fade in and out in sometimes tough to predict patterns.

Sometimes there is a sweet spot. Snowshoeing in nothing but a light jacket, or a sweater and a hoodie, was a joyful experience in nature that combines the best of winter with the best of spring. It’s what we all should be looking for. New York pizza came when we combined the best of Italy with the best of America. Some of the best musicians and artists combine the best of angst with the best of optimism. The scene in South Park Colorado, where the pattern of snow and grass seemed to simultaniously make logical sense and lack any coherency serves us all as a reminder that there is great beauty and opportunity in all the awkward in-between phases in life. Maybe, in this phase of life, I can find a way to combine the best of youth with the best of maturity.

Four Days After the Blizzard

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Well, technically in most places it wasn’t actually a blizzard. Denver and points East were  under a blizzard warning for the afternoon and evening of April 10, 2019. The wind speeds did not quite reach the technical criteria for a “blizzard”, but snow did fall and the wind did howl.

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April is perhaps the wildest, most unpredictable month. In cities throughout North America, scenes like this play out every year. Just as people are getting set up for Spring, a wild swing in temperatures, in this case from a high of 78F (26C) on Tuesday the 9th to an overnight low of 17F (-8C) after the snowstorm the next day, disorients everyone.

It can get violent too! While May is the month with the most tornadoes, April is the month with the most killer tornadoes.

With weather forecasts for specific place on a specific day generally unreliable more than about a week out, April is a hard month to set expectations for. In the mountains, this time of year is generally referred to as “mud season”, but it is not that uniform. By Sunday, four days after the snowstorm, despite the weather not being too particularly warm, places like the Buffalo Herd Overlook, at an elevation around 7600 ft. (2300m) were pretty dry. For some reason, the bison (they are often called “buffalo”, but technically are bison) roamed closer to I-70 than normal, with many motorists stopping to admire them.

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Four days after the “blizzard”, I found myself taking my new dog, Shasta, on her first hike since being adopted.

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Our group actually included a dog and a baby (9 months old), as they had previously taking a liking towards one another.

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I had previously hiked at Elk Meadows Park, almost five years ago, hiking to the top of Bergen Peak on a hazy day in July.

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That hike involved a climb of just over 2,000 feet  and a distance just over ten miles. For several reasons, today’s hike would be much shorter. Most obviously, babies are exhausting to cary and often do not have the attention span to tolerate hikes that would span around 5 hours.

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There is also the variable trail conditions.

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Sections that are both muddy and still partially covered with melting snow were quite common at elevations between 7500 and 8500 ft (2250-2600m). Heading to elevations closer to 9700 ft. (2950m), areas with deep snow would have made the hike far more challenging. Colorado had a snowy winter, particularly in late February and early March. Mid-April snowpacks exceed long-term averages throughout the state.

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The cold, snowy winter was great for Shasta to get acquainted with the new neighbors.

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But, it ended up being an abnormally sedentary period for me.

My favorite thing about Elk Meadows Park is definitely the signage. There is no getting lost here, as every trail junction is clearly labelled.

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The lower part of the park is a wide open valley. It can feel like a miniature version of areas like South Park and the San Luis Valley, relatively flat, treeless areas surrounded by mountains in all directions.

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Despite these panoramic views, the hike itself cannot really be thought of as earth shattering. When people romanticize about the Colorado outdoors, it is often about things like climbing to the top of 14ers, cycling over mountain passes, skiing, or whitewater rafting.

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However, it ended up being what I needed. There is something about being outdoors, in the presence of nature, in good company that feels human in a way that our world of cubicles, screens, stress and performance metrics doesn’t. It is so easy for all of us to get so carried away in our pursuits; trying to get a promotion, saving up or something, asserting our status, making deals and planning the future that we forget to enjoy what is right in front of us.

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Planet Earth is full of wonder, whether they be mountains, gentle streams, wildlife, waterfalls, or something simple like a group of friends having fun and dancing- showing their true humanity. The more we can stop to appreciate this, or be a part of it, the better off we all will be. After a not so great week related to my pursuits in life, I genuinely needed to just be in nature, regardless of the setting.

Like the April weather, our situations, fortunes and struggles can change at any time, and often can’t be predicted too far in advance. It has been shown that luck can be related to one’s attitude, more than just chance. However, regardless of what happens to us, our responses often matter more than the actual situation at hand. Sometimes, like the weather in April, as opposed to a detailed long-term plan, all we can do is do the best with what is right in front of us.