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Entries in weather (32)


Nelson's battle plan for Trafalgar, 21 October 1805

Captain Horatio Nelson. Battle plan for the engagement with the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies, during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars off Cape Trafalgar, Spain. 1805 © National Maritime Museum, London.

A wall of ships, the British ships sail toward it planning to cut the line in three, taking out the flagship first, i.e. no signals.  Not being a naval historian, and reading a brief summary, it appears that part of the English fleet was at Gibralter, weakening the total Navy, and so the French and Spanish thought they could defend Cadiz by forming a long line in front of it.  However, weather will intervene.  Little wind and contradictory orders to the French and Spanish to turn resulted in an extremely slow reformation leaving clumps of ships over a loose five-mile line.  In come two tight arrow-like British lines.  As they all were no doubt luffing around in the same calm weather, the battle must have seemed a bit like slow-motion.  However, outnumbered, outgunned and out-shipped, the British won, Nelson was shot and died, and storms that blew up the next day sank several of the wounded ships of the day before.  

If there is anything that endears one to Nelson's 'England expects that every man will do his duty' spelled out in signal flags flying from his own flagship, it is this scrap of a battle plan on the back of what looks like a bit of blotting paper.  One must never be seen to be trying too hard, but duty is done nonetheless.

Does this kind of thinking exist any more?  I only come across it in British espionage novels, those thrilling, complicated, but allegedly deeply conservative tales that pass these days as my escape reading.  Ex-SAS men gone rogue sort of stuff.  Not really rogue, in the end one finds they are on the side of right and duty.  Of course.

Anyway, beautiful little drawing.  It moves me to tears for some reason.


Tulsa: not resilient yet

Tulsa’s Resilience Challenge Officials are prioritizing civil engagement and working on an innovative floodplain management plan.

Tulsa Oklahoma, one of the Resilient Cities 100.  Trying here to figure out exactly what Resilience Cities are and do.  It was, once, the centre of the US oil industry, but diversified to 'telecommunications, finance and aviation'.  What does this mean?  call centres? airport hub?  But, it has poverty in minority communities.  Of course it does.  Not only is it in need of resilience from being located in Tornado Alley, local civil society, especially the poverty sector, must be engaged with.  Tulsa has 391,900 people.  This is the extent of the information on Tulsa as a resilience challenge.  

What am I expecting?  Microsoft is working with the Resilient Cities 100 on emergency communications during extreme weather events.  A Chief Resilience Officer, a CRO, is needed.  As Tulsa's challenges are listed as Hurricane/Typhoon/Cyclone, Social Inequity and Tropical Storms, it can be linked to 51 other cities from Belgrade to Arusha.

Resilient Systems, another diagram with rollovers explaining some key terms, all very good, desirable and unchallengeable.  Reflective: able to learn. Robust: limits spread of failure.  Flexible: has alternate strategies. Integrated: systems work together.  Resourceful: can easily repurpose resources.  Redundant: has backup capacity.  Inclusive: broad consultation and communication.  

Last night on the news CBC showed a new way of teaching grade fives how to analyse problems.  The task was how to make a playscape for their school.  Lots of bubble diagrams were created, arrows, priorities, who does what.  When it came to materials the pupils dutifully wrote in their bubbles 'swings', 'slides', 'monkey bars'.  Good god, for all that analysis, they still see a playscape as a traditional playground set that's been in every school yard since 1952.  Somehow all this systematic organisation seems to reorganise knowns and givens while excluding lateral, creative thought.  One suspects that no amount of bubble diagramming or rollovers will come up with a vegetable garden in the corner of the school yard – that kind of idea floats in from some different universe.  

If we have CROs, CEOs and CFOs, we have governance structures and hierarchies.  If there was anything revealed in On Site review 32: weak systems, it is that hierarchies are rarely robust and are structurally incapable of being resilient.


Can't resist:



breakaway walls

Damage from Hurrican Ivan, 2004, in the southeastern USA where breakaway walls are necessary and mandated.

This structural detachment of structure and skin is very helpful in extreme weather: in hurricane-prone coastlines houses have breakaway walls which are ground level enclosed areas for parking or storage, where the enclosing walls will actually break away from the structure when hit by high winds and water.  The house is instantly piloteed, water and wind rush right under it.  Breakaway walls are bylaws in many areas, and there is a FEMA manual that outlines specifications. The principles appear to apply only to ground floors; the house itself is conventional construction where walls are meant to protect, not flee.  

Because of our northern climate, all our woodframe houses sit on basements that act like concrete boats: they resist frost heaving but in a flood fill up with water immediately.  And every time there is a tornado in a non-tornado zone such as happened in southern Ontario last week, the houses are deconstructed leaving piles of studs and shredded plywood.  In Places in the Heart, a 1980s movie set on the prairies during the Depression, a tornado was coming and Sally Field rushed about the house opening all the windows before taking the children into the storm cellar. The house was made as transparent to the wind as possible. A storm cellar is accessible from outside the house, no convenient basement stair, and so even if the house is blown apart, the cellar is a separate underground bunker.  This was in The Wizard of Oz, which we've forgotten.

In this new era of violent weather, our bulwarks against traditional weather where the worst that happens is that it gets very very cold — three weeks of -30, no problem, the houses are snug.  Our houses have always been built to resist — we feel the whole house ought to be a storm cellar — rather than to bend.  We are getting new weather, we are going to have to rethink it all. 


The Weather Diaries, 2014

News of this, The Weather Diaries, Nordic Fashion Biennale, by Cooper & Gorfer, came by way of Nicole Dextras, no slouch at weather herself.

The video is a look at a very distant, very connected, place.

The Weather Diaries, Nordic Fashion Biennale by Cooper & Gorfer from Gestalten on Vimeo.

The Weather Diaries, Nordic Fashion Biennale by Cooper & Gorfer from Gestalten on Vimeo.



Anselm Kiefer: Alkahest, 2011

Anselm Kiefer. Oh, ihr Stimmen des Geschicks, 2011. Oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, charcoal, lead and iron object on photograph on cardboard 83.5 x 113.5 cm (32.87 x 44.69 in). Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Salzburg

Alkahest is a series of large paintings, paintings on photographs and assemblages that site mountains as places of material transformation where water dissolves, ultimately, stone.  According to the press release statement from the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac that showed this work in 2011, the term Alkahest comes from alchemy and indicates that anything can be dissolved by some solution, in this case, simply water, which through the processes of erosion dilutes whole mountains into mud.

The geologic reality of this is mirrored, for Kiefer, by spiritual battles found in German literature from Hölderlin and Goethe's poetry of the eighteenth century to Heidegger, and in Norse and Christian mythologies with their voluminous and powerful metaphoric imagery.  This image above, O Voices of Destiny (a phrase from Hölderlin's late poem 'Greece'  — O voices of Fate, their paths of the wanderer!), is Thor's Hammer, the weather maker for us mere mortals.    

This wonderful slippage in and out of metaphor and geology grounds the most enormous of world processes in the completely mundane experience of something like being caught in a June sleet storm in the Kananaskis.

Chris Conway. The flank of Mount Hart-McHarg through the cloud and snow showers of an approaching spring storm at Upper Kananaskis Lake. Kananaskis Lakes, Rocky Mountains, April 20, 2013The name Kananaskis isn't even the aboriginal term for the area – it was named by Palliser after a local man who recovered from an axe wound, a story that only dates from 1857.  I'm feeling culturally bereft here: German poetry, Norse myths are not mine, aboriginal structures of meaning are not mine either, the tenets of Christianity are stories rather than belief and the worst of it, given our current preoccupation with resource extraction, is that Kananaskis ranges were only explored in the first place in case they held gold.  They do have the less glamorous coal, and lots of ski trails put in for the 1988 Olympics.  

Kiefer's work comes out of a deep sense of his own German culture, which is why he spent years dissecting and reworking the second world war, and has continued working back and forward into mythology, geology and German philosophy: it is within him.  Settler colonies have such shallow roots: hair roots so lightly attached to the soil that it pushes phenomenological experience to the forefront. Interesting, but self-validating, and rarely linked to any sort of deep traditions. For this country, mountains mean mining and sports.  period.


Christmas, rough

Saul Leiter, Snow, 1960. Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

should be accompanied by the Pogues:


Saul Leiter's winter

Saul Leiter, Red Umbrella, 1957. Gelatin silver print; printed later 14 x 11 inches Signed in ink on print verso. Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

We've always had the winter, but not the photographers.


Saul Leiter, Postmen, 1952. Gelatin silver print; printed later 14 x 11 inches Signed in ink on print verso. Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.


yyc floods

Tornado in Denver last week, travelled up the eastern slopes of the Rockies and parked: much rain.  Mandatory evacuation order issued in Calgary's river valleys Thursday, but not my block, the last before the railway tracks. Curious.  Voluntary evacuation on the street left just four houses occupied.  Very quiet; dystopian moment Friday morning in the back alley – bottle picker cutting the lock off a mountain bike, cycled away whistling.  Kept walking every few hours down to the river, three blocks away, empty streets, very eerie, reminded me of the end of On the Beach.

By Saturday I'd had enough of flood, however at the eastern end of the neighbourhood a great chunk of bank was swept away putting a long block of new houses right at the edge of a cliff.  In comes the army and lots of heavy lifting equipment and bolsters the cliff with large concrete blocks.
Sunday, water in the Bow about 6' down, neighbourhood still evacuated, now not even any gawkers – boring now that the water isn't bashing at the bridge deck, usually about 12' above water level.

Spent Friday moving the contents of the basement up to the ground floor: the archive of my life – much too much stuff.  The fear is always of reverse sewer action filling one's basement with toxic glurk.  This flooding thing will happen again, so vow that what goes back to the basement will be very thinned out.   

Saturday, doing some thinning: acres of paper, photocopies of articles and essays – Barthes on the Eiffel Tower – never seen it before but the margins are full of my notes.  I appear to have been quite smart once.  
A beautiful essay by Aijaz Ahmad of which there were several copies so I must have given it out in a course.  How to take all the excitement out of a favourite essay: assign it.  Half the students don't read it and try to wing it in the discussion.  A quarter don't read it and tell you it was irrelevant, the rest read it but don't know what to think about it, one person quotes it appropriately in their term paper and you give him an A.

Sunday, looked at the river, evacuation order still on, but so is the power and the gas, so I'm lucky.  Downtown last night inky dark as the power is off protecting the transformers. Mowed the lawn, listened to Gardener's Question Time – guaranteed to restore equilibrium in times of unease.  

Too much rainfall filled the Elbow River at its source in the mountains, it over-filled the Glenmore Reservoir and then joined the already flooded Bow River at the western corner of my neighbourhood: it crested here Saturday morning, and that crest is travelling at high speed down the Bow where it will meet the South Saskatchewan River and Medicine Hat later today.  Then it will continue east, through Saskatchewan and all its river towns, on to Manitoba where it will eventually enter Lake Winnipeg, not unknown to flood. every year.

It has been very odd living in an empty neighbourhood, just us and the birds, no cars, no neighbours, no roar of traffic on the nearby Deerfoot Trail but a more local sound of a sump pump bailing out the basement of an old apartment building on 9th Avenue, the main street.  The water coming out of the hoses is clear and sweet, not the milk chocolate colour of the river water.  It feels like a much earlier time. 

9th Avenue SE, Calgary, under mandatory evacuation: all the bridges closed, just one way in and out on the appropriately named Highfield Road.


Rebecca Horn: les amants, 1991

Les Amants, 1991, Photo: Attilio Maranzano © 2009 Rebecca Horn. Les Amants consists of two glass funnels, ink, wine and motors of some unspecified sort that must spray the liquids about. Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin

Donald Kuspit's review of Rebecca Horn's drawings, both by hand and by machine, indicates something of his desires, found in Horn's sexual subtext: all the machines are metaphors for the coming together of bodily fluids.  Well, maybe; it is called Les Amants —is it blood, or is it wine?  However, one might also see in the desperate, cross throwing of ink in the corner of a room, the fan of a musical score there but ignored, les travails des amants.

Kuspit does say 'her drawings are written by her machines': does the machine write, or does it make the marks it is designed to make?  In Alan Storey's drawing machines, below, does he build them to literally make the marks he already has written, or does he make them to make marks as an autonomous act?  He assigned up and down to wind force, not immediately a logical choice, so he must have wanted his recordings on the paper to register elevation, rather than planarity — biblical, this, every mountain and hill made low: the crooked straight and the rough places plain.  And then comes the wind.


Alan Storey: climatic drawing machine, 1991

Alan Storey. Climatic Drawing Machine drawing, 1991. Power Plant, Harbourfront, Toronto

Hard to get a good set of images made from the Climatic Drawing Machine, unless one wants to buy one.  Part of a series of machines that make marks on paper, this one uses a wind vane to register the direction of the wind, and the strength, which moves the recording drum up and down.  This was installed at Power Plant on Lake Ontario in 1991.

In all Storey's machines the lines are lovely, they skitter across paper in a way a line made by the hand never does.  With abstract marks, which these aren't — they are evidence of a mechanical set of relationships — one almost automatically reads one's own visual desires into them.  Sorry, but these are so like storms over either water or prairie that it doesn't surprise me that they have been drawn by wind.   There is a base: land, which is actually a mild breeze, that then gets all agitated when the wind turns fierce.  Which it does in real life.  


Jana Winderen: Wind Over Old Land [Neumes Du Vent - Lágrimas De Miedo 15, 2010] 

Because, it is still snowing.


Värttinä: Kylä Vuotti Uutta Kuuta

Because, it is snowing today.


OIL: Neft daşları/Нефтяные Камни/Oil Stones

Neft daşları.  A town of 5 000 oil workers, 100km from Baku, Azerbaijan and 55km from shore in the Caspian Sea.  It is a spread out little company town where what one would normally think of as fields, is water.  There are sports fields, hostels, bits of lawn and gardens, a bakery, a clinic, a cinema.  Miles of trestle bridges connect an array of rigs, docks, wells and pipelines. A gas turbine electricity station makes the oil field operations completely automonous.

Built in 1949, this was the first offshore oil platform in the world; by 1958 the town was built and continued industrial and residential construction up until 1978.  There is a core population of 900, and a rotating population of several thousand shift workers, but no families or children. Water and food are brought in.  Pipelines have gradually replaced tanker transport as weather on the sea is violent and unpredictable.

Neft daşları is sinking, or the sea is rising.  There are other platforms in Azerbijan that have superseded Neft daşları, some of the 200km of trestle roadways have collapsed, some rigs are inaccessible.

Here is a good explanation of the project, and below, an overview:


winter in aberdeenshire, could be here

John Gardiner Crawford. Winter. n.d. Oil on masonite, 101 x 69 cm. The Scottish Gallery.Too much contact with landscape clearly makes one very abstract.


avalanche clearing

The importance of not being in a hurry:

March 5, 2012

Although a slide over the highway might seem small by air, as above, on the actual road it is a mess.  These avalanches, usually small because larger slips have already been released farther up the hill by avalanche control, shut down the passes for at least a day, often longer.  All the trucks line up in tight ranks at brake checkstops, wide laybys or at Rogers Pass itself where there are services.  Cars turn back, if they can, and try another, invariably longer route.

Glacier National Park, on the Trans-Canada, January 17, 2011


avalanche control

There is a small Canadian Forces detachment positioned in Roger's Pass, which, as it is only the Canadian Forces who can legally operate howitzers and such, triggers avalanches.  This film is from April 3, 2010. 

These are avalanches that might hit the Trans-Canada Highway or the railway lines where they are exposed, not the back country avalanches set off by skiers and snowmobilers that kill so many people each winter.  


equinoctal weather

The aftermath of the 4 March 1910 avalanches at snow shed 14 in Rogers Pass, British Columbia. Revelstoke Museum and Archives, Photograph #268

It is curious that the days this week are the same length as they are at the end of September which, unless there was a Labour Day frost – once typical now rare, is still full of the heat of summer.  In fact September is our summer.  

On the eastern slopes of the Rockies, our highest snowfalls are in March and April, and although there are avalanches in the mountains all winter, there is a tide of them in the spring.  It has to do with warm Pacific storms on the coast which continue east precipitating heavy warm snow onto cold mountains.  The snow pack is made top-heavy and it topples.  

The CPR line was put through Roger's Pass in 1884, and remained open despite avalanches by using a system of timber snowsheds and small tunnels.  In 1910 there was a terrible avalanche disaster in the mountains when, on a very warm March 4th, a first avalanche buried the tracks and then as the work crews were digging it out a second avalanche from the opposite slope hit them, killing 62 men.  It was after this that the 5-mile long Connaught Tunnel was built, opening in 1916.  The surface rail line on that particular section was removed.

However, when the Trans-Canada Highway was put through Roger's Pass in the early 1960s, it generally followed the original CPR line, taking it through the avalanche area.  The highway is often closed; it was last week.

Can't plan anything these days, but clearly one never could.


Plinth, book

cover to Music for Smalls Lighthouse, Plinth, 2010

Plinth 'Music For Smalls Lighthouse.' Limited edition of 150. Hand-bound, cloth cover, hardback book tied with printed silk ribbon. Booklet pages consist of sugar paper, braille bible, pianola sheet.



Alberta Agriculture shelterbelt specifications.



Approaching dust storm, Fort MacLeod, Alberta. 1930s. Glenbow Museum Archives NA-2928-28So, is this weather, or the result of a war with the land?  Literally tons of soil blew east from the centre of North America dropping on the east coast and the Atlantic Ocean during the 1930s: a drought combined with very poor farming practices that stripped the prairies of the indigenous grasses that held the soil and moisture in place with their roots. 

It made excellent mulch, evidently.  Of course it would; fine topsoil, perfect for planting seedlings.  The process of getting it spread all over your fields however was catastrophic.