REVISITING MY PATERNAL GRANDMOTHER

In March of 2018 I posted “Unwritten History of a Thriver,” a Women’s History Month homage to my paternal grandmother, one of the strongest and most influential people in my life. Much of what follows was included then, but with a couple of factual corrections. I always think of her on March 1, because that was the day she was born in 1903.

Margaret Louisa Butcher, the ninth of twelve children, was born on Yost Branch in Johnson County, Kentucky. Some of her siblings couldn’t pronounce that name and thus she was known as “Lucy” from her infancy on.

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She married Allie Howard Parker and from then on was officially Lucy Butcher Parker. For many decades they lived at the head of old House Creek in Rowan County, Kentucky.

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This picture of Granny, my father, Granny Butcher, and me was taken in the yard there. The Old Home Place (as everyone in the family called it) was four rooms and two porches. The front porch was for rocking, swinging, and whatever work could be done outside.

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Diagram of the Old Home Place

The back porch was for churning butter and washing clothes. Eventually there was a wringer washer, but before that it was a washboard and two tubs. Washing on the washboard was so laborious that Granny would note in her diary how many items of clothes she washed in a day.

The house had electricity by the time I knew it but no running water or indoor plumbing of any sort. The well was in the backyard and the outhouse sat over a little tributary to Old House Creek.

Rowan County, Kentucky circa 1890

Granny cooked on a cast iron, wood-burning stove, and two of the other rooms were heated with potbellied wood/coal burning stoves, similar to those pictured below. Cornbread and biscuits were staples.

Of course the cook stove had no temperature indicators. Granny stuck her hand into the oven to determine the degree of heat by how long she could hold it there.

I used to play on the stacked wood behind the kitchen stove, where it was warm and close to where Granny worked. On the wall above me were strings of dried apple rings and leather britches beans (dried green beans).

One time I sneaked a snack of dried apples and it tasted so good that I ate the whole string. Then, being really thirsty, I drank dipper after dipper of well water. Granny didn’t punish me for the apples. She said the apples would punish me for her. As the apples rehydrated in my stomach, I thought I was going to burst and hurt something awful. Once the stomach ache passed, I had diarrhea so bad I had to run to the outhouse again and again.

From my adult perspective, I marvel at how Granny could be so cheerful given her arduous daily labor. She had a vegetable garden, the harvest followed by canning, drying, and root-cellaring for the off-season. She kept chickens and milk cows, requiring tending every day, regardless of weather.

Churn, butter, churn.
Churn, butter, churn.
Johnny’s at the garden gate
Waiting for a butter cake.
Churn, butter, churn.

Granny churned her own butter and sold some of it to the general store out on the highway. I sometimes helped churn, though I didn’t have the stamina to do the whole job. The churning rhyme helped keep the rhythm smooth, moving the dasher up and down word by word.

According to my Aunt Mary, Dad’s younger sister, the VA Hospital sent Grandpa home in 1933 to die because they couldn’t cure his illness. He was a coal miner in his earlier years, before being gassed in France during WWI. He didn’t die, but while he struggled to regain his health, Granny and the children struggled to get by.

Corn Cobs and Husks

In the late 30s and early 40s, Aunt Nora and Dad set traps for fur-bearing animals, and sold the pelts. They also raised, dried, shelled, and shipped popcorn to add to their income, as well as picking blackberries for five cents a gallon. They shelled corn for a neighbor to take to the gristmill. The inner husks from dried corn was used for filling, like feathers for a feather bead.

Granny and Grandpa

Granny had a hard life—perhaps not by Appalachian standards of the time, but certainly by anyone’s standards today.

Wooden Birthing Chair

All their children were born at home, Granny sitting on Grandpa’s lap, his knees spread to make a birthing chair. Only five of her children grew to adulthood.

Her widowed mother, Granny Butcher, spent nearly all of her last seventeen years living with Grandpa and Granny. I’m told Granny Butcher was a kind, gentle woman. By the time I knew her, she was old and nearly blind.

Granny Butcher

Still, she did what she could to help—snapping beans, shelling peas, churning, and the like. Granny Parker nursed her through her last decline and did the same for Grandpa.

What I most remember about Granny—besides her never-ending work—was her laugh. She loved a good joke or humorous stories. I don’t remember her ever complaining. She read the Bible every day and Reader’s Digest as often as it came. She encouraged me to do all that I could, as well as I could.

I grew up wanting to be like her: strong, capable, and self-sufficient. I see a straight line between Granny’s influence and me earning a Ph.D. by age 25. I was the only one in my parents’ generation or mine to go to college.


Granny made all the quilts for her family. I have several of her quilts, and have passed some along to my children. In her later years she sold quilts to people from most if not all of the United States.

As a widow, she continued to make and sell quilts. I thought her life was pretty much as it always had been until she sent me this newspaper clipping about being the oldest person in Kentucky to earn her GED.


By then Granny had a phone and I called her. 
“You never had a high school diploma? How can that be? Didn’t you teach school before you got married?”
She said, “No I never had a diploma. I studied at Morehead Normal School to be a teacher and then took the state examination. Don’t you remember me telling you that I was licensed to teach by examination? I was in the first group that had to go to Frankfort to be tested.”

Granny’s Quilts in the Newspaper

And the next thing I knew, she had enrolled in college! If I remember correctly, Morehead State University created a senior citizens scholarship to cover her tuition and fees. Granny never learned to drive, so she had to plan her classes around the bus schedule and when she could get a ride.

I saw Granny shortly before she died at age 81. I asked whether, if she had it to do over again, she would change anything about her life. I expected her to say something about how her life could have been made easier.

Granny Making a Quilt

What she did say was, “The only thing I regret is that I’m a junior and won’t live long enough to get my college diploma.”

During Women’s History Month, consider the important women in your history. And let me know about them!

Goldenrod, State Flower of Kentucky
by T. Parrish of T. Parrish

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: TAKING IT EASY

Editor’s Note: Though the tips written in this blog are real ways to make your life easier, the illustrations are included solely for the sake of humor. Please don’t try them at home!

If you search online for tips to make life easier, you will find lists ranging from 6 to 1000 “Life Hacks!” Some are specific to the workplace, relationshipsaround the house, health, etc. You can even find Life Hacks from before the internet called them Life Hacks… from before there was an internet. What follows is my personal, unorganized list of things that have helped me keep my **** together over the years. Which might appeal to/characterize your character(s)?

Personal Ease

  • Choose a low-maintenance hair cut/style.
  • Wear only comfortable clothes.
  • Keep personal care products/routines to a minimum—except there is never too much exercise.
  • If a plethora of neckties, jewelry, or whatever, makes daily decisions time-consuming, pare down!

Housekeeping/ Repair and Yard Work 

  • If it isn’t causing structural damage, it can wait. This is especially important for people with children or pets.
  • Plant a Darwinian Garden—i.e., perennials only, nothing delicate, everything low-maintenance, nothing invasive. Consider a yard of clover rather than grass! 
  • Take the same approach to house plants.

Kitchen Wisdom

  • Get thee Peg Bracken’s I Hate To Cook Book (great for general wisdom and laughs) and The Doubleday Cookbook (for a good, basic, encyclopedic cookbook). Especially if your character isn’t into cooking, these two have got you covered.
  • If it’s cheap, like measuring spoons and cups, get multiples to avoid cleanup I’m the midst of cooking. (Actually, I think that was a Peg Bracken tip.)
  • Get the best out of a microwave (beyond reheating), a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, an electric skillet, and/or a toaster oven—whichever fits the needs.

How to Give Feedback 

  • Give a praise-criticism-praise sandwich. This works for employee annual reviews, co-worker project/product feedback, family or friends who want to know “what you think.”
  • Don’t use labels. Stupid, lazy, careless, cruel, etc., raise a person’s dander and can lead to arguments over the accuracy/appropriateness of the label.
  • Be clear and specific regarding behavioral expectations.
  • Set up the discussion as “When you do X, I feel Y” and work together for change as needed.

Child Rearing

  • Give the child autonomy in as many areas as possible. With my children, that included (among other things) hair cuts/styles, what clothes to wear, how often to clean their rooms, and extracurricular activities.
  • Make each child a responsible member of the family. For example, in my case, starting at age 12, each was responsible for making the family dinner one night a week, and cleaning up after. No frozen dinners or ordering in!
  • Don’t argue over food/eating. Put the food in front of the children and they either eat it or not. If not, no dessert and no snacks before the next meal.
  • Give financial education at least by mid-teens: savings accounts, checking accounts, credit cards, and money management.

Work Related

  • Get up early enough!
  • Plan what to wear and have your briefcase or other work materials ready to go the night before.
  • Learn how to customize equipment. For example, for poor eyesight, learn how to manipulate the print size on various devices.

Bottom line, when creating characters, give thought to how your particular people might try to make life easier. And if it eases anything in your own life as well, you’re welcome!

BEING PREPARED: Emergencies and Disasters

The bad news is that it’s virtually impossible to prepare for every possible incident; the good news is that virtually no one has to be.

More good news: you don’t have to come up with situations and actions on your own! There are people who are trained to do exactly that. In fact, there is an entire industry of people whose job is anticipating and preventing every possible situation. In the US, they’re known as Emergency Managers. If I had this job, I’d write “Master of Disaster” on my business cards!

Before Disaster Strikes

Aurora australis, as seen from the Shuttle Endeavor

Go to ready.gov for more information than you’ll need. It’s easy to use and amazingly thorough. I, for one, didn’t even know that “space weather” is a thing! 

I’m looking at you, Hawaiians!

Being prepared begins with thinking ahead. Consider both the likelihood of an event and the severity. For example, people in Ohio don’t need to prepare for tsunamis. People in Virginia don’t need to be prepared for earthquakes in the same way that Californians do. And very few people in the continental U.S. need to prepare for volcanoes. (You know who you are!)

Usually, only people in Oz have to worry about swarms of flying monkeys

Note to Writers:  Ready.gov is a great resource! Everything a competent protagonist can do to fare well in these situations, and by implication ways a bad situation could be worse, is laid out.  The Red Cross (and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Organization), the DC National Center for Disaster Preparedness, the CDC, and the ADA websites offer more information for specific characters and specific situation types. This Wikipedia article about Emergency Management has links to international and country-specific organizations.

Types of Disasters and Emergencies

Doctors Without Borders suiting up for an Ebola outbreak in Liberia
  • Attacks in public places
  • Avalanche
  • Bioterrorism
  • Chemical emergencies
  • Cybersecurity
  • Drought
  • Earthquakes
  • Explosions
  • Extreme heat
  • Floods
  • Hazardous materials incidents
  • Home fires
  • Household chemical emergencies
  • Hurricanes
FEMA technicians holding a drill for an anthrax event
  • Landslides and debris flow
  • Nuclear explosion
  • Nuclear power plant malfunctions
  • Pandemic
  • Power outages
  • Radiological dispersion device
  • Severe weather
  • Space weather
  • Thunderstorms and lightning
  • Tornadoes
  • Tsunamis
  • Volcanoes
  • Wildfires
  • Winter weather
  • Other disasters and emergencies are specific to particular countries or regions, and characters in any story would be likely to consult authorities in that region.
S.M.A.U.G.

Emergency Managers prioritize hazards according to the type, size, and mitigation possibility of each situation. S.M.A.U.G. stands for Seriousness, Manageability, Acceptability, Urgency, and Growth. A knife-wielding, homicidal maniac running amok at the North Pole would be a very urgent situation, but world government are likely to declare the risk to be acceptable. On the other hand, a massive dump of hazardous chemicals in the Mariana Trench is not terribly urgent, but the risk is beyond management and likely to grow exponentially in scope.

Bug-Out Bags

Soviet cosmonauts took their emergency survival bags seriously!

“It is not realistic, even in developed countries, to expect that the governmental infrastructure will be able to reach everyone within hours,” says Daniel Barnett, a disaster preparedness researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  Research by Dr. Barnett and his team in 2012 showed that less than half (sometimes less than ten percent) of the American population has actually created an emergency kit.

Pre-packed FEMA evacuation bag

Many websites provide guidance for putting together your own disaster preparedness kits.  Unfortunately, this information can be confusing, and multiple websites directly contradict each other. Should you prepare for three days or three weeks? Are water purification tablets more important than tents? How are you meant to store five gallons of gasoline safely?

A problem to consider in writing is the ability of a character to create such a kit. A family that is living paycheck-to-paycheck most likely can’t afford to keep three week’s worth of food, water, and medicine sitting around. Emergency Managers have found that often the people who are most in need of assistance (collapsed housing, cut off by flooded streets, unable to evacuate) are also the people who are least likely to be able to afford preparation.

Earthquake survival kit kept in an office in Japan

Because they are common across many emergencies and disasters, there are some things everyone needs to prepare for: lack of clean water, lack of food, lack of electricity, and lack of information or documentation. Also, consider the risks and benefits of sheltering in place or changing locations.

In getting prepared, consider the special needs of infants, children, the elderly, and people with physical or mental limitations. Characters cut off from hospitals would need to know how to deal with medications and medical devices.

This looks awfully heavy

But if you (or your characters) aren’t DIY types, you can always buy what you need on-line. You can get kits for singles, couples, or families; for 72 or 144 hours, four weeks, a month, and probably more options.

Of course, disaster/ emergency food only supplies, suitable for refreshing/ resupplying a kit, are available.  

Kits can and should be customized for specific situations, for example, wilderness survival. Urban differs from rural. Homes differ from workplaces. Seasonal shifts as well as geographic location are important. At the least, become knowledgeable about the risks common to where you live.

Pet Bug-Out Bags
A warm fireplace, preferably brick, is an absolute necessity for any dog’s emergency evacuation kit.

You can also buy kits prepared specifically for cats or dogs. For less common pets, such as macaws or bearded dragons, one may be forced to DIY. The ASPCA provides information for preparing ahead to care for animals in a disaster, including farm animals, reptiles, and birds.

Sometimes you rescue the pets; sometimes the pets rescue you.
  • Pet food (and a method of opening the container)
    • Food and water bowls
    • Several gallons of water
    • Pet treats and supplements
  • Plan for waste disposal
  • Grooming supplies
    • Dental tools
  • Protective pet clothes
    • In general, if a human would be painfully hot or cold, any other mammal will be as well
      • Reptiles, birds, fish, etc. may need external heated or cooling apparatus
    • Paws, claws, and hoofs need protection from hazardous chemicals on the ground
  • Depending on the emergency type, evacuations and shelters may forbid pets, particularly large dogs or particular dog breeds
  • Horses, cows, donkeys, llamas, and other large animals may need to stay in a temporary safe space if trailers are not available
Be sure your pet can’t pick the locks on their carrier
  • Carriers and leashes
    • Small animals will need a sturdy travelling case to protect the inhabitant, along with replacements for whatever liners are used
  • Medical records and vaccination documents
    • Pet meds for at least two weeks
    • Crowded conditions, unreliable water and food, and unfamiliar environments are likely to cause new medical concerns in pets, such as worms, mange, anxiety disorders, and a variety of infections
  • Collar or harness with identifying/contact info
    • Microchip information if one is used
  • Recent pictures (to identify lost pets)
  • Detailed instructions on how to care for each pet (in case someone else has to care for the pet) 

Who’s Running the Circus?

Before a predicted disaster, someone has to make sure there are available helicopter landing pads, clean syringes in ambulances, sterno cans for field kitchens, and a million other minor details covered by a dozen organizations.

During a disaster, someone has to make sure the Search and Rescue teams are paired up with the Coast Guard boats, that the Red Cross medics are given transportation by drivers with appropriate vehicles, that everyone knows which evacuees should go to which shelter, and that all the aid organizations are communicating the same information.

After a disaster, someone has to direct potable water trucks to neighborhoods without reliable drinking water, ensure trauma counselors are available for everyone involved, prioritize sites for reconstruction, and all the other concerns that get lost in the fray.

Emergency Managers are trained to take care of all of these constantly evolving situations. They are familiar with fire fighting, emergency medicine, hazardous material control, containing nuclear fallout, and just about any other disaster or emergency situation that might arise. As a writer, you can use Emergency Management training materials to discover potential problems facing people (and characters) as well as possible solutions to those problems.

An Amazing Lack of Disaster

As an example of a disaster that did not happen because of the work of Emergency Managers. In 2015, Richmond VA hosted the UCI Road World Championships, an international cycling race. Obviously, there was the possibility of participants having an accident and needing medical attention, so ambulance crews were on stand-by. But that was just the beginning!

Bad things happen when the school bus can’t reach the school

Because the Union Cycliste Internationale hosts road racing through cities, multiple streets had to be closed to traffic. This required coordination with Richmond Police to close the streets and the Fire Department and Paramedic services to ensure fire trucks and ambulances would still be able to reach local residents.

An estimated 500,000 visitors from all over the world came to Richmond for the week-long event, and they all needed food and places to sleep. Local hospitality and entertainment organizations coordinated with the Emergency Managers to be sure everyone could be accommodated without disrupting local school schedules, routine utility maintenance, trash pick up, commuters, etc. Richmond International Airport had to handle extra flights, and taxi and transportation services ferried extra people all over the city.

The race route had to have portable toilets, water stops, first aid stations, and timing checkpoints. All of these needed to be staffed by qualified people (maybe not the toilets). All of these also had to be protected from the elements and re-stocked throughout the week. Waste had to be collected and disposed of before it could pile up.

A huge crowd, elite athletes, international participants, and lots of media representatives add up to an ideal opportunity for terrorist strikes. That means extra police on duty, heightened security along the route, even FBI and CIA surveillance.

It’s never a good sign when the repair truck gets stuck in mud

This was an event that had the possibility for all kinds of disasters: power grid overload, sanitation failures, respiratory disease spread, violent crimes or rioting in the crowded streets, inaccessible hospitals, planes colliding on runways, chemical attacks, bombs, and the list goes on. Not a single one of these disasters happened. That’s not a very exciting headline, but it demonstrates how many disasters Emergency Managers are trained to foresee and prevent.

Along with the types of preparedness plans above, familiarize yourself with the agencies and services to help you.

BOTTOM LINE: Being prepared is both a generic and a specific state.

BBC headline from July 2020

WHEN MOTHER NATURE DELIVERS DISASTER

Editor’s Note: Due to inclement weather causing disruptions in power and internet services, this blog post is somewhat sparser than usual. Though it is a perfect illustration of the subject at hand, this situation is entirely coincidental. Honestly!

Disaster Management Experts study all kinds of ways to mitigate the worst Mother Nature (or other people) can throw at civilization.

When I started researching this blog, I had no intention to compare U.S. statistics with other countries. The United States was a given, because that’s where I and most of my readers are. International statistics vary greatly by country and region. China kept popping up in so many ways, I couldn’t help noticing—and passing it on.

Information about natural disasters has to be taken with a pinch (tablespoonful) of salt, for several reasons.

  • During almost any natural disaster, communication is disrupted. Temperature readings, water levels, windspeeds, hospital capacities, and any other information is more difficult to gather and transmit.
    • Records might also be damaged or lost in floods, fires, etc.
  • The nature of a disaster often makes accurate counts of casualties and property damage difficult to obtain.
    • Earthquakes and mudslides often bury remains for months.
    • Tsunamis and floods can wash away buildings so completely that no evidence is left for property evaluation.
  • Damage caused by a natural disaster may not be noticeable until long after the event, such as a long-term illness caused by inhaling toxic materials released by property destruction.
  • Multiple entities have an incentive to under- or over-estimate the damage caused by a disaster.
    • Media channels gain viewers by broadcasting more sensational news.
    • Insurance or reparation claims may be estimated higher by claimants or lower by organizations paying out.
    • Governments may deliberately try to conceal accurate accounts for security reasons, to manipulate the populace, to cover official malfeasance, or pretty much any other sinister or logical reason you can think of.
Dikes and levees, like those shown here being constructed, can help to mitigate or prevent destruction caused by floods.

Wikipedia is a great source of data on nature’s deadly capabilities—and the data are sliced and diced in all sorts of ways.  (Remember that this data is only as accurate as the contributors to the Wikipedia pages.)

Not surprisingly, the United States and China make frequent appearances on many of the Top 10 lists. Both countries are massive, contain a wide variety of geographic hazards, and have areas of massive population density.

  • Ten deadliest natural disasters ever by highest estimated death toll excluding epidemics and famines: 6 of the 10 were in China.
  • Ten deadliest natural disasters since 1900 excluding epidemics and famines: 5 were in China.
  • Deadliest natural disasters by year excluding epidemics and famines
Aftermath of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco

Wikipedia also presented natural disasters by cause; if the U.S. isn’t named, we didn’t make the list. 

  • Deadliest earthquakes: 10 of 46 in China
  • Deadliest famines: 6 of 29 in China
  • Deadliest impact events: of 13, 1 in the U.S.; 4 in China
  • Deadliest limnic eruptions
  • Deadliest wildfires/bushfires: 6 of 25 were in the United States
  • Ten deadliest avalanches/landslides: 3 of 10 were in China
  • Ten deadliest blizzards: 7 of 10 were in the U.S.
  • Ten deadliest floods: 5 of 10 in China
  • Ten deadliest heat waves: 3 of 10 were in the U.S.
  • Ten deadliest pandemics / epidemics (does not include COVID-19): 4 of 10 were worldwide 
  • Ten deadliest tornadoes: 2 of 10 were in the U.S.
  • Ten deadliest tropical cyclones: 1 of 10 in China
  • Ten deadliest tsunamis
  • Ten deadliest volcanic eruptions 

Looking through these lists, it becomes apparent that of the 14 natural disasters included, the United States predominates in blizzards, while the worst natural disasters by death toll occurred in China. Part of this is no doubt because of the population differences.

If one looks at the list of countries by natural disaster risk, from lowest to highest,  the United States is ranked 45 out of 171, and is considered low risk. China is 87, and considered high risk. Qatar is #1, very low risk. At the other extreme is Vanuatu, ranked #171, extremely high risk.

N.B.: Rankings are based on data from 2012 to 2018.

Blizzard in North Dakota, 1966

Pay attention to what’s going on in Texas, especially, but also locally, to see the web of problems that can emerge. For example, several of the most common disasters in the United States cause power outages. Consider the options for tension and conflict possibilities.

  • No light
  • No heat/AC, depending on the season
  • No way to charge mobile devices
  • No way to cook, unless you have a gas stove
  • No water, and no way to boil contaminated water
  • Food spoiling without refrigeration
  • No internet
  • No TV
    • These together often limit inhabitants’ access to information
  • Destruction of property
  • Loss of personal possessions
  • Danger to children, the elderly, pets
  • Hospitals not functioning
    • Generators in hospitals are set up to handle only necessary equipment, not escalators or vending machines

Now consider a similar situation in an area where such conditions are common. In many ways, “developing countries” are better able to cope with certain natural disasters.

  • Fewer communities have reliable access to electricity, water, and internet, so houses and businesses are accustomed to using wood stoves, water pumps, solar power, hand tools, etc.
  • Hospitals and are often run on generators at all times, so there is no disruption if the power grid goes down.
  • Food is stored in ways that do not require refrigeration or freezing.
  • Children and the elderly frequently live together in multigenerational households, making caretaking much easier.

Bottom Line: Mother Nature can be a main force in people’s/characters’ lives!

This photo was taken this morning (February 19). How many more weeks of winter?

This Thing Called Love

Did you celebrate Galentine’s Day this year? February 13th has been set aside for celebrating your gal pals. Friendship is an incredibly important part of a healthy support group, and it so often gets overlooked in the media.

Similarly, family relationships (blood or otherwise) are necessary for having a healthy mental support structure. Fiction tends to minimize these relationships unless they fall into specific tropes: controlling or absent parents, in-laws causing friction, siblings held up as an example (positive or negative), eccentric aunts and uncles, siblings in competition for resources.

The updated Frozen, with cameos from Cinderella and The Blue Fairy

One of the most popular films that breaks this custom is Disney’s Frozen. The relationship between sisters is stronger than that with any potential romantic interests. Ultimately (spoilet alert), the power of True Love’s Kiss comes from a sister rather than a convenient prince.

By itself, “love” is another of those weasel words—like rose, dog, snow, beautiful—words that can mean so many different things that it communicates very little. This is clear in the dictionary definition of love.

  • noun
    • noun: love
    • plural noun: loves
  • An intense feeling of deep affection.
    • “Babies fill parents with feelings of love.”
  • verb
    • verb: love
    • 3rd person present: loves
      • past tense: loved
      • past participle: loved
      • gerund or present participle: loving
  • Feel deep affection for (someone).
    • “He loved his sister dearly”

So, in English at least, the meaning of the word must be established by modifying words or phrases, or inferred from context. 

Types of Love

Not so for the Greeks. Some of these are more familiar than others, for example, Eros. Particularly at this time of year, the “love” that is celebrated with flowers, cards, and gifts is almost exclusively Eros.

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova
  • Eros — Romantic Love—illustrates sexual attraction, physical desire, and a lack of control.  It is powerful, passionate, and can fade quickly. Relationships built solely on Eros love tend to be short-lived. 
  • Ludus — Playful Love—is defined by flirtatiousness, seduction, and sex without commitment. The focal point of this love is on the experience rather than attraction or feelings.  Ludus is evident in the beginning of a relationship and includes elements of play, teasing, and excitement.
Owning a country has often been cited by relationship experts as the glue that holds a marriage together.
  • Pragma — Enduring Love—is evident in couples who have been together for a long time.  This type of love continues to develop throughout the years and portrays synchronization and balance. This type of love can only survive with constant maintenance and nurturance. 
The Robber and His Child by Karl Friedrich Lessing
  • Storge —Love of the Child—describes the unconditional love that (ideally) parents have for their children. It is defined by unconditional approval, acceptance, and sacrifice.  It helps a child to develop through attachment, encouragement, and security.
Grandparents often add cookies to storge!
    • When it is between friends, this type of love is sometimes referred to as phyllia.
    • Aristotle defined phyllia in Rhetoric as “wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him.”(1380b36–1381a2)
No one can ever match the selfless love of a dog
  • Agape — Selfless Love—Agape love is representative of universal love.  Greek philosophers felt that this is the type of love that people feel for other humans, for nature, and for a higher power.  This love can be most easily expressed through meditation, nature, intuition, and spirituality. Agape love can be used interchangeably for charity and care for others.
  • Philautia — Self Love—is linked with confidence and self-worth and is necessary for a sense of purpose and fitting in.  Philautia can be unhealthy and linked to narcissistic behaviors and arrogance, or can be healthy in the sense that we love ourselves before we learn how to love others. Greek philosophers believed that true happiness could only be achieved when one had unconditional love for themselves.  
The myth of Narcissus and Echo illustrates unhealthy extremes of philautia and mania
  • Mania — Obsessive Love—Stalking behaviors, co-dependency, extreme jealousy, and violence are all symptoms of Mania. Clearly, this is the most dangerous type of love.

Triangular Theory of Love

What is the Triangular Theory of Love? As with so much of human behavior and emotion, psychologists have studied love.

Renowned psychologist Robert J Sternbergat Yale University,first put forward his Triangular Theory of Love in 1985. 

The three main components that Sternberg says lie at the heart of most human relationships are passion, commitment, and intimacy. These are the three simplest forms of love – passion alone brings infatuation, intimacy alone equals liking, and commitment alone means empty love. Depending on how these three combine, they form the seven types of the thing we call love. 

The triangular part of the theory comes from the fact that you can combine any two of these components to form more complex types of love – each combination forming a different side of a triangle. Combining passion and intimacy for instance, makes romantic love. Intimacy plus commitment yields companionate love, while fatuous love comes when commitment meets passion.

Sisterly love falls somewhere between love and irritation.

And then there’s consummate love, which is the combination of all three components. It’s often seen as the ideal form of love, for by mixing the fire of passion, the comfort of intimacy, and the security of commitment, you can form a healthy, happy, lasting romantic relationship. It’s important to note that this triangle doesn’t have to be an equilateral shape (indeed, the three components are rarely present in equal measures.)  

Friendship is often more committed than dating and more intimate than marriage.

Even consulate love may not last forever – one of the caveats of the Triangular Theory of Love is that relationships can move from one point to another over time – but it is something that can be worked towards, or that you can work to recover. And it’s worth working for – consummate love is a special type of bliss; the kind of connection that sees people continue to adore each other long into a partnership. 

Bottom line: Love is not a unitary emotion. The first association with the word “love” by itself likely to be Eros. But consider the strength of other forms of love.

And then there are dumpster fire relationships…

WHEN WIND MEETS WATER

Wind interacts with water much the way it interacts with land. Local breezes are of most significance to athletes such as golfers, tennis players, sailors, and football players—anyone whose goal requires a precise interaction between object and wind, even a light one.

Unpredictable Winds

Waterspout
Tornadic Waterspouts in Budva

Waterspouts are largely comparable to dust devils on land. They fall into two categories: fair weather waterspouts and tornadic waterspouts.

Fair weather waterspouts are generally not associated with thunderstorms. A waterspout develops on the surface of the water and works its way upward. Fair weather waterspouts form in light wind conditions, so they normally move very little. Typically, fair weather waterspouts dissipate rapidly when they make landfall, and rarely penetrate far inland.

Tornadic waterspouts develop downward in a thunderstorm, and form over water—or (less often) move from land to water. Except for their development, they have the same characteristics as land tornados. They are associated with severe thunderstorms, and are often accompanied by high winds and seas, large hail, and frequent dangerous lightning.

Steam Devils
Steam Devils in Yellowstone Park

steam devil is a small, weak whirlwind over water (or sometimes wet land) that has drawn fog into the vortex, which makes it visible.

Steam devils form over large lakes and oceans during cold air outbreaks while the water is still relatively warm, and can be an important mechanism in vertically transporting moisture. They are a component of sea smoke.

Castle Geyser in Yellowstone Park

Smaller steam devils and steam whirls can form over geyser basins even in warm weather because of the very high water temperatures. Hot springs in Yellowstone Park produce them on a daily basis, though they tend to be rare in nature.

Steam devils and steam whirls look very ethereal and frequently give rise to stories of ghosts and spirits. Because some of these geysers and temperature changes are regular and some are not, characters living by or traveling through areas “haunted” by steam devils could be seen as cursed, magical, outcast, guarded, etc. by nearby communities.

Tornadoes and Invisible Tornadoes
Invisible Tornado (Mostly)

A tornado is a narrow, violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground. We’ve all seen tornados, at least on the news or in movies. As if they weren’t dangerous enough, tornadoes can sometimes be invisible if they don’t pick up any water or debris while spinning around.

Tornadoes can be among the most violent phenomena of all atmospheric storms we experience.  The National Weather Service categorizes tornadoes by a number rating, from zero to five, based on the twister’s inflicted damage according to the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

As a narrative tool, tornadoes offer immediate, often unforeseen danger. Even with modern meteorology tools, there is very little warning before a tornado touches down. The destruction caused by tornadoes is often very narrow, arbitrarily destroying one house while leaving its neighbor untouched.

Hurricane, Cyclone, Typhoon
Hurricanes Katia, Irma, and Jose as Seen from Space

A tropical cyclone is a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms. Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 miles per hour (mph) are called tropical depressions. Those with maximum sustained winds of 39 mph or higher are called tropical storms

When a storm’s maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, it is called a hurricane.  The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating, or category, based on a hurricane’s maximum sustained winds.

Aftermath of Cyclone Pam in 2015 (photograph by Graham Crumb)

Generally, hurricanes originate in the Atlantic Basin; storms of the same force in the Pacific Basin are called typhoons.  “Hurricane” is thought to have originated in Taino, meaning “Wind God.” “Typhoon” may have come from ancient Greek “tuphon” meaning “whirlwind” or “big/ heavenly wind.” According to language, our ancestors thought these enormous storms had a supernatural origin.

Predictable Winds

Although much about the weather is unpredictable—or at least most predictable short term, other weather patters are almost like clockwork. These generally predictable winds are called Periodic or Trade Winds.

Sea Breezes and Land Breezes
Illustration by Bharat Choudhary

These develop due to differences in the temperatures between water and dry land.  A sea breeze or onshore breeze is any wind that blows from a large body of water toward or onto a landmass, carrying some moisture; land/offshore breezes blow to sea and are dry.

These breezes are periodic because they are generally predictable, morning and evening. Also, they are relatively localized, and much beloved by beachgoers. 

Monsoons 
Incoming Monsoon Clouds in Goa, India

A monsoon is a months-long, seasonal, prevailing wind in the region of South and Southeast Asia. Between May and September, the wind blows from the southwest and brings rain (the wet monsoon). Between October and April, the wind blows from the northeast (the dry monsoon). 

These rains blow in from the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea in the southwest bringing heavy rainfall to the area. The temperature difference created by the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Himalayan wall forms the basis of monsoons in the Indian subcontinent.

The regularity of monsoon seasons governs the agricultural patterns in these areas. Changes to the monsoon—if it comes late, brings more or less water than expected, or moves its path—can cause enormous hardship to communities that rely on the crops grown according to expected patterns.

Mountain and Valley Breezes 
Illustration by Yue Gan

Valley breeze is the hot air blowing from the valley up to the slopes of mountain slopes.  In contrast, mountain breeze is the valley breeze that is the cold air from the mountain flow towards the valley.

Trade Winds and Westerlies
Prevailing Westerlies near Duloch, photographed by Peter Standing

These are permanent, prevailing winds.  Indeed, the trade winds and westerlies are the most regular winds on earth. They blow with great force and in constant direction, which is why they are preferred by sailors. The trade winds bring heavy rain falls and sometimes contain intense depressions.

Trade winds blow from North east towards the equator in Northern hemisphere and South East Towards equator in southern hemisphere.

The directions of the Westerlies are opposite to trade winds and that is why they are also called antitrade winds. Trade winds are closer to the equator, in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Westerlies are closer to the poles

Characters might rely on regular trade winds to deliver supplies, escape a coming danger, relay news, or make a profit. Because of their regularity, meetings and departures can be worked into plots as scheduled, expected events.

Bottom Line: When wind meets water, it can be friend or foe.

The most unpredictable wind of all is the dreaded Sharknado, which begins as a massive waterspout and sucks up sharks into its vortex. As the Sharknado moves over land, it flings these sharks into the flooded streets to chase down newly available human prey, much to the amusement of movie audiences.

KNOW WHICH WAY THE WIND BLOWS

According to the wind sock above, the wind when the photo was taken was blowing at about 6 knots (7mph). The sky is clear, the sun is bright, and there are no flying sharks. Unless you live in England or Seattle, this is nothing to write home about.

Even though you can’t actually see it, wind can create some pretty incredible things to write home about. Our ancestors definitely thought the wind was worth writing about, especially when it picked up everything around and sent it flying through the air.

Like snow, there are seemingly endless names for specific types of winds. If you really want to know about the difference between piteraq and bora winds, check out the World Meteorological Organization or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration websites. I’ve included some of the most spectacular and most mythological wind events here.

Dust Devils

Arizona

Suppose you experienced a Dust Devil? A small dust devil, say 18 inches wide and a few yards tall is a sight to behold. A BIG dust devil—say 33 feet wide and 1000 feet tall—can be terrifying!

An extreme dust devil can reach 60 mph and last up to 20 minutes. In the process, it could lift more than 12 tons of dirt, and the friction between wind and surface can create sparks often mistaken for lightning. In fact, dust devils are not associated with storms.

Krakow

Dust devils have been known to lift roofs and collapse buildings, sometimes killing people. They’ve been reported to fling animals and 10-year-old children about. Inflatable bounce houses are especially vulnerable.

Where do they come from? When hot air at ground level rises quickly and hits a pocket of cool/cold air, it can start to spin, forming a column of air. The spinning, along with friction from the surface, allows the column to move, picking up dust along the way. Dust devils are especially likely in deserts. Usually they cause little damage.

Other Names for Dust Devils
Coal devil in Mongolia
  • Dancing devil
  • Dirt devil
  • Dust whirl
  • Sand auger
  • Sand pillar
  • Redemoinho in Brazil
  • Remoinho in Portugal 
  • Willy willy or whirly whirly in Australia 
Beliefs About Dust Devils
Saci-Pererê by J. Marconi
  • Chindi is the Navajo term for spirit or ghost
    • Good spirits whirl clockwise; bad spirits spin counterclockwise
  • Ngoma cia aka is the word for women’s spirit/ demon or women’s evil among the Kikuyu in Kenya
  • Fasset el ‘afreet from Egypt, meaning ghost wind
  • In Brazil, Saci-Pererê is said to live inside the dust devil and grant wishes to anyone who can steal his magic cap

Other Weird Winds

Everything is more awesome on Mars, even dust devils.

Martian dust devils form the same way as on Earth, but bigger: up to 10 times as high and 50 times as wide, with mini-lightning flashes. Dust devil trails on earth’s deserts usually disappear in a couple of days; on Mars, they remain visible (so I’m told) for weeks.

Gustnado in Colorado

Gustnadoes are closely related to dust devils, short-lived and ground based, but they have stronger winds (maybe as strong as weak tornadoes) and develop over open plains areas of the U.S. They don’t form funnels and may go unnoticed. Though a gustnado can cause serious damage, it’s not tall enough to register as a tornado.

Composite photo showing the development of a tornado

The actual definition of a tornado is a bit fuzzy, even among the experts. They can’t seem to agree on when one tornado stops and another starts. The swirling wind tunnel has to touch the ground and the clouds at the same time before it counts (that’s why gustnadoes aren’t really tornadoes). Tornado strength is judged by size, wind speed, and distance over the rainbow it can throw a farmhouse.

Snow devil

Snow devils develop when a strong wind hits a solid object (like a mountain), spins downward and lifts up snow, creating a vortex. They usually last only a few minutes, and they are small (seldom more than 30 feet across). Still not something one would want to be out in.

Fire whirls, aka fire devils or fire tornadoes, develop a vortex inside a wildfire. They are whirling columns of fire rising up into the air. They carry ash, debris, and smoke and feed the fire and spread it. Fire whirls have also been reported at volcanos and during earthquakes.

California Rim Fire, 2013

A firestorm develops when a fire becomes so big and intense that it creates its own storm-force wind systems. Firestorms are most often associated with wildfires and brush fires, but they can also be created when large sections of densely built cities catch fire.

Haboob in Texas

Haboob (هَبوب‎) is a kind of huge dirt devil found in deserts around the world, including the U.S., associated with thunderstorms. When the rain is released, it causes sand to blow up, making a wall of sand that precedes the storm. Haboobs can be several miles high and 60 miles wide.

Sandstorm in Al-Assad, Iraq

Sandstorms (aka dust storms) don’t whirl or spin. It’s essentially a wall of wind that pushes sand in a more-or-less straight line. Entire dunes can be picked up and moved great distances. Sandstorms occur worldwide, wherever deserts are found.

Khamsin over Libya, seen from space

Each spring, areas along the eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Arabian peninsula are hit by a khamsin (خمسين from Arabic word for 50).  The khamsin is a 50-day wind that coats everything in sand and dirt. In 2009, remains were found that appear to be those of a Persian army of more than 50,000 that vanished in 525 BCE. A strong wind that blew up from the south is suspected of covering them in suffocating mounds of sand.

Illustration of a downburst

A downburst occurs when the downdraft of a thunderstorm hits the ground and forces the air to gust outward and curl backward. As it moves horizontally, the wind can cause extensive damage to everything it passes over. The wind curling backward can cause further damage, creating tornadoes, waterspouts, snow devils, sharknadoes, and fire whirls.

Downburst (micro) caught on film
  • macroburst happens when an extremely strong downdraft hits the ground. Horizontal gusts cover an area more than 4 km in diameter. These gusts can be as destructive as a tornado.
  • Microbursts are smaller in size and shorter in duration. A microburst is less than 4 km across and short-lived, lasting only five to 10 minutes, with maximum windspeeds sometimes exceeding 100 mph.

derecho is a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. A typical derecho consists of numerous microbursts, downbursts, and downburst clusters. By definition, if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers) and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) or greater along most of its length, then the event may be classified as a derecho.

Ground blizzard with blue skies

Ground blizzards don’t involve any snow falling from the sky, but they are still deadly. Instead, snow that is already on the ground is whipped into whiteout conditions by an extreme cold front. Temperatures plummet, and snow on the ground is picked up by wind gusts up to 60mph. The Arctic cold fronts that cause ground blizzards also cause extreme low temperatures.

A Sand Wind on the Desert by George Francis Lyon

Every one of these wind events have been known to kill people! In addition, extremely hot or cold winds can do the same. Though we usually can’t see the air itself, the effects are pretty amazing!

Godly Winds

Riders of the Sidhe, by John Duncan 1911
In Irish folklore, the Sidhe or Aos Si are the supernatural pantheon. Sidhe is used to mean fairies, but the Old Irish translation is “wind” or “gust.”

Deities connected to the wind are often closely related to those of the air. In many traditions, the air and the wind are governed by the same deity. Cultures heavily reliant on changes in the wind, such as seafaring communities or nomadic groups on open plains, tend to have more detailed and powerful wind and air gods.

One of the most famous wind gods in mythology is Aeolus, the Greek god governing all winds, who was closely involved in Odysseus’s voyage home. He is certainly not the only supernatural being in charge of the wind and air.

If that’s not enough to convince you that wind and air hold a prominent position in our collective subconscious, just look at how many modern superheroes (and villains) have the names and powers of wind phenomena.

Bottom line: We tend to think in terms of breezes or stiff winds, but there’s so much more to wind than that!

Stay tuned, coming on Friday: When wind meets water, they create some of the most extreme weather.

BETTER KNOW YOUR SNOW

Short legs make moving in snow extra difficult.

By itself, “snow” is a weasel word, like beautiful or bird, that could mean almost anything. And it can be used for almost anything! Eating, recreation, insulation, magic…

Recreation

Beijing is scheduled to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The sports in the Winter Olympics are almost entirely based around snow. Next year (COVID permitting), we’ll be able to watch the very best athletes in the world slide around on crystalized or frozen water. Some of them will jump off a cliff with a bit of plastic strapped to their feet. Some will climb into little tubes and slide down slightly bigger tubes. Some will slide around on two bits of plastic and shoot things.

Kidnapping small children while sledding is extra fun!

For those of us who don’t train 50 weeks out of the year, having fun in the snow generally means not sliding quite so fast.

  • Sledding 
    • One of the cheapest and easiest options, sledding only requires a slope/hill and something to sit on.
    • If you “borrow” the cafeteria’s trays to go sledding, make sure you return them.
  • Snowshoeing
    • To get an idea of how to walk in snowshoes, try wearing the flip-flops of someone with huge feet the next time you shovel the sidewalk.
Indoor ski slope in Dubai
  • Snowmobiling 
    • This is the preferred method of chase for James Bond villains.
    • Descending a mountain via snowmobile may be the only method of travel faster than Olympic athletes.
  • Skiing
    • There are indoor ski slopes in China, Dubai, and the US, so you can ski in the desert in the summer!
  • Dog Sledding
    • Unless you are a very small child, do not attempt this by attaching a sled to your dog’s leash. No one will be happy with the outcome.
  • Child Labor
    • For the fullest enjoyment of this spectacle, do the following
      • Hold a mug of hot chocolate or coffee, perhaps with a splash of brandy
      • Sit in comfort, inside by the window
      • Look out at the neighbors’ kids who have been duped into shoving your walk, steps, etc.,
      • Listen to their grunts as they strain to lift snow shovels far too big for their tiny hands
      • Cackle
    • This is surely the most entertaining part of snow!

Building Material

Dining hall of the Snow Castle in Kemi, Finland

Depending on the region, snow can be used to build very temporary structures or nearly permanent. Even in areas where snow remains year-round, snow used as a building material is at risk of shifting or compacting.

  • Snow Maze
  • Fort
    • Can use a sand or brick mold to make bricks
  • Furniture, most often made by backpackers. 
    • Want lawn chairs on a break?
    • A dinner table in your cook tent?
    • With a good avalanche shovel, your dream home is just a little digging away.
  • Igloo
    • Entire villages can be built of snow domes, which are surprisingly warm inside.
    • Temporary shelters can be erected quickly while travelling.
Inuit building an igloo, circa 1950

Snow Art

Snow sculpture in Harbin

Because of its malleability and lack of color, snow makes an excellent creative medium for a patient artist with steady hands.

  • Painting
    • Use watercolors or food coloring mixed in water
    • The trick is find the balance between freezing the paint and melting the snow
  • Sculpting
    • Snow sculpture festivals and competitions are held around the world every year
    • Some artists can sculpt snow several stories high
    • Architecture and sculpture blend together in snow just as in any other building medium
  • Snow Angels
    • Flop backwards onto fresh snow
      • Hope there are no hidden rocks or other nasty surprises under the surface
    • Wave arms and legs to create wings and a skirt shape
    • Look ridiculous as you attempt to stand without stepping on and ruining your creation

Eating Snow

Make sure it’s clean and uncontaminated. Best is fresh and away from traffic and animals. (You heard it here first: don’t eat yellow snow.)

  • Basic Hydration
    • Consumed as is or melted in whatever quantity
  • Snow Cones/Slushies
    • The most obvious culinary choice.
    • Although most often made with shaved ice, they can be made with actual snow.
    • Adults might want a beer version; see recipes online.
  • Snow Cream
    • Much like ice cream: 
      • Heavy cream or milk,  real sugar or Splenda, with or without eggs
      • The basic version includes vanilla
      • Best made in an ice cream maker
    • Get precise directions from Granny or online
Russians always eat ice cream in the snow
  • Candy
    • Boil honey or maple syrup in a pot and pour it onto fresh, packed snow
    • It will freeze into a chewy, toffee-like treat  
  • Lighten Pancakes
    • Fold a cup of snow into pancake batter directly before adding it to the pan
    • The water and air content will give your flapjacks a lighter texture
  • Margaritas or Daiquiris
    • Recipes online
  • Anything you would use shaved or crushed ice for
  • In extreme circumstances, eating snow can temporarily ease hunger pain

Snow for Survival

Russian ski medic evacuation during the Sino-Japanese War

Consult backpacker sites or magazines for a plethora of uses specific to campers, but here are a few more general examples.

Quinzhee, a temporary snow cave
  • Insulation
    • Snow has high air content (up to 95 percent by volume) making it an excellent insulator.
    • To survive outdoors, dig a trench to escape high winds or carve a snow cave into a deep drift by tunneling parallel to the ground. You’ll need to insulate your body from the frozen tunnel floor.
    • People have been known to survive an avalanche this way.
  • Personal hygiene  
    • Unlike a dead leaf or smooth stone, snow is moldable, and the white color makes it easy to monitor a thorough cleaning.
    • There is also no danger of grabbing poison ivy snow by mistake!
Ski Patrol
  • Medical
    • Reduce swelling 
    • Compress snow and apply it to injuries to calm inflammation
    • Wrap the snow in a towel or bandana to prevent damage to tissues
    • Cleaning wounds when nothing else is available
    • Lowering core body temperature in case of fever
  • Keep food or drink cold
  • Refill aquifers for summer water reserves
Yeti tracks
  • Tracking
    • Human
    • Dog
    • Cat
    • Rabbit
    • Squirrel
    • Deer
    • Sasquatch or Yeti
    • Any animal that frequents the area

Military

Skiing Birkebeiners Crossing the Mountain with the Royal Child (Knud Larsen Bergslien, 1869)

Snowballs are said to have been the first missiles at the Boston Massacre in the Revolutionary War. Impromptu weapons are not the only military use of snow. Armies in countries with lots of snow tend to learn how to use it to their advantage.

Northern Shaolin Temple Kung Fu Masters
  • Northern Shaolin Temple
    • Northern Style Shaolin Kung Fu differs from Southern Style in many ways, including the adaptations for terrain.
    • In northern China, Shaolin temples tend to be in areas with cold, snowy, rocky mountains.
    • Kung Fu learned under these conditions requires stronger legs and compensating for thick, warm clothing.
Finnish soldiers with the terrifying trifecta of machine guns, skis, and reindeer
  • Winter War (1939-1940)
    • Finnish skiiers with submachine guns repelled invading Soviet troops in the Winter War.
    • According to legend, Soviet soldiers carried a how-to manual for skiing in their packs.
    • The Finns found these manuals highly amusing.

Killer Snow

Mulan holds the dubious honor of being the Disney Princess with the highest body count (the avalanche she caused wiped out an entire army – eat your heart out, Cinderella).

Believe it or not, snow is generally accompanied by rather cold weather. It can also make travel a bit inconvenient. These conditions, along with unstable surfaces, mountain terrain, decreased visibility, and changing landmarks make snow potentially deadly, even for experienced snow-dwellers.

Patrick Breen wrote in his diary, “Mrs Murphy said here yesterday that thought she would Commence on Milt & eat him. I dont that she has done so yet, it is distressing.”
  • Donner Party
    • American migrants in a wagon train from Missouri to California in 1846-1847
    • Only 47 of the original 84 migrants survived the winter
    • The wagon train was snowbound near Truckee Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
    • Many migrants died of sickness, hypothermia, and starvation in the snow-bound camp
    • Some survivors claimed that they had resorted to cannibalism during the winter
    • After rescue, some survivors changed their stories repeatedly, sometimes admitting to cannibalism and sometimes denying it ever occurred
    • Archaeologists and historians have not been able to state definitively whether members of the Donner Party actually resorted to cannibalism
  • Dyatlov Pass Incident
    • A group of nine hikers died mysteriously in the Ural Mountains in 1959.
    • The hike was meant to be the final step in earning the highest certification for hiking instruction, so all participants were very skilled and able.
    • Their tent was found ripped open from the side and flattened.
    • All of the bodies were found wearing inadequate clothing, some without shoes or coats.
    • The bodies were discovered in several places on the mountain, some very far from the camp.
    • Several of the bodies had no sign of injury; others had very strange, unexplained injuries.
    • Soviet authorities called a halt to the investigation and sealed all records.
It’s never a good idea to tangle with the mob.
  • Snowdrops
    • Alcoholism often goes along with extreme winter weather
    • A drunk person who falls down or falls asleep outside in the snow is likely to die of hypothermia quickly
    • Heavy snowfall would soon cover the body, not melting all winter
    • In spring, when snow begins to melt, corpses are uncovered
    • This is so common in some communities that these corpses are called snowdrops
    • This is also a good method to get rid of a body, destroying murder evidence

Language of Snow

Ski Snow

Asahikawa Winter Festival Snow Sculpture

As with so many things, the more important something is in our own lives, the more precise our language and the finer the distinctions we make. For example, skiers and snowboarders: for these people, snow and its condition are so important that they have a vocabulary all their own.

  • Powder
    • Freshly fallen snow, the preferred kind
  • Champagne powder
    • Extremely light, fluffy powder
    • The best 
    • Usually found in Utah, Colorado, and British Columbia.
  • Hero snow
    • A lot of powder, ideal for doing tricks because it gives a soft landing
  • Freshies/untouched
    • Untracked powder
  • Packed powder
    • They had powder the day before that is now compacted
  • Bumpy, choppy, or tracked out
    • Usually occurs later on a powder day when hoards of people have gone through
    • Makes the athlete bounce around and gives knees a workout
Mt. Rainier (July 2004)
  • Concrete
    • Heavy, deep snow that feels like riding through concrete
  • Corduroy or cord
    • Ridges in the snow left by groomers
    • They create sound and sensation under your feet
  • Crust
    • After the snow has softened a little, when it gets cold again, leaving an icy layer on top
  • Dust on crust
    • A bit of fresh snow on top of hard, icy snow
  • Dusting
    • A tiny bit of new snow that probably won’t last more than an hour or so
  • Groomers
    • A run that has been groomed, giving a smooth, easy ride
  • Hard pack
    • Snow compressed so much it doesn’t move when stood on; requires good edges
  • Sticky
    • Feels like sticky tape on skis or board, making runs slow
  • Ice
    • Frozen snow, makes for hard landings
  • Slush or spring snow
    • Wet, soft, very forgiving
  • Man made
    • Actually machine made

Inuit Snow

No doubt you have heard/read that Eskimos have a huge number of words for snow. This is more or less true. In fact there are several languages in a family of Eskimo-Aleut languages. For this group of languages, “snow” is an example of polysynthesis: a  base word attached to suffixes that clarify the meaning.

So, what in English might take a phrase or a whole sentence to communicate can be accomplished in fusional languages with one (sometimes quite long) complex word.  Readable.com gives these not-so-long examples:

  • Qanuk: ‘snowflake’
  • Kaneq: ‘frost’
  • Kanevvluk: ‘fine snow
  • Qanikcaq: ‘snow on ground’
  • Muruaneq: ‘soft deep snow
  • Nutaryuk: ‘fresh snow
  • Pirta: ‘blizzard’
  • Qengaruk: ‘snow bank’

Weather Snow

The type of snow is often important, for reasons I’ll go into below. 

  • Powder snow
  • Crud: the next phase from powder
  • Graupel: also called snow pellets or soft hail 
  • Crust 
  • Slush: snow that has started to melt and therefore becomes more wet 
  • Ice

Often, the most salient feature of snow is how it comes down, because this determines how we function in it. Business and school closures, road safety, transportation delays, power outages, physical injuries (with accompanying ambulance and hospital activity), and structural damage all depend heavily on the type of snow.

Avalanche in Couloir

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) recognizes these types of snowfall:

  • blizzard is a violent winter storm, lasting at least three hours, which combines subfreezing temperatures and very strong wind laden with blowing snow that reduces visibility to less than 0.40 kilometers (0.25 miles).
  • snowstorm features large amounts of snowfall.
  • snow flurry is snow that falls for short durations and with varying intensity; flurries usually produce little accumulation.
  • snow squall is a brief, but intense snowfall that greatly reduces visibility and which is often accompanied by strong winds.
  • snowburst is a very intense shower of snow, often of short duration, that greatly restricts visibility and produces periods of rapid snow accumulation.
  • Blowing snow describes airborne snow particles raised by the wind to moderate or great heights above the ground; the horizontal visibility at eye level is generally very poor.
  • Drifting snow is snow on the ground that is blown by the wind to a height of less than 1.5 to 2 meters (5 to 6.5 feet) above the surface.

In extreme cases, rural or mountainous communities may be cut off from their neighbors for weeks or months at a time by heavy snow.

Magic Snow

Tilda Swinton as the White Queen of Narnia
  • Wet, sticky snow gathered during a raging blizzard might be used in workings related to high energy and power 
  • A jar full of light fluffy snow collected during a soft, quiet snowfall could be incorporated into a ritual for peacefulness and tranquility
  • Snow in divination 
    • In love spells
    • In beauty spells and infusions of lemon balm, rosemary, and basil and add to bath when moon is waxing or full
      • Can be frozen in ice cube trays for later use
    • To make ice candles
The Snow Queen – Rudolf Koivu
  • Make  a snowman or snowman to use as a magical poppet to guard the entrance
  • Make bad habits into snowballs and throw them away
  • Use actual snow as you would quartz crystals in work related to wishes and goals
  • Write the name of a nuisance on a slip of paper, pack it in snow in a jar or bowl, place in a bag in the freezer to “chill out.”
  • Freeze some snow in a bag or jar for use later on in the year, when fresh snow isn’t available

Go for a walk in the woods to enjoy the silence, and the magic of the snowfall, and perhaps receive messages from the Divine.

Bottom line: Consider the multitude of ways snow is and/or can be part of your life.

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: DOG OR CAT?

Cats and dogs have notoriously different needs and characteristics, but either can be good models for characters. 

The first large dogs appeared in Russia about 15,000 years ago. There were smaller dogs in Western Europe at about the same time, and other wolves were domesticated in China a little later. Modern dogs are mostly a mixture of all three types.  Worldwide, there are 360 recognized breeds, not counting those being created but not yet recognized.

There are 40 recognized cat breeds.  Domesticated cats have been around since 3600 B.C., 2000 years before Egypt’s pharaohs.

Question: Is your character from an old/first family? A pillar of society? A mix of different cultures and upbringings? 

Athleticism

Speed: On average, cats run 50 kph and dogs run 32 kph.  In other words, house cats can run at a speed of 30 miles per hour.

Flexibility: Cats have free-floating bones (clavicles) which allows them to move more freely, making them more flexible.  Cats are able to get through any openings they can get their heads through.

Appetite: Dogs win hands-down in eating contests, sometime gorging a whole meal in just a couple of bites; cats tend to eat more gracefully, and slowly.  (FYI, this is because cats cannot move their jaws horizontally; they can only  open and close.)

Agility: Unlike dogs, cats are able to jump (up to six times its length) and climb, which aids them in hunting and makes it easier to flee from danger. Their sharp, retractable claws provide a distinct advantage when it comes to catching prey and defending themselves from bigger predators. Because of this, cats have no need to work together to care for themselves. It also makes them territorial. 

Balance: Most female cats prefer using their right paw, while males are more likely to be “left-pawed”.

Lifespan: Cats live 25% longer than dogs (15 vs. 12 years).

Question: Are your characters’ strengths and/or weaknesses more cat-like or more dog-like?

Brain Power

Memory: Research under controlled laboratory conditions have demonstrated that both dogs and cats exhibit what’s called episodic memory—i.e., their brains make possible the conscious recollection of events as they were previously experienced. It’s a rare trait in animals.

Cats have a longer-term memory than dogs, especially when they learn by actually doing rather than simply seeing.

Training: Dogs are generally the easier of the two to train. A dog’s pack mentality makes him ready to follow a leader and makes him generally more obedient by nature.  You can teach an old dog new tricks. Although eager puppies soak up information (just like human children), dogs can learn at any age (also like humans).

Cats can be trained, but not as thoroughly as dogs. It requires a lot of patience and consistent practice to get past their willful nature. With cats, it’s best to focus training on establishing boundaries.

A cat’s cerebral cortex (the part of the brain in charge of cognitive information processing) has 300 million neurons. That’s almost double a dog’s.

Emotion: A cat’s brain is 90% more similar to a human’s than to a dog’s. Cats and humans have nearly identical sections of the brain that control emotion.

Dogs don’t feel guilty. They might look guilty at having done something wrong, it’s just their reaction to being reprimanded. Over the millennia, dogs have evolved to mimic human facial expressions to ingratiate themselves and get more treats. However, dogs do feel intense affection for their favorite people. Researchers demonstrated that dogs’ heart rates increase when their owners speak to them or call their name.

Dreaming: Both cats and dogs dream, as evidenced by brainwave patterns similar to humans.

Questions: Is your character more a pack animal or a loner? What are his/her strongest brain functions?

Character/ Personality

Pack or Solitary: Dogs are hardwired with pack instinct that generally makes them social, friendly, and all too happy to belong to a group. Dogs instinctively go wherever their pack goes, which makes them more readily accepting of new experiences, such as travel or moving. Dogs are good followers.

By contrast, with the exception of lions, most cats in the wild are solitary nocturnal hunters. Cats have no need to work together to thrive.  As solitary animals, they are okay alone all day.  Their independence may make them seem aloof.  Cats can be content as long as they have the essentials.  They do enjoy social interaction, though.

Stimulation: Cats would do much better in COVID lockdown or other confinement than dogs!

Dogs need lots of stimulation, fresh air and regular exercise.  Dogs enjoy days out and traveling.  Dogs often tend to be more expensive to care for than a cat (food, toys, accessories, grooming, etc.).

Schedule: Dogs are diurnal; cats are nocturnal and like to roam the house at night. Cats sleep 70% of the times.

Question: what is hard-wired in your character?

Communication

Body Language: A cat’s whiskers pointed forward is a sign of inquiry or curiosity; pointed back is a sign of fright/not wanting whatever is coming its way.

The way a dog wags its tail can tell you its mood. It’s suggested a wag to the right means happy and to the left means frightened. Low wags indicate they’re insecure.

Within a pack, dogs communicate almost entirely through body language. Much of this body language can be copied by humans to communicate with dogs, including eye contact, head position, torso angle, and invading or conceding personal space.

Vocalization: Dogs are able to understand 200 words, the same number as a two-year-old human.

Cats make more than 100 different sounds whereas dogs make around 10. The basenji is the only breed of dog that can’t bark. However, they can yodel!

One study indicated that hungry cats ‘meow’ in the same frequency as a crying baby, hitting the human brain right in the obnoxious evolutionary hindbrain (especially in the middle of the night).

Question: Does your character communicate (send and/or receive) better with verbal, non-verbal, or paraverbal skills?

Sensitivity

Smell: A dog’s sense of smell is up to 100,000 times more than humans.  Bloodhounds are able to trace scents that are over 300 hours old.

Vision: Cats see more colors than dogs do.  Dogs see primarily on a blue and yellow scale; they can’t tell the difference between green and red.  Visual acuity is better for dogs, but cats see better in the dark.

Cats’ whiskers help them detect motion changes.

Hearing: Cats can hear almost a full octave higher than dogs (sounds as high as 64 kHz), and both can hear in the ultrasonic level.  Hearing is the strongest of a cat’s senses. 

The ability of a cat to find its way home is called “psi-travelling.” Experts think cats either use the angle of the sunlight to find their way or that cats have magnetized cells in their brains that act as compasses.

Question: Which of your characters’ senses are most highly developed? Did that come naturally? Was it/them honed on purpose?

Bottom line: Considering your characters’ physical and psychological traits will contribute to a richer, more compelling character.

DANDELION

On Wednesday I saw my first dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) of the season—and my thoughts have been returning to it since! Is that weird our what? It turns out that in being struck by the first dandelion I’m not alone.

Poetic Dandelions

The First Dandelion” by Walt Whitman

Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close emerging,
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass—innocent, golden, calm as the dawn,
The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful face.

Indeed, if you look up poetry about dandelions on discoverpoetry.com, you will find the following:

Most Famous Dandelion Poems
  1. The First Dandelion by Walt Whitman
  2. To the Dandelion by James Russell Lowell
  3. The Dandelion by Vachel Lindsay
Short Dandelion Poems
  1. Dandelion by Hilda Conkling
  2. The First Dandelion by Walt Whitman
  3. I’m a Pirate by Annette Wynne
  4. The Dandelion by Vachel Lindsay
  5. The Dandelions by Helen Gray Cone
  6. The Hawkbit by Charles G. D. Roberts
  7. Dandelions in the Sun by Annette Wynne
Dandelion Poems for Kids
  1. Dandelion by Nellie M. Garabrant
  2. Dandy Dandelion by Christopher Morley
  3. I’m a Pirate by Annette Wynne
  4. Little Dandelion by Helen Barron Bostwick
  5. Dandelions in the Sun by Annette Wynne
Imaginative and Fun Dandelion Poems
  1. The Dandelion by Vachel Lindsay
  2. Dandy Dandelion by Christopher Morley
  3. Dandelion by Nellie M. Garabrant
  4. The Dandelions by Helen Gray Cone
  5. I’m a Pirate by Annette Wynne
  6. Little Dandelion by Helen Barron Bostwick
  7. The Dandelion by Ida Celia Whittier
  8. Dandelions in the Sun by Annette Wynne
  9. Dandelions by Florence May Alt

But dandelions are more than just pretty faces! More than harbingers of spring. More than cheerful chips of sunshine come to yards and roadsides.

Delicious Dandelions

Sautéed Dandelions with Wehani Rice

Have you eaten a dandelion recently?  When I was a child, a “mess of greens” meant dandelions.  But that fell by the wayside before I even reached adulthood. Something to reconsider?

Botanists consider dandelions to be herbs. People use the leaves, stem, flower, and root—raw or cooked—for various purposes. It’s one of the earliest edible plants to emerge in the spring. Native Americans and early European colonists eagerly awaited this addition to their diets.

The bitterness of raw dandelion leaves is similar to arugula—thus not for everyone.  If raw dandelion leaves don’t appeal to you, they can also be steamed or added to a stir-fry or soup, which can make them taste less bitter. The flowers are sweet and crunchy, and can be eaten raw, or breaded and fried, or even used to make dandelion syrup or wine.

And dandelions are safe! There are no poisonous lookalikes for the common dandelion.  Dandelions are found on 6 continents and have been gathered for food since prehistory, but the varieties commercially cultivated for consumption are mainly native to Eurasia and North America. A perennial plant, its leaves grow back if the taproot is left intact (to many gardeners’ frustration). You can forage your yard!

So, people can consume dandelions in many ways and forms.  But why would you?

Health Benefits of Dandelions 

In terms of nutritional content, from root to flower, dandelion are highly nutritious plants, loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber.  Dandelion greens can be eaten cooked or raw and serve as an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K. They also contain vitamin E, folate, and small amounts of other B vitamins.  What’s more, dandelion greens provide a substantial amount of several minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. 

  • Antioxidants 
    • Dandelions contain beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage.  Research shows that carotenoids such as beta-carotene play a vital role in reducing cell damage.
    • The flower of the dandelion is also full of polyphenols, which are another type of antioxidant.
  • Blood pressure
    • Dandelions are a good source of potassium. There is clinical evidence that shows that potassium can help reduce blood pressure.  For example, research has found that people taking a potassium supplement saw a reduction in their blood pressure, especially if they already had high blood pressure.
  • Blood sugar 
    • There is some evidence to suggest that dandelions contain compounds that may help with regulating blood sugar.
  • Bones 
    • Very little research has been conducted on dandelion’s effect on bone health, though some of its individual nutritional components contribute to the maintenance of strong, healthy bones.  Dandelion greens are a good source of calcium and vitamin K — both of which are associated with the prevention of bone loss. Inulin, a fiber found in dandelion root, may also support healthy bones through improved digestion and the promotion of healthy gut bacteria.
  • Cancer risk 
    • So far, studies have looked at dandelion’s impact on cancer growth in test tubes and found that it may help with slowing the growth of colon cancerpancreatic cancer, and liver cancer. As with other potential benefits, more research is required to show how effective dandelions can be as part of cancer treatment.
  • Cholesterol 
    • Dandelions contain bioactive compounds that may help lower a person’s cholesterol.
    • So far research has been with animals.  However, testing on humans is still needed.
  • Digestion 
    • Some people use dandelion as a traditional remedy for constipation and other digestion issues.  The root of the dandelion is rich in the carbohydrate inulin, which is a type of soluble fiber found in plants that supports the growth and maintenance of a healthy bacterial flora in your intestinal tract.
  • Immune system 
    • Researchers have found that dandelions show both antiviral and antibacterial properties. For example, one 2014 study found that dandelions help limit the growth of hepatitis B in both human and animal cells in test tubes.
  • Inflammation 
    • Some studies indicate that dandelion extracts and compounds may help reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Skin 
    • Some research indicates that dandelion may help protect the skin from sun damage.
  • Weight control 
    • Dandelion could help people achieve their weight loss goals, based on the plant’s ability to improve carbohydrate metabolism and reduce fat absorption.
    • Strong evidence to support this claim is lacking, however.

Dandelion root is often dried and consumed as a tea but can also be eaten in its whole form. The root can also be dried and roasted to be made into a substitute for coffee. Dandelion wine is considered quite a delicacy among those who know these things.

Dandelion root coffee from Lionstooth Coffee

But Beyond Food

Because dandelions can endure almost any living condition, they represent overcoming every hardship by standing strong and proud. The word “dandelion” comes from the French name for the flower: ‘dent de lion’ or ‘teeth of the lion.’

  • Dandelion Symbolism
    • Healing from emotional pain and physical injury alike
    • Intelligence, especially in an emotional and spiritual sense
    • The warmth and power of the rising sun.

When dandelions start popping up on your front lawn, consider it to be an omen of good luck. That is because Dandelion belongs to the planet Jupiter which is the planet of wealth.

Throughout the ages, dandelions have been used for divination, as a way to tell fortunes or make wishes.

If you rub a dandelion under your chin and your skin turns yellow, you like butter — at least according to an old wives tale found in cultures worldwide. Dandelions are the favorite flower of children

In The Hunger Games, the dandelion becomes a symbol of hope for Katniss, and evidence of her resourcefulness and expert foraging. When she sees the field of dandelions, she gains confidence in her ability to feed her family.

Whole essays have been written on dandelions as our favorite weeds. Indeed, there are whole worlds of dandelion info out there. Seek and ye shall find.

BOTTOM LINE: Dandelions are ubiquitous. Surely there is a place for them in your life and/or writing!