All I Have to Say About the Super Bowl

Yes, my beloved city of Seattle is cheering on its own Seahawks today. Has been for the past several weeks, even the fabric store is sporting Seahawks colors. I have no bloody interest in football – horse racing, Quidditch and MMA are my great loves – but I do love one thing in particular about this Super Bowl:

Image shows the Broncos logo on top, Seahawks logo in the middle, and Dr. Evil doing air quotes at the bottom. The caption says, "The two states that legalized pot are getting together for a "Super Bowl."

No idea who created this, because there are ten million copies abounding, and I couldn’t find you. But I love you for it.

It’s too much to hope both teams stop playing while tied in the 4th quarter, and instead of finishing the game, sit down together to get baked, isn’t it? I mean, they could continue later for those fans who insist on a winner. But I think it would be an awesome if, just for a while, there were no winners or losers, just people having some happy fun times together.


But it’s not in Seattle or Denver, so I suppose the police tromping in to arrest everyone for possession would kinda put a damper on it. Not to mention some of the fans would become upset.

Yet still I dream…

Something Beautiful, Something Blue: Seattle from Alkai

I love my adopted city. I’ve never been much of a big-city person, and I’d frankly rather be out in the mostly wild spaces most of the time, but I’ve always adored Seattle. I find her beautiful from most every angle. I love wandering round downtown, rambling among the hills and the shops and the art and architecture. I love her culture, and her old buildings, and her waterfronts. The only thing I don’t like is driving there, but even that isn’t horrible. Merely awful. Best to take the bus and a comfortable pair of shoes, and make a day of it.

"Something Beautiful, Something Blue." Seattle from Alki, view across the Sound with a spray of water over the Space Needle.

“Something Beautiful, Something Blue.” Seattle from Alki, view across the Sound with a spray of water over the Space Needle.

I love her skyline. I took this image from Alki Point one summer. There’s a strip of beach with excellent views toward the city center, and a set of concrete stairs, and waves that splash dramatically against said stairs, and give a photographer a chance at a little artistry. I like how, after a bit of mucking about with contrast and saturation, it ended up looking a bit like a watercolor.

My fair city isn’t without her faults, though. In fact, we’re pretty much standing on one here, and one day I shall tell you about it, once we’re done with all this volcano nonsense.

Would You Like Some Geology With Your Coffee? One Mountain or a Range?

I have to admit, when my coworker Mitch told me he’d bought a drive-through coffee stand, I thought he was nuts. He’s rather the last person I’d expect to buy a business of any sort. But then he was smart enough to filch a known excellent barista, and the whole enterprise began to look more sane.

He also had the great good sense to buy the one that’s close to the Martha Lake Airport Park glacial erratic. It’s also close to Highway 96, which leads to some gorgeous views of the Cascades over the Snohomish River valley. So I figured, hell with it. I’ll kidnap Cujo and do a wee field trip with coffee. We’ll start at 511 164th Street Southwest, Lynnwood, WA, head to Martha Lake Airport Park in Martha Lake to ogle a very large rock, gape at the Cascades from Glacier Peak High School, and end in Woodinville at Teddy’s Bigger Burgers.

View Larger Map

So, to begin with, coffee.

Sip This

Sip This uses Dillanos Coffee Roasters, which is quite a bit better than average. Add to this Mitch’s sense of humor:

Sign for Sip This, image credit Cujo359

Stir in some excellent prices, served up by a talented barista, and you have yourself a fabulous start to your outing.

Suitably caffeinated, we headed off toward Martha Lake Airport Park. I have to say we didn’t intend to. We’d already seen the erratic. But we were messing about trying to figure out how to get into the parking lot for Martha Lake Park, and then giving it up as a bad job because the lake looked boring anyway, and then we thought we recognized the turnoff for the erratic and decided we’d give it a go. And yes, the erratic’s still there.

Erratic with Two Coffees

Rather more graffiti on it than the last time, alas. But it’s still an impressive sight and well worth taking the time for if you’re in the neighborhood.

Now, scale is important in geological photos. For reference, I’m roughly 5’6″. That rock is immense. It took one hell of an ice sheet to raft it down here.

Coffee for Scale

The sun, although being bashful behind some wispy clouds, was in a horrible spot for photographing the other side of the erratic. But this close-up shot isn’t bad. 20 ounce Breve and 12 ounce frap mocha for scale.

Frost weathering had chipped off a few bits of the erratic. The fresh surface is dark black, fine-grained, and harder than hell, but I’m still not sure what this thing is. Hopefully, I’ll run across a geologist who knows someday.

After the airport park, we got on I5 and headed for Highway 96. You get glimpses of the Cascades all over the place, but the real payoff is on Cathcart, where the high school commands the top of a hill. No one seemed to mind a couple of fools with cameras wandering about on a Sunday afternoon, and the views are ever so worth it.

Cascade Panorama

Do click that one for a larger image. You’ll be happy.

I am, I’m afraid, crap at identifying peaks without some sort of reference, and there’s nothing at Glacier Peak High School that says, “Hey, there’s this mountain and that one and ooo this one!” So I’m just going to show you the lovely images, and if more knowledgeable folk know which Cascade mountains we’re seeing, they should feel free to chip in.

Jagged Peaks

I think that peak on the right that looks a bit like a wave might be Rooster Mountain, but don’t quote me on that.

Mt. Baker

Of course, there are some mountains so distinct even a numnuts like me can recognize them. Mt. Baker is one, and it was out in force. I guarantee you there’ll be a crowd of onlookers at this location when it decides to erupt, because this is an ideal spot for a little volcano watching.

Airplane and Mountains

There’s got to be an airstrip in the valley down below. We saw quite a few small planes come in for landings, and the mountains make a fantastic backdrop for them.

Lovely Jagged Peaks

This set of peaks, I have to say, is my favorite. So snow-capped and jagged. Glaciation has given them teeth.

Ballfields and Mountains

I hope the science teachers at this school focus on geology. I mean, imagine being in a spot where you can march out on the ballfields and see amazing examples of subduction zone geology, Pleistocene ice sheets, and recent glaciation, and not taking advantage of it. It would be criminal negligence.


Here, you can get some glimpses of the Cascade foothills. Note how smooth and rounded they are. They measure the thickness of the ice sheet. Anything below about 3,000- 4,000 feet, depending on how close to Seattle you are, got ground smooth. The peaks that jutted above didn’t get planed by the ice sheet, and have instead been carefully carved by mountain glaciers. The contrast is outstanding.

Lord Hill and Cascades

The ridge in the foreground is Lord Hill, a ridge created from a basalt flow. We’ll be doing it this summer, and hopefully I’ll be able to run down more information on its geological history by then. If not, I’ll stun you with the views from the top and run. It’s spectacular. And it’s a nice proof that things aren’t all glacial deposits in the Puget lowlands.

Foothills and Cascades

Here’s another lovely example of the contrast between those bits of the landscape that were under the ice sheet and those bits that were above it. Stark, rather, isn’t it?


And, finally, we’ll end with a nice tableau of Cascade Mountains and Lord Hill. I probably need to print this and stick it in my wallet. Then I can whip it out when people ask me if I’ll ever move from Washington state, and I shouldn’t then have to say, “Not no, but hell to the fucking no you imbecile” out loud.

It’s a wrench to leave that vista and drive on down Highway 9 to Woodinville, but there’s some nice wooded Pacific Northwest lowland scenery, and then there’s Teddy’s, which is a bloody brilliant burger joint and well worth patronizing. You’ve now had excellent coffee, gorgeous geology, and bonza burgers. Perfect day, amirite?

Intimations of Spring

Seattle does this. In the midst of a chilly, drab, damp gray winter, a few days burst out with sun and warmth, as if the Pacific Northwest has gotten as tired of the cold and dark as its inhabitants and decided to skip forward a few months. It will go back to being winter again before long. Gather ye sunshine while ye may, then.

I fled the house after some lounging about in a brilliant sunny bedroom with a cat lolling in sunbeams, and headed off on a ramble up over the drumlin to North Creek. I propose to take you with me. There’s precious little geology to be found along this route, but there are a few points of mild interest, and birders may scream with joy.

One of the things I like about living here is the shy little glimpse of Mt. Rainier. You wouldn’t expect it in Bothell, exactly, but over the shoulder of a drumlin, Mt. Rainier puts in an occasional appearance.

Mt. Rainier from a drumlin

There were rather fewer clouds than it appears in this photo, lurking about on the horizons as if ashamed to be intruding. We’re supposed to have more of the bastards tomorrow, but I put about as much stake in the predictions of the weather reports around here as I do in the prognostications of psychics and most economic forecasters. The weather seems to delight in proving them wrong on the fine details.

But I digress.

The road over the drumlin, alas, hadn’t changed much over the winter. I’d been hoping a few intriguing rocks had washed out – this is where I found my outstanding chunk of garnet mica schist – but it was just the usual run of rounded random bits, all sorts of glacial outwash that used to confuse me before I discovered why it looked like there’d been streams running over the tops of the hills. A bit more than usual is visible this time of year, though, with the leaves off the trees and the blackberry brambles going bald. In fact, I discovered a cut in the drumlin I’d never seen before:

Drumlin Cut

Granted, not the most exciting thing in the universe, but for those who like to look upon the innards of a drumlin, there you go.

Just down the street, I came across a lovely example of a Pacific Northwest glade.


The sorrel-colored leaves and the bare pale trees made a lovely contrast to the brilliant green sword ferns and firs. A couple of tiny streams ran through it. That’s one of the things that still astonishes me about this area: the sheer profusion of tiny streams. And it’s completely wild to stand on what seems like solid ground and discover you’re standing atop the stream:

Standing on a stream

If you dug a hole where my foot is, you’d hit water. It’s probably roots that did it. I’ve seen those places where some wood fell across, and roots followed, and then soil and leaf mold collected, and of course mosses and plants grow everywhere here. Before long, you have a bit of solid ground with a stream running under it. Quite fun for someone not used to such things.

I walked down the drumlin to the intersection and turned up toward my workplace. Along the straight road there’s a place that dips, which nearly always floods during storms, and along the side a screen of vegetation. The reason for the extra-heavy vege and the flooding is because what we would, in Arizona, call a creek and get quite excited about flows right alongside. Here, it’s more of an unnamed nuisance. There are parts where the water lies still in little sandy pools, and other places where it’s reed-choked even in this late season, and others where woody debris and other vagaries of the bed cause a profusion of miniature waterfalls. It’s quite wonderful, and nearly impossible to photograph. It wasn’t my quarry anyway. Ahead, there’s a lovely dry stone wall. Dry is a misnomer. Any number of minute streamlets drain off the hill and sometimes cause some pretty spectacular waterfalls to course down that wall. But they’re great chunks of stone, and considering how little geology there is round here, I made a beeline for them. I’d not gotten my nose against them before.

I was not disappointed. I found something intriguing.

Could it be... sedimentary?

My field identification skills, never excellent, are somewhat rusty. But I believe this is sedimentary, and I seem to see some graded bedding here. Have a closer look and tell me what you think:

Detail of intriguing rock

It put me in mind of turbidites, and I liked it. Even if I am completely wrong about it.

Alas, we’ve had a few nice days, so no waterfalls spilling over the wall. Just a few damp patches, and here and there a trickle of water. I crossed toward North Creek, and came across the first flowers I’ve had the pleasure to photograph this year, complete with bee.

Bee and flowers

I’m very pleased with this shot. I had my nose down amongst the bees, who were being buggers, refusing to hold still, but this gentlebee finally did strike a pose. I love shooting bees. They’re always too immersed in what they’re doing to notice me, and they turn out surprisingly well sometimes.

Just down the way, nearer the creek, some hawks were circling. I got lucky enough to catch one in mid-soar:

I think it’s a hawk, anyway. It’s possibly an eagle. I don’t know my birds so well as I should. All I know is, the sun’s shining behind it, and it’s quite lovely, if a wee bit blurred. Have you ever tried to photograph a speck of a bird with a point-and-shoot camera against a featureless background at full zoom with no tripod? It’s difficult.

Not much further on, the road intersects North Creek. There’s a wonderful wide greenbelt here, with broad pea-gravel paths running along the tops of the levees. In between the commercial buildings, you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. There’s an abundance of wildlife and wetlands, where you suspect what you might see but are never quite sure. Sometimes, you get only crows. Other times, there are bald eagles. Today, the motif was blue herons. There was a gentleman on a bike stopped at a curve in the path, and he pointed out a particularly fine example hanging out by the creek looking for lunch.

Blue Heron

Blue herons are a particular favorite of mine. They’re among the first wild birds we saw when we moved up here, and they’re lovely. Besides, any fan of Robert Jordan has got to have a soft spot for herons.

I took the left-hand path, which curves round toward the interstate along a fairly large pond. And in that pond were some magnificent cormorants, one drying itself in grand fashion. They made the whole walk worth it.


I don’t know why the one bothered to dry itself off – it just dove back into the water and swam again. Wonderful, aren’t they? I’ve never seen them up at North Creek before, nor so close, so it was a pleasure. I shared these photos with a group of walkers a little further up the trail, who’d gotten past the cormorants and were on to ducks. That’s one thing you’ll always find at North Creek on a sunny afternoon – people who like sharing bird sightings.

The trail pretty much ends just past the pond, but instead of doubling back, you can cut through a parking lot, head along the street, and come to a few items of interest. One is this incongruous building that looks a bit like a dairy barn, smack in the middle of prosaic rectangular commercial buildings. It looked particularly pastoral today.


And then, just beyond it, you intersect North Creek again at one of the best spots for seeing something of interest. This is where bald eagles come to roost, and salmon run, and blue herons lurk about. It’s also a lovely view down the creek, with old snags and weeping willows.

North Creek

No bald eagles about today, alas, but there was a blue heron on the bank. You can see him in the lower left of this photo, a dark curvy speck amongst the tan wetland grass. He was in an excellent spot for photographing, and obliged by not moving while I darted here and there looking for the best angles.

Blue Heron II

I’m quite pleased. Proper sun and everything. Now if only I can get the bald eagles to strike the same pose…

Going down the other side of North Creek, I ran short on birds. They’d all gone in for a siesta, it seemed. But I found a tiny spur trail down to the creek, and a bit of geology lurking there: a nice boulder with quartz (or possibly calcite) in:

Boulder with Quartz

I’ve been down that spur before, but never noticed the boulder. It’s usually hidden by a screen of vegetation. I knelt down to make friends with it, and the sunlight filtering through the trees did wonderful things with the quartz (or possibly calcite) and moss:

Quartz and Moss

Don’t ask me why these things make me so happy. They just do. So do raccoon tracks in the sandy bank:

Raccoon Track

So, raccoons. I shouldn’t be surprised.

That bank put me in mind of ichnology. Lots of traces, there: the raccoon, and birds, and crawling things. All it asked was for a nice flood to deposit a layer of sand over the top without wiping clean the traces, and then a few million undisturbed years to set it in stone, and then a few million more to lay the tableau bare again. And there you would have, frozen in time, one day in the life of North Creek.

Just down the trail, the trees clear out a bit, and there’s a wide area of the North Creek wetlands where it’s all reeds and grasses and just a few little trees. And here, there was a couple talking about beavers. Beavers, on North Creek. I’d never suspected such a thing, but I should have. The buggers were inside having a nap, but I snapped a photo of their lodge, which I’d never noticed until the couple pointed it out to me.

North Creek Beaver Lodge, LLC

They have, they said, seen as many as nine beavers at that lodge before. Presumably, they’re more industrious than the beaver that lived by us on Forbes Creek, back when I was in Kirkland. Laziest beaver ever. He’d begun a dam, and months later, as we moved out, had felled exactly one tree and added a stick or two. I miss that non-busy beaver. Beavers are cool.

North Creek takes a bend down by the pond near 195th St, and there you can find a quite nice bridge. It’s even somewhat visible this time o’ year:

Rustic Bridge

In the summer, it’s delightfully shady and cool. In winter, it turns out, it basks in plenty of sun on the days when the sun ventures out. And it turned out to be a good place to photograph flying geese from:

There’s a field not far from here that’s always full of them. The crows have the ballfields, the geese have a vacant lot, and everyone’s happy.

The remaining geology is sparse, I’m afraid, and consists of some rocks causing rapids near a knot of trees with some truly outstanding roots:

Roots and Rocks

The roots give a definite mangrove impression, even though these aren’t by any means mangroves. The rocks aren’t very visible from this side, and from the other bank, you’d have to brave blackberry brambles. I’m sorry, but I’m not that desperate.


There were trees along that side of the bank, however, that captivated me. They had a lovely coppery sheen. I’m not sure what they are – it’s hard to identify without leaves when you’re a rank amateur such as myself – but I’m thinking of them as copper beeches for the moment, and fell head-over-heels in love with them.

Copper Beeches

The camera couldn’t do them justice, alas, but this last photo came out well enough:

Copper Beech Closeup

From there, it was on down the creek past the ballfields and home for lunch with kitteh. In a few months, the fruit trees will flower spectacularly, and then the oaks and willows and various other deciduous trees will leaf out, and everything will be emphatically green. Things on display right now will retreat. North Creek will look like a somewhat different world. But in this spring preview, bare under brilliant sun, it’s revealed a few surprises, and proved it rewards a ramble no matter what the season.

Scenes from Snowpocalypse 2012 Vol. 2: Wherein I Am Thwarted, Plus Rocks

You know, I don’t normally like to go anywhere. I like being at home. Snuggling with the cat, reading and writing, maybe watching a movie or some teevee, that’s just my speed. But having been snowed in for days, my usual amusements no longer amuse. It’s the knowledge that I can’t get out. It makes me think of things I’d do if I could get out, and since I can’t do them, I actually want to do them.

I’m convinced this is a universal conspiracy to prevent me from ever obtaining another Agatha Christie novel on something more comfortable than my laptop, which is a desktop replacement and not suitable for curling up in bed with. It’s no use suggesting that things can be downloaded to my smartphone, because I haven’t got one. And I’ve read blogs on smartphones, and shudder at the idea of attempting to read a novel on one. And I’d read on a tablet, but I still haven’t got one of those, either. You see? Evidence of a conspiracy.

Staples was open just long enough for me to drop in and play with the paltry few tablets they had on display. I have no idea how any of their employees made it in. On top of the snow, we had an ice storm. Then more snow. And I really thought, after making my various phone calls to my mother’s mental health care professionals, and leaving messages for others, that I’d not get a chance to play with tablets. But Staples was open for part of the day, so I bundled up and hoofed it down. I made friends with their display copy of the Kindle Fire. It does what I need a tablet to do, and it’s cheap. I told them I’d take one. They said they hadn’t got any in stock.

You see? Evidence of a conspiracy.

I’ve ordered one from Amazon, to be delivered next day air, because I’m getting desperate. I guarantee you that despite the fact that the delivery trucks have chains on their tires and the weather’s supposed to stop being absolutely evil that something will happen. Seatac will close due to flooding as the incoming rainstorm melts all this snow and ice, or the Kindle Fire will self-destruct inside the box, or a tree will fall on our powerlines just as I’m getting ready to charge the damned thing, or the delivery company will call everything off due to drivers having nervous breakdowns en masse after dealing with trees falling all over the roadways, on top of the ice, snow, and insane drivers. I cannot be optimistic at this point, because I still want an Agatha Christie novel on a device that fits comfortably in my hand, and the universe seems determined to ensure I shall not have it.

The weather also froze my rocks to their shelves, nixing my plans to take the hand lens to them today whilst waiting for various and sundry social services people to return my calls. That was the last straw. I took a nap, and then watched Have You Heard About the Morgans? If you haven’t seen it, take my advice and don’t bother, unless you need practice rolling your eyes. It’s one of the most poorly-written movies I’ve ever watched. The writers seem to have sat around a table with pages of the script and asked each other, “What can we do to make this scene more trite and full of cliches? What can we insert here to ensure it’s overdone?” And then they threw in everything they could think of. I don’t deny it has it’s moments, but only those. Afterward, since I was annoyed and still suffering cabin fever, I watched Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” As far as I’m concerned, Darin Morgan can do no wrong. Any X-Files episode written by him is well worth your time. This is why I love my Amazon Prime membership: I can watch Darin Morgan episodes of The X-Files whenever I wish, for free, and feel better about life.

This doesn’t help me with identifying rocks, but they’re still pretty, and perhaps the geologists in the audience will weigh in. All of the following rocks were picked up around Richmond Beach, on the Sound, and had a considerable way to travel in most cases.

This is a hefty chunk of sandstone I found near the railroad tracks. I like its shape and color. I have no idea where it came from – there were chunks of all kinds of non-local stone in that embankment.

I have no idea what the bit of yum in front is. Gneiss? Pegmatite? It’s been rounded off by some time in the water, but hasn’t been completely smoothed by the waves.

Here’s a nice, close focus of the standing stone in the background of the previous photo. I’d be pleased with some guesses as to what it is, because I haven’t the foggiest. A metamorphic something-or-other, I’d imagine, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go.

This one looks completely Zen, doesn’t it? This is the kind of rock you put in Zen gardens, and then watch it reveal different aspects as the seasons change. I like it’s shape. It seems to be a bit of basalt. There are times when basalt can be downright artistic, and this is one.

I love the colors in this one, very sunset. It’s the only sun-like thing we’ve gotten for days. That makes me appreciate it more.

A chunk of red sandstone, origins unclear. There was a lot of it out there by the railway, apparently hauled in from elsewhere, and some of it displaying lovely ripple marks and mudcracks. Random pieces had weathered off, and the Sound’s got at this one, smoothing it a bit.

Again, no idea what this is. I’ll have to have a good look with the hand lens when it’s no longer attached to the shelf by freezing rain. It looks a bit like some of the rocks I’ve seen round Rainier, but that’s not to say it’s actually a relic of one of our Cascade volcanoes.

This is gneiss. I like gneiss. I always know where I am with gneiss. It’s easy to identify, even without a hand lens and after the waves have worked it. And if you enlarge it, the few snow crystals on it are just enchanting.

This could very well be quartzite, I expect. It has that somewhat sugary texture. You should see it when the light hits it. It gets all glowy and slightly translucent and very, very pretty.

And, finally, a quartet of colors. All right, so one of them’s white, and hard to see against the snow, but the others make up for it and it alliterates. I wish I knew what these were. I wish I knew what all of them were. I have a shelf full of stories, only they’re in a language I’m still learning. It’s like Dame Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, quoting things in French or German or Latin and expecting you to know what they say.

Whenever I look at these, marvel at their beauty and their individual quirks, I’m struck again by the fact that there are people in the world who can read their stories, because other people came along and figured out their language, and then taught folks the lingo. It amazes me that we’ve been able to get cold, silent stones to tell us stories.

I’m glad I’m getting a Kindle Fire, weather permitting its delivery. I can now load scientific papers onto it, and read them comfortably, and email their authors to say, “Thank you for teaching me some of that language.” I can download books that will help me become more fluent. And all of these little stones I hauled off a Seattle beach will be able to share their stories, one by one.

For now, I can only marvel at their beauty, and hope some of my readers can do a bit of translation.

Scenes from Snowpocalyse 2012

This bird’s arse illustrates how I feel about yesterday:

We’re snowed in. I took the day off, and spoke to various relatives regarding deceased and mentally disabled relatives, and prepared to put out a few brush fires which I shall tell you about when we know whether they’re truly out or liable to erupt into a crown fire. Then I snapped this picture of a bird’s arse through the window, because I am cooped up inside and getting bored. It turned around a moment later and presented a more suitable angle for photography:

Cujo has a rather more flattering portrait of a similar bird. They were adorable. They were also the only entertainment on offer.

Relations spoken to, equipment in readiness for some firefighting on the morrow (now today), I found myself no longer amused by bird butts, and bundled up to walk to Staples. I’ve been deprived of bookstores due to snowstorms since Sunday. I’m out of the turn-of-the-century detective literature I’m craving. So, I thought, I’d get myself a tablet. That way, I could sneer at the weather and just download whatever the fuck I pleased, thus thumbing my nose at the weather whilst still being able to comfortably read in bed.

Staples, however, had closed due to weather. Bastards. How dare they care for their employees’ well-being when I’m literature-deprived? And then, having denied me the chance at a tablet, make me applaud them for their good sense and kindness in allowing their employees to head home while there was still a chance of making it there alive?

There was nothing left to do but drop by my friend Starspider’s apartment and help torture her cat.

This is Galahad, learning that outside is made of cold, wet and pain. We did this to him because he thought outside was made of birds and rainbows and fun, and threatened to run out into traffic. We think he’s been disabused of these tendencies.

This is Galahad considering whether or not to murder his mother. He decided if he did, the chances of the door being opened were minimal, so he refrained.

We tortured the cat until we’d finished our cigarettes, then relented. He still loves us. I’m not sure why. And before you have too much sympathy for him, remember he’s a long-haired cat who never even got damp, and it was ultimately for his own good. He has not, as yet, asked to go back outside, so the experiment so far seems successful.

This experiment will not be repeated with my cat. I value my life.

The snow’s lingering. Next course on the weather menu is a bit more snow and possibly some freezing rain, followed by a rapid warming, which will mean flooding and possible landslides. Fun and more fun. At least it doesn’t do this often.

I took some good images of my outdoor rocks dusted with snow. In our next edition of Scenes from Snowpocalyse 2012, I’ll find some clever things to say about them. Either that, or I’ll just post them without comment, chuck my cat into a snowdrift as a distraction, and flee. Or I could take the safe route and direct you toward Starspider’s post on bitters. For now, it’s time for another dose of Rex Stout. I believe I’ll filch Archie Goodwin’s personality for dealing with counselors, lawyers and snow today. It could come in useful, especially as a tool for retaining my sanity.

Near Seattle? Bored? I Haz Solutionz For Ye

So, you don’t shop (or you’re done shopping), you’re sick of hanging round the house looking at relatives and leftover turkey, and you’d like to go do something interesting with your life. Possibly even with your relatives.

I haz things for ye.

Burien Little Theatre’s Inspecting Carol opens this weekend. Saturday’s date night will get you two-for-one tickets if you order by email or phone. I believe Sunday’s sold out, but the play’s on until December 18th, so you’ve got a little time. It looks hysterical – don’t miss it. I’ll be going either next Sunday or the one after – if you’re interested in heading down there with me, let me know, and we’ll make a day of it.

On Monday night, the Forum on Science and Ethics Policy has an event you might want to partake of:

FOSEP will co-host the Science on Tap talk on November 28th at 7pm at Ravenna Third Place Pub. A clinical veterinarian from SNBL (Preclinical Services for Drug Development) USA will present “Drug Safety and Animal Research – No safe alternatives”. This presentation will discuss why animals are needed for certain laboratory studies and the role of alternative solutions in animal research. Please note, that this talk does not reflect the views of FOSEP or its members in line with our non-advocacy position; however, we are excited to work with Science on Tap!

I’m hoping to make it, but I’d dedicated this weekend to the gods of NaNo. Even an atheist doesn’t fuck with them. But we’ll see if I can negotiate a temporary release.

So there you go. Things to do! People to see! Fun to be had!

As for my non-Seattle area readers, I’m afraid all you can do is look on us with envy. That, or find local events of your very own.

The Night the Earth Moved

I used to believe I was a geologic disaster coward. I grew up in the shadow of the San Francisco Peaks, which is actually a single mountain that blew itself apart not all that long ago, on the edge of a volcanic field that was merrily tossing out lava flows and cinder cones a mere 900-odd years back. My elementary school was tucked in the flank of a rhyolite dome. Things had been quite exciting round there, and I used to watch the mountains with a wary eye, watching like a paranoid volcanologist for the slightest sign of steam or ash. We had city-threatening fires nearly every summer, winters sometimes dumped so much snow on us that roofs collapsed (and there was still talk of one winter in the 1970s when snow had reached the second floor and everybody was all snowed in, an event we had happily missed). We had all sorts of poisonous and/or violent wildlife running about. None of those more immediate threats terrified me half as much as the volcanoes.

But, said I, at least there were no earthquakes. Earthquakes were terrible, awful, no good, very bad things that I never ever in a million billion trillion years wanted to experience.

Then I moved to a subduction zone.

This may not have been the wisest choice for a geologic disaster coward. One might even say I hadn’t thought the matter through, and I really hadn’t. Oh, I knew there were volcanoes (St. Helens had blown her guts out right on my teevee when I was a wee little thing) and earthquakes (Nisqually, anyone?), but the volcanoes at least gave plenty of warning, so I could wave goodbye to the landlord on my way back home. And I just didn’t let myself dwell on the earthquakes.

When I did think about them, I figured the slightest tremor would send me into a blind panic. I’d scream like a little girl in a horror movie, I’d be as useless as the heroine tied to train tracks in a silent film, I’d lose my shit and freak the fuck out and, if I survived, probably flee Seattle never to return. But this place was too magnetically pretty for me to not give it a go, despite hazards. Forget San Francisco. I’d left my heart here and wanted to live with it again.

So this one night, not long after I’d moved up, I was lying in bed. Very late at night, everything’s still. We lived in an apartment complex not priced for college students, so the place was stone dead after midnight. Must have been around three or four in the morning. I had my physical geology textbook* open to the chapter on earthquakes, and I’d just got done with the earthquake strength section and was reading about earthquakes in the eastern United States when the bed did a little judder. I lowered the book and watched my feet. No, no cat down there – she was happily asleep somewhere else. No, no truck sounds. Nothing but deep silence and that tiny quiver. I waited for it to subside, and then flipped back a page to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (Table 16.2) to look up the intensity (“II. Felt by only a few persons at rest, especially on the upper floors of buildings [hullo, that’s me!]. Delicately suspended objects may swing”). I grinned, possibly giggled a bit, had that my-first-earthquake-how-adorable moment, and went on reading.

You never forget your first, even if it barely managed to wobble the bed. And the timing could not have been more exquisite.

The second earthquake was far more memorable.

So no shit, here I was beavering away at the blogging, and all of a sudden I notice the house is juddering and the cat’s sitting bolt-upright acting like the world’s coming apart. The shaking lasted nearly a minute. It wasn’t the kind of thing that would make a Californian blink, but to this Arizona girl, it was a little intense – and exciting.

Had to be an earthquake. The only other thing that could cause the house to start dancing would be an explosion, and while I had the headphones on, I didn’t have the music on that loud.

The cat is currently sitting by my chair pretending she never panicked, nuh-uh, not even a little bit.

The sensation of an earthquake’s hard to describe – it’s like being on a rollercoaster that’s rapidly weaving side-to-side. The power of it is astonishing. My gliding rocking chair didn’t know what to do – it was trying to go in all directions at once, which added something of a washing-machine-from-hell element to the whole experience. You can feel it in your whole body. Bizarre.

A moment before, all had been peace and stillness. I’d been enthroned in my gliding rocking chair, listening to music, tappity-tapping away on the laptop at five in the ay-em, and the cat had been sound asleep on the bed. I hadn’t noticed anything amiss. When you’re rocking and rocking out, banging away at a keyboard, a little thing like earth movement doesn’t get your attention right at first. But then she sat bolt-upright, straight and still with a panicked expression on her face, and stayed that way. I took my headphones off and looked round for the source of the disturbance. Nothing. I don’t even remember feeling the p-waves, which must have been what she was reacting to. But a few seconds later, the blinds started swaying. I watched them with total incomprehension. Why would they do a silly thing like that?

That’s when the s-waves hit in earnest, and the rollercoaster-washing-machine-from-hell-plus-maybe-a-bit-of-mechanical-bull-riding element impressed itself upon us, and that went on for what seemed like forever. Long enough, anyway, for me to go from confusion to the tiniest bit of fear and straight through to “holy fuck this is fun!” A glorious little 4.6 or thereabouts. A quite wonderful IV on the Mercalli scale. Lovely!

Mah First Biggish Earthquake

I went out into the living room to check things, and met my roommate coming out of her room. We did the “wow earthquake dude” babble, and then went back to our rooms, and I finished up my post on the excitement, and never did get my desired aftershock, alas.

I’ll never forget it. Never forget the sensation of those s-waves, or the thrill tinged with just the right amount of fear, or the sense that the earth round here is alive and kicking and stunningly fascinating.

There will be other earthquakes. They’re inevitable in a subduction zone. There will be felt ones, and ones that will knock things over, and ones that will do a hell of a lot of damage. But just so long as Cascadia doesn’t slip, and I don’t get whacked in the noggin by falling stuff, and I’m not out on a beach with a bluff just looking for an excuse to really let a landslide go, and I’m not on the Viaduct, I think you’ll be able to tell which one’s me in the crowd of hollering people. I’ll be the one screaming “Woo-hoo-hoo! Gimme a V, baby, yeah!”

And the last time I went to St. Helens, I looked deep into her non-steaming crater and pleaded, “C’mon, baby, just a little eruption. Something phreatic, sweetheart! Do some dome-building for Dana, now, there’s a good girl.” And I was disappointed when she didn’t go boom.

So much for my geologic disaster cowardice, then. I guess I’ll have to go find other things to be mortally terrified of.


(Inspired by Ron’s adventures with the Oklahoma quake, which in turn inspired the next Accretionary Wedge topic, but I just couldn’t wait.)

*No, I wasn’t studying for class. It’s a book I picked up used and was reading for fun. I do that. Leave me alone.

And That, Kids, Is Why You Shouldn’t Build on a Bluff

One of my geotweeps, CGKings317, once tweeted this rather remarkable video showing coastal erosion over the course of a year:

It gives you a sense of just how delicate coastlines can be. There’s the ocean, and storms; wind, water and gravity, all working to lay the land low. 17 meters (almost 56 feet) of prime seaside real estate now sleeps with the fishes.

And we build seawalls and groynes, pile riprap, terrace and wire and drain, do our damnedest to make these temporary landforms permanent, but good Mother Earth just sticks her tongue out at us, goes “Nyah-nyah!” and takes another few bites out of what we thought we could preserve.

I live in the Seattle area, where coastal erosion is a daily fact. The bluffs I see today aren’t the same ones I’ll see next year. They may look similar, but they’ve changed, and one day, they’ll be gone.

One of my favorite places in the whole of the Pacific Northwest is Discovery Park. I first saw it in 2007. It was, in fact, the first place I got a sunburn up here. And that bluff – my Arizona eyes had never laid eyes upon anything like it!

Discovery Park South Bluff, 2007

It feels rock-hard, but it’s just hard-packed glacial sediments, and the Sound wears away at it year by year.

Discovery Park, South Bluff, 2010

See the chunks of it being carved out? Every year, a little bit more gone; every year, it’s changed.

Discovery Park, South Bluff, 2009

Discovery Park, South Bluff, 2010

Geology feels rock-solid, at first. There’s nothing that gives the sensation of being forever quite like a rock does. And some changes happen so gradually we barely notice them. But the world changes all the time. Little changes, building up over time. There’s a bluff there now; someday, there will be only the water. Water will in its turn be replaced by land again, elements dancing, continents fussing with their appearance, gone traveling. Look at the world through a geologic timescale, and it’s a busy place, always different, always fascinating, frequently eroding.

Remember that when you’re considering that beachfront house.

So Sorry to Disappoint

My first foray into the realm of public humiliation was a great big flop on the humiliation front, but happily completely successful in the not-dribbling-on-myself front.

I should begin by saying I love the concept of GeekGirlCon. I love a sea of women with a few islands of men getting together to celebrate all things geek. I wish I’d known about it sooner, that it hadn’t happened the weekend a certain popular phone launched and thus closed the vacation calendar, and that I hadn’t already promised I’d attend Frankenstein. I only got to attend the panel I was on, and then we had to skedaddle rather than dawdle. Next year, I sincerely hope, will be different. And I think I shall assemble a costume.

As it was, my poor long-suffering coworker and dear friend and I rousted ourselves out of bed at an obscene hour (we are nocturnal) and raced down to the Con, arriving at ten-thirty. Plenty of time, we thought. We found parking. We went in search of the Con. We discovered that Seattle Center is utterly enormous when you think you know where you’re going but really don’t and nobody at the main entrance has any idea such a thing as GeekGirlCon is taking place.

Then we got to the registration booth and were told they were sold out. The woman handling all that should’ve had a camera handy, because the panicked expression on my face must have been exquisite.

She got us passes the very instant I blurted out, “But I’m one of the speakers!” Thanks to her, we were able to slip into the room with a comfortable two minutes to spare. I slipped into my seat. I stared out at the sea of faces. There were a lot of faces. We were a last-minute deal, and who the hell wants to talk about skepticism when they could be geeking out? The answer is many.

Paul Case, President of the Seattle Skeptics, moderated for us. I’ve known Case for a long time, and he’s brilliant at this kind of stuff. He warmed the audience nicely, had topics ready, kept things moving, and in general did the kind of job that prevents panels from becoming boring disasters. Not that this one would have – not with four brilliant women: Jen McCreight, Surly Amy, Meg Winston, and Valerie Tarico. We could’ve managed by just yammering free-form. But Case added structure, and came up with the idea of prizes, and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised the audience actually seemed to like us, considering the synergy between an experienced organizer and clever panelists.

Alas, being a panelist, I didn’t take notes. Hopefully, folks who were there will do a proper write-up and point me to it. All I can do is babble a bit about how awesome the audience was (teh awesome!), the genius of my co-panelists (total genius), and hope like hell that my friend isn’t lying to me when she said I didn’t suck. In fact, she said I had charisma.


Then she said I had stage presence.


Then she said it’s because I’m open and approachable and people want to talk to me.


And I’m left thinking that, although she has a reputation as a forthright and honest person, she may have been sparing my feelings just a bit. Then again, she said all of us were brilliant and engaging and very interesting indeed, so maybe she was dazzled by the glory reflecting off the other panelists. Because, you see, I’m not exaggerating: these are incredible women, and outstanding skeptics, and sharing a panel discussion with one of them is right up there amongst the best moments of my life.

The upshot is that I very much hope we all do this again, and soon. Because the fact that so many women lined up during Q & A to ask us good, hard-to-answer questions about dealing with non-skeptical friends and relations, about how skepticism affects us, about what we can do for kids with frightenly religious or woo-smitten parents, shows me how necessary this is.

I’m going to do up a small series here, dealing with some of the questions Case asked, and what I can remember of the audience’s questions. I’ll link to the other skeptical women on the panel if they do their own write-ups. And if you were there and wrote something, or come across someone who did, please feel free to link in comments.

You’re even going to get a video of me doing crystal magic. How awesome will that be, eh?