Weather


At 6:15 pm on July 17th, the sky looked weird and the air turned deathly still.

We had planned to go to an outdoor concert in Amery, Wisconsin that fateful Friday night. We had packed four folding chairs and packed them in the trunk along with rain jackets, just in case. Fortunately, we’d left the car in the garage with the door shut.

“Can’t tell whether it’s going to rain or not, said Gunter, my husband. “If it does, we can go to the fish fry instead.”

The four of us—Gunter and I along with his younger siblings, Helmut and Helga—remained on the patio, staring at the sky. It was turning greenish-black.

“I don’t like this,” I said. “Let’s get inside.”

We entered the sunroom with picture windows facing the gardens and White Ash Lake. Then it hit. Suddenly the sky roared like an oncoming freight train—and then whooshed through the treetops like a jet engine. We stood there, transfixed. Our feet were riveted to the floor. We were seeing, firsthand, the sheer, raw power of nature. One huge pine twisted, uprooted, and crashed to the ground in a slow, deliberate motion. Then another. And another. Altogether, our six trees at the shoreline fell on top of each other like dominoes. Their trunks and branches carpeted the entire lawn between our house and dock. Beyond, we could see White Ash Lake kicking up angry waves. My heart pounded but common sense prevailed.

“Move away from the windows; they could break!” I yelled.

Terrified, yet fascinated, the others just stood there.

White Ash Lake Tornado 2019

The pines along the lakeshore fell across the yard like dominoes.

“Move!” I insisted. “This is a tornado. I’ve been in one before. Follow me down to the bunk room. That’s our safe space.”

They didn’t get it.

Then a dull, heavy THUD shook the house. The roof! The sky turned black and the power went out.

We all raced down to the bunk room, a windowless Man Cave we had fashioned out of the utility room for our grandsons. Gunter grabbed flashlights but our trusty generator kicked in after 10 long seconds. We had lights! Five minutes later, the generator stuttered and stopped. My stomach clenched and my tongue felt like sandpaper. To drown out the godawful noise, I chattered about the tornado I’d experienced in as a child in 1952. My Bavarian husband and his siblings had never experienced one in Germany; they had no first-hand knowledge.

When the racket subsided, we ventured upstairs. It was only 6:45 although it had seemed like an eternity. The sky was no longer black; the storm had moved on. Our first impulse was to go outside. We were shocked to discover there was no way out. Fallen trees and branches filled every window and door. Out of the lakeside windows, I could see nothing but trees across our entire lower patio and yard. We couldn’t see the dock, but I thought we saw a glimmer of white beyond the tangle of trees. “That must be our pontoon,” Gunter said softly, still in shock.

Helga called our attention to water dripping onto the kitchen counter and splashing onto the floor. “Looks like the roof is leaking,” she said. We sprang into action, positioning every wastebasket and bucket we could find. Later, we found water dripping from our rec room ceiling. We covered the sofa below with towels.

Because we couldn’t exit through any of our doors, Gunter manually opened the garage. We all filed out behind him, astonished at the destruction. Our driveway was blocked by fallen trees; but no matter, so many trees had fallen from the woods onto South White Ash Lane that we could barely make out the road!

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My daughter Kim and son-in-law Mike insisted on driving to Northern Bliss as soon as they could. They had experienced straight-line winds but even those downed six trees on their property—thankfully, none near their house. The downpour had created a river of rushing water down their driveway. We begged them not to try; they wouldn’t be able to get through. But they were determined. Their usual 20-minute trip took 2.5 hours, chainsawing their way through. The worst devastation they encountered along the way was my four-acre wooded property, with hundreds of trees down, some of them across the road. There they joined five other blocked cars who were also chainsawing their way through. Their last challenge was to move parts of trees blocking our dead-end road. Mike and Kim wanted to bring us back to their home, but we said no. We were the bucket brigade, protecting our property from further damage from the rain. We four spent the night the old-fashioned way: by candlelight. We collected rainwater from the buckets to flush the toilets.

White Ash Lake Tornado

Holly removes branches from my hydrangea and hosta garden.

Early Saturday morning, Mike called on all our relatives living in Minneapolis to come on down to help. Six arrived, each with his or her own chainsaw. Mike’s brother-in-law helped him tarp the roof, which was broken right at the peak with a massive oak branch inside the hole! A huge tree had uprooted and tipped the propane tank partly on its side. The jolt had cut the buried line from the generator to the propane tank; Mike went to Menards to purchase copper tubing. Then he built a new line. The others focused on cutting the trees that had fallen from the woods across the street onto our driveways. Downed power lines crossed the driveway exit, but they could clear the entrance. My granddaughter Holly especially impressed me. She owns a “Queen” battery-powered chainsaw and cut and removed branches from my hydrangea and hosta gardens. Seeing six relatives—without helmets, chaps and boots—wield those chainsaws impressed Helga. In Germany, such work would require licensing, training, and special clothes. Chainsaws would not be a common item in their garages.

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By Saturday afternoon, we had generator power again. Those in the White Ash Lake area without generators waited 1-2 weeks for the electric company to repair all the lines. They had 6000-7000 customers without power in Polk County and brought in 100 linemen from Minnesota. The following week, The Wisconsin National Guard arrived to help open the roads to remote homes on the other side of White Ash Lake.

In addition to structural damage to the house roof, minor damage to the cabin, a destroyed dock and boat lift canopy, arbors, and numerous smaller items, Northern Bliss lost 22 mature oaks and pine; it will never be the same in my lifetime. A similar story can be told among all the property owners around North and South White Ash Lake. Not one of 80+ properties was spared. I expect to hear the buzz of chainsaws, the grinding of stumps, the roar of heavy machinery, and the pounding of hammers until frost—as the recovery continues. How ironic! My latest blog was about migrating north to the sounds of silence here in the land of lakes and woods. The silver lining is that all are safe, and no lives were lost, thank God. We will rebuild.

Next: The Recovery Begins

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website https://loisjoyhofmann.com.

Destination: the Fjallsárlón Lagoon
After a night’s rest back in Reykjavik, Holly and I were off on our next Ring Road tour of Iceland. This time, we would drive Iceland’s Southeast Coast. We needed to check into the remote Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon to be prepared for a morning iceberg boat tour at Fjallsárlón Lagoon.

Iceland lava field

The view was ever-changing, the lava field never-ending.

Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls. Along the way, we never tired of the view because the landscape was always changing. Of course, we had to visit more waterfalls! Our first stop was Seljalandsfoss, reportedly the most visited in Iceland, with a 200-foot (60-meter) drop. Tourists climbed the steep hill to go to behind the falls. We contented ourselves with a view from the bottom. The river Seljalandsá originates underneath the glacier Eyjafjallajökull. The volcano beneath this ice cap was the one that erupted in 2010 and caused havoc at airports across Europe.

Our next waterfall stop was Skógafoss, widely considered to be one of the most beautiful in Iceland. The river Skoga, fed by two glaciers, runs through a canyon, then descends from the edge of a moor in a 45-foot-wide (15-meter), 186-foot-high (62-meter) waterfall. According to legend, a settler called Þrasi hid his chest of gold behind the falls. For a long time, the chest was visible through the waterfall, giving it a golden sheen. The ring to that chest can be found in the Skógar folk museum. The following verse has been passed down through generations:

The chest in Þrasi’s secret lair
Under the Skógar waterfall
Rewards the one who ventures there
With endless riches, great and small.

Dyrhólaey nature reserve was our next stop. Formerly known by seamen as Cape Portland, this reserve occupies a small promontory located on the south coast of Iceland. From the glittering black sand beach, we could view the arch near the end of the promontory. We would have loved to hike for hours, but we had to move on. We passed by Vik, a charming village of about 300 souls nestled below the cliffs, but stopped at an IceWear outlet for deals on Icelandic wool outerwear.

Laufskálavarða is a lava ridge surrounded by hundreds of small cairns. Travelers believed that making a cairn would bring luck and fortune before starting their journey across Mýrdalssandur. A farm located here was destroyed in a volcanic eruption in 894 BC.

Laufskálavarða

Lois waves from behind a cairn in Laufskálavarða.

Kirkjubæjarklaustur. After driving through miles and miles of lava fields covered with every type of moss and lichen one can imagine, Holly and I decided to make a detour to the road less traveled. We ended up in the quaint town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, a tongue-twister that translates into church-farm-cloister. The town is even small by Icelandic standards: a petrol station, convenience store, and a few houses and farms scattered over a vast green oasis—brilliant after all those lava fields. We searched for a waterfall tumbling down through a man-made forest from high cliffs, thought to be the dwelling place of some of Iceland’s “hidden people.” We found Foss a Sidu but saw no little people—only this sign:

Sign along the walk to the falls

Sign along the walk to the falls.

We were surprised to discover hidden falls that reminded us similar ones from ancient glacial traprock in Wisconsin! Back in the nearly-deserted town, we explored the peaceful church and graveyard and delved into its colorful past. “Cloister” was first settled by Irish monks who fled the Vikings but left a curse on any pagans who would venture to live there. A Christian Norseman lived there happily for many years, but when a second Viking decided to move in, he surveyed his future farm and immediately dropped dead!

The site continued to have problems. A cloister set up by Benedictine nuns closed during the 16th century Reformation because two nuns were burned at stake for sleeping with the devil. A third was punished for maligning the Pope. And then, during the 1783 Laki eruptions, a wall of lava came close to wiping out the settlement. The local curate herded everyone into the old wooden church and delivered a fire-and-brimstone sermon while great chunks of ash crashed outside the windows. When the commotion stopped, the congregation stumbled out to find that they were miraculously saved. A marvelous new church commemorates this divine intervention. Laki, however, had devastated Iceland and is still considered to be one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history.

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Touching Icebergs: Vatnajökull Glacier and the Fjallsárlón Iceberg Boat Tour. Before long, we were into glacier country. We stopped to photograph the massive Vatnajökull icecap, the largest in the world (except for the polar cap). The average thickness of the ice is 1,300 feet, but it is 3,300 feet thick in some places. Excursions on the icecap were possible; we’d planned a tour by boat instead. The anticipation built as we check into Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. In the morning, we would be touching icebergs!

It was only a 20-minute drive from our hotel to the majestic Fjallsárlón iceberg lagoon at the south end of the glacier Vatnajökull. We couldn’t miss it; it was right off the Ring Road with a huge parking lot and facilities. We walked into the cabin-like office to present our tickets. A rack of foul-weather jackets in all sizes—with built-in life preservers—lined the entire wall. “You won’t be needing your sailing jacket,” the clerk said. “You’ll be plenty warm in one of these. Let’s check your size.” Soon we were suited up and ready to go. Our group filled two 8-person zodiacs. Seating was on the rim; each position had safety holds. During the safety briefing, our guide told us that our preservers would inflate immediately upon hitting water. Then he warned, “Do not fall in. If you do, you have about two minutes in this frigid water before hypothermia sets in. You could die.” Even though I’m quite used to a dinghy, I made sure I kept “one hand on the boat.” For a short time, that is. How can one take great photos with only one hand? We learned a lot about how and why glaciers “calve,” why icebergs are blue, and how the glacier expands into the lagoon during the summers and recedes during the winter. Our guide broke off a few pieces of icebergs and passed them around for us to feel and taste.

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We couldn’t get enough of the gorgeous lagoon. After we returned our jackets and donned our own, we walked around taking one photo after another. We were about to drive back when we encountered a tourist who insisted, “You must see the larger glacier lagoon. It’s only a little farther along the Ring Road.” So, we continued on.

Icebergs in Fjallsárlón Lagoon

Icebergs in Fjallsárlón Lagoon.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon did not disappoint. This lagoon is Iceland’s deepest and most spectacular glacial lake. The entire lake was full of icebergs, streaked blue and back, floating with the tide, occasionally crashing into each other and breaking apart. In less than a century, this vast frozen landscape has collapsed into a mess of shattered ice and liquid. A river soon formed, and found its way to the sea, pulling broken icebergs into the North Atlantic and sculpting unearthly shapes along its black-sand banks. Every year, this fledgling glacier lagoon is made larger as icebergs break off Vatnajökull glacier, float around in the lagoon, and eventually drift out to sea during the summer months.

What a photographer’s paradise! Holly and I were in heaven. No wonder this site was used in the opening scenes of Roger Moore’s A View to Kill (1985). Some of the icebergs were glassy teal; others, a deep, luminous blue. These shades of blue contrasted with the white background of the glacier and the black sand beach to make awesome compositions.

We had been blessed with optimum weather (for Iceland), but finally, during our return trip to Reykjavik, the rain began. We didn’t mind. We held sunshine in our hearts.

Photo Credits: Holly Ricke And Lois Hofmann

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s nautical adventure trilogy.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wisconsin Gardening

My Wisconsin garden is spring green in May

 I’ve spent the past week relocating our household to our summer home in Polk County, Wisconsin that we call Northern Bliss. Sailors forever, Gunter and I must have the serenity of water close by. We enjoy the change of pace from our city life in San Diego. There is another lake every four miles in our county, so we never lack the color of water. But after eight years sailing around the world, we also crave the color green.

I agree with John Burroughs, who said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.” While the green palette soothes my soul, the song of newly-arrived finches tickles my ears, the feel of warm soil running through my fingers connects me to the earth, and the heavenly scent of budding flowers brings me peace. I wet my lips and taste the freshness of the country breeze rustling through the treetops.

What happens to your body in the presence of green? Your pituitary gland is stimulated. Your muscles become more relaxed, and your blood histamine levels increase. That leads to a decrease in allergy symptoms and dilated blood vessels. In other words, green is calming and stress-relieving, yet invigorating at the same time. The color green has been shown to improve reading ability and creativity.

Aha! I’ve been gardening my first week here, exposed to all that green. Now that my creativity is back, I can get back to writing again. Before I continue the Uzbekistan travel series, I want to take you to my environment here. The days are getting longer. Sunrise was at 5:27 this morning and sunset will be at 8:48. On June 21, the summer solstice, first light will occur at 4:43 a.m. with sunrise at 5:21. Sunset will be at 9:02 with last light at 9:40. Plants love all that light so spring growth is intensive. I can almost see those ferns in my garden unfurling their delicate fronds.

Garden Ferns

Garden ferns unfurl as they mature

Did you know that fiddlehead greens are harvested as a vegetable? The fiddlehead fern fronds must still be tightly furled.

Martha Stewart even has a recipe for them! . Reportedly, they taste grassy (of course) but with a hint of nuttiness. Hmm. Many people say they taste like a cross between asparagus and young spinach. Some detect a bit of mushroom. Watch out for those if they’re growing nearby. Also keep this in mind: Fiddleheads can cause symptoms of food-borne illness if eaten raw or improperly cooked. Be careful.

Have a wonderful and inspiring spring!

 

 

 

Fiddler greens

Fiddler greens served as a restaurant delicacy

For related blogs, visit https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/soft-focus/

and https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2016/06/15/returning-to-northern-bliss-fifty-shades-of-green/

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale at a reduced price for a limited time through Father’s Day.

“Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” —George Santanaya

Hey! I do believe that the climate is changing all the time, and has for centuries. My parents told me about the pronounced warming trend in the 1930s. And I’m old enough to remember those cold days in the 1970s when the predictions of a new ice age were dire. These were the messages on the magazine covers then:

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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

It’s a good thing I’m not trudging the politically correct campuses of today. I’d probably be marching to a different drummer; I’d be marching on behalf of the 1/3 of the world who still don’t have electricity, or the 783 million people do not have access to clean water, or the 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Think of what that could do for the impoverished! Rich nations of the world: put your money there, where it will make a difference now—not in 2100.

“The world is barely half a degree Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it was about 35 years ago.”  Wall St. Journal, Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate, Nov. 27th, 2015.

Earlier this year in Paris, scientists gathered to discuss a phenomenon called the global-warming hiatus. “Between 1998 and 2012 humans pumped unprecedented quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but the average global temperature barely rose. Why?” asks The Economist. Special Report. Climate Change. November 28, 2015. Key points of climate science are settled, but questions and uncertainties remain.

“On a global scale,” the WSJ Guide continues, as scientists keep confirming, there has been no increase in frequency or intensity of storms, floods or droughts, while deaths attributed to such natural disasters have never been fewer, thanks to modern technology and infrastructure…Arctic sea ice has recently melted more in summer than it used to in the 1980s, but Antarctic sea ice has increased, and Antarctica is gaining land-based ice, according to a new study by NASA scientists published in the Journal of Glaciology. Sea level continues its centuries-long slow rise—about a foot a century—with no sign of recent acceleration…”

According to Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, “ The (emissions) cuts on the table  in Paris, then, will leave the global economy, in rough terms, $1 trillion short every year for the rest of the century—and that’s if politicians do everything right. If not, the real cost could double…At best, the emissions cuts pledged in Paris will prevent a total temperature rise by 2100 of only 0.306F…” Gambling the World Economy on Climate, WSJ, November 17, 2015.

Does this make sense? I say, spend the money on the third world now.

Villages built of coral. Traveling around the world by boat, I had the opportunity to mix with islanders where they live. They taught me a lot about how they “use” climate change initiatives to gain funding from the western world. During the U.N. Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009, the Maldives government made an eye-catching plea for climate change action by holding the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting. Although I admire the cleverness of the Maldivians, here’s the real story: these islanders are indeed hurtingnot because of climate change but because of coral mining. Yes, they mined their own fringing coral reefs to use as construction material for cool, gorgeous courtyards and homes! “Our parents did not know that practice would damage the reefs forever,” an Uligan Island schoolteacher explained to me. “They thought the reefs would grow back, like trees.” Now at high tides, the ocean surges over the damaged reefs and fishermen must use expensive diesel to travel to more distant islands to find reef fish.

The formation of a coral atoll. During the 21st Conference on Climate Change happening now, new focus will be on rising seas flooding the Marshall Islands. It appears that the role of reefs in protecting islands and way islands sink during atoll formation is not well understood.

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“This animation from NOAA shows the dynamic process of how a coral atoll forms. Corals (represented in tan and purple) begin to settle and grow around an oceanic island forming a fringing reef… if conditions are favorable, the reef will continue to expand. As the reef expands, the interior island usually begins to subside and the fringing reef turns into a barrier reef. When the island completely subsides beneath the water leaving a ring of growing coral with an open lagoon in its center, it is called an atoll.” NOAA

Fringing reefs that surround an island are sometimes referred to as house reefs. These are the reefs that islanders depend on not only for food, but for protection. They protect coasts from strong currents and waves by slowing down the water before it gets to the shore. They are also called barrier reefs because they provide a barrier between the ocean and the shore. Fares are outlying low reefs that provide a second layer of protection for tropical islands.

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The Carteret Islands

First global warming refugees—or not? The Melanesian Carteret islanders have been touted as the first global warming refugees; they were forced to evacuate the entire island and most of them have been relocated to Papua New Guinea. But what is not reported is the back-story: (1) The Carteret islands consist of a base of coral that sits atop an extinct volcanic mount. In the usual geological course of events first proposed by Charles Darwin, such islands eventually subside due to weathering and erosion, as well as isostatic adjustments of the sea floor. An atoll will gradually sink; the sea doesn’t rise. And if the sea did rise due to global warming, it would have risen evenly throughout the entire Pacific Ocean. The entire Melanesian island chain would be seeing a rise of the same level—measured in millimeters or centimeters. (2) These islanders may not want to go back to Papua New Guinea, but that is where most of them came from. For they have already been refugees once. Political refugees, they escaped Bougainville to avoid the fighting there. (3) Along with their wives and children, the men loaded into their small boats packages of dynamite, to get an early start on their food reserves. As they dynamited their fringing reefs to kill the fish and provide quick meals, the underlying coral crumbled. A fissure was most likely formed in the reef, because eventually the one reef became two. The incoming tidal waves now breach the reefs, gradually eroding the shoreline, swamping the islander’s beloved banana and vegetable gardens. A man-made problem? You bet. But this is one problem not caused by global warming. It sad that islanders who are confronted by a very serious problem appear to have been exploited by the “cause” of global warming.

No easy solutions. I have talked with simple islanders as well as government officials, and I find that no solutions are easy. In the name of environmentalism, it does no good to simply gloss over the day-to-day problems most locals face—just to survive. By all means, help them out. Now. The good news is that concerned people around the world are finding—and acting upon—creative ways of protecting and saving our wonderful world for future generations.

For further information, refer to my series of essays called The Enlightened Enviromentalist at my sailing website.