Archive for the ‘weather’ Tag

Big Bad   4 comments

Despite the recent snow in the Rocky Mountains, it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Do your stories and worlds reference seasons and do they play into the plots of your books?


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Seasons hold incredible symbolism that sinks deep roots into literature. In our day of central heat and air-conditioning, it’s hard to remember that seasons mattered in ancient times. Agrarian societies depended on the seasons to plow, grow and harvest food. Agriculture united peoples, tribes, and groups. It was a means of achieving wealth. Food is life! So, naturally, people imbued seasons with all kinds of symbolic meanings.

Image result for image of winter
Feel the Cold

Maybe it’s because of the oft-cited stereotype of starting a book with “It was a dark and stormy night.” Or maybe it’s because we’re surrounded by supermarkets that fly in food from around the world. Maybe we’re just not as connected with nature today as our ancestors were. Maybe I’m a bit more connected with the season because we have extreme seasons here. In January-February we can have -40’F and last Friday (June 28) we had 85’F. That’s a 125′ difference. It’s hard not to notice that. Whatever the reason for the modern disconnect from the seasons, I’m amazed at how many writers overlook the weather as a useful tool in both setting and telling their story.

Idioms referencing the season or specific weather litter the English language. They don’t need explaining; we all understand exactly what people mean when they use one.

Weather conveys different moods

Spring = hope, new birth
Summer = adulthood, happiness
Autumn = preparing for old age
Winter = death
Sunshine = happiness, goodness
Storm = trouble, a change
Calm before the storm = trouble or a change ahead
Rainbow = hope, forgiveness, a link between two extremes (sun and rain)
Cloudy = confused, muddled, unclear
Clouds on horizon = trouble ahead
No wind = no change
Windy = changes or life
Rough weather = problems
Fog = confusion, unaware
Rain = depressed, badness
Snow = coldness, cleansing

I often use weather and the seasons as a setting tool to convey what’s going on in the story or in a character’s head without using a sledgehammer to convey the message.

In Daermad Cycle (The Willow Branch, Mirklin Wood and the upcoming Fount of Wraiths), my characters live in a medieval setting so they depend on the seasons to live. They use the seasons as their calendar. The magic system in that world can affect weather. For example, in The Willow Branch, the black mages cast a massive bit of sorcery to try and find and kill the One’s True King. This manifested in the physical world as storms – pounding rain and twisters. In the aftermath, the skies weep for days and reflect the depression one of the characters goes through upon realizing what his power has been used for.

In Transformation Project (an apocalyptic series four books and counting), mankind has wrought a few disasters on itself, but the ultimate “Big Bad” for my town is the changing seasons. They have to harvest the corn before the season passes and then it will be winter … on the Kansas prairie … without diesel fuel or natural gas.

Don’t worry. I spend plenty of time writing about other seasons, but I’m just going to focus on winter here. I suppose I’m more connected to winter than any other season because we have nearly six months of it here.

Winter brings long nights, when the earth sleeps and the imagination ripens visions both terrifying and sublime. It has served as literary inspiration ever since the early days of written storytelling – in the medieval saga Beowulf, the monster Grendel lays siege to the Danes for “twelve winters, seasons of woe” –  right up to present-day page-turners. It is a time of contrasts: winter’s snow conceals while its cold exposes. Perhaps it is a favorite season of writers because winter forces us indoors, carving out time for us to interact with our loved ones and become more reflective.

Certain images recur again and again throughout wintry literature. The transformation of a river in winter from a fluid pathway to a solid one can be magical or devastating, a glassy arena for figure skating or an icy grave. This shift can convey a powerful mood.

In Orlando, Virginia Woolf immortalized the Great Frost of 1608, when the Thames froze to a depth of 20 feet and birds “froze in mid-air and fell like stones to the ground.” She uses winter to examine the political dimensions of society, emphasizing the difference between the fantasy world of the royal court and the desperate circumstances of ordinary folk. Woolf creates a virtual snow globe of the Frost Fair, King James’ “carnival of the utmost brilliancy” on the river.

Winter settings add elements of claustrophobia and danger to a story. The snowbound landscape of an off-season resort hotel in the Rocky Mountains creates a terrifying backdrop for Stephen King’s masterpiece of horror, The Shining. King has said his inspiration was a late autumn visit to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, in the Colorado Rockies, in 1974. In the novel, Jack Torrance is a writer hired to be the hotel’s winter caretaker. He settles in with his wife Wendy and their five-year-old son Danny. The child has “the shine”, the ability “to understand things, to know things” that others cannot. Danny worries that his father is losing his marbles. King uses the isolation that begins with the first snowfall to emphasize the precarious mental states of the family and how little help is available.

“Flakes of snow swirled and danced across the porch. The Overlook faced it as it had for nearly three-quarters of a century, its darkened windows now bearded with snow, indifferent to the fact it was now cut off from the world… Inside its shell the three of them went about their early evening routine, like microbes trapped in the intestine of a monster.”

As the novel progresses, King brilliantly uses winter weather to ratchet up the tension: “It snowed every day now, sometimes only brief flurries that powdered the glittering snow crust, sometimes for real, the low whistle of the wind cranking up to a womanish shriek that made the old hotel rock and groan alarmingly even in its deep cradle of snow.”

Beyond the season’s capacity to represent emotional and political turmoil and expose class differences, winter can simply be fatal. George RR Martin exploits winter’s symbolic power fully in A Game of Thrones, the first novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. The book opens with a warning: “A cold wind was blowing out of the north….”

“Everyone talks of snow forty feet deep, and how the ice wind comes howling out of the north,” Martin writes, “but the real enemy is the cold… It steals up on you and at first your teeth chatter and you stamp your feet and you dream of mulled wine and nice hot fires. It burns, it does. Nothing burns like the cold. But only for awhile. Then it gets inside you and starts to fill you up, and after awhile you don’t have the strength to fight it. It’s easier to just sit down or go to sleep. They say you don’t feel any pain toward the end… ”

Equally powerful is Jack London’s 1908 realistic classic “To Build a Fire”. The story is set in the Yukon territory, a place of extremes. London’s dramatic pivot is simple: he pits man against nature when London’s protagonist breaks through a crust of ice:

“At the instant he broke through he felt the cold water strike his feet and ankles, and with half a dozen lunges he made the bank. He was quite cool and collected. The thing to do, and the only thing to do, was to build a fire. For another precept of the north runs: travel with wet socks down to twenty below zero; after that build a fire. And it was three times twenty below and colder, and he knew it.”

Survival in winter is a matter of skill and instinct. London’s hapless Tom Vincent is lacking in both. And the frozen land itself is indifferent to his struggles. If only we could be as indifferent to winter as it is to us.

When I write winter, the reader feels the cold because, as they say, write what you know and Alaskans know cold.

“Let” Us?   Leave a comment

Image result for image of fairbanks alaska snow wind stormBrad couldn’t sleep last night (worried about our dog who just had surgery, I think), so he got up really early and checked out some friends on Facebook. He graduated high school in Chappaqua, New York, but he lived all over New England as a kid and still has family there, as well as spending several years in Texas where he also has family.

So he was talking with someone (a friend) who lives back east and telling him how two weeks ago, the temperatures here were 30 below zero, but it’s 30 above now and we got over a half-foot of snow last night. He’d decided I was driving his Jeep to work this morning.

The conversation went from there.

Brad – My wife is driving the Jeep to work this morning so I can fix what caused her car not to work last week during the 30 below.

Of course, Facebook is a “public” forum, so a friend of his friend responded.

Friend Once Removed – I’m surprised they let you drive in that.

  • Friend – Drive in what? Which?

  • Friend Once Removed – Either. It’s dangerous. They should close the roads.

  • Friend – He lives in Alaska. If they did that, they’d spend all winter trapped at home. And they’re used to it.

Brad (responding to “surprised they let you drive in that”) – Let us? There’s no “let” involved. We drive if we darned well want to and accept the risk.

  • Friend Once Removed – The police should arrest anyone who doesn’t obey the law. You don’t have a right to endanger yourselves.

  • Brad – Fella, we live in Alaska, where freedom is a higher priority than being protected by the government.

  • Friend Once Removed – You people are what’s wrong with this country. You endanger all of us with your callous disregard for safety.

At this point, I asked Brad what he was muttering swear words about and he showed me the exchange.

Me – Yeah, I have conversations like that all the time under my Lela account.

Brad – What do you do about it?

Me – Sometimes I embrace the debate in hopes that someone will learn something from it and sometimes I refuse to pick up the rope. Surprisingly, others have started doing that and it feels good to know that people are thinking about liberty issues.

Brad – What should I do about this?

Me – Can I pretend to be you?

Lela Pretending to be Brad – I’m not sure how my driving a 4×4 Jeep through 6 inches of snow in Alaska endangers you when you live in New Jersey. Can’t we both live our lives without trying to control the other?

Friend Once Removed – No, because your “freedom” gives people ideas and those ideas put them in danger.

Me to Brad in the Real World – Leave the rope right there and stop this conversation right now. You can’t win this argument and if you continue he’ll be calling his Congressman insisting that Alaskans be stopped from driving in “dangerous conditions.” Now I’m going to go put on my winter gear over my office clothes and drive that 25-year-old Jeep through the “dangerous conditions” so I can field phone calls from the public who want to know when the roads will be plowed. Fun times!

Which, actually, it was. I LOVE driving that Jeep through snow and the wind just added another flavor – a wild primordial feel that a day of ordinary weather just doesn’t give you.

Posted February 23, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska, Uncategorized

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The Winter Without … Winter   Leave a comment

Alaska is known for its cold weather, except for this year. Fairbanks has had only three weeks of minus 20 and below. For those folks in the warmer states, that may not really register, but we typically average three MONTHS of minus 20 or below. So, take a look at the forecast to this week.

The snow is falling off the trees, there is water dripping off my eaves and the young male ravens are attempting to court my black Lab-husky mix (I know, but they’re young and horny). It’s only February. Normally the marmot (Alaska’s version of a ground hog) is napping for Groundhog’s Day and we pay almost no attention to the Pennsylvania celebration because, quite frankly, we still have two months of winter no matter what the groundhog experiences.

But not this year. Check it out!


Posted February 16, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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You’re Kidding, Right?   3 comments


They shut down New York City for five inches of snow. They threatened people with arrest if they left their homes. Not only did they ban driving altogether, but they also banned walking.

For the record, it is -35* here in Fairbanks, Alaska . Yes, that is 35 degrees below zero, which is 67 degrees below freezing. It’s the coldest it’s been all winter (this being one of the mildest winters on record). Some of us were late getting to work because our cars don’t enjoy these temperatures, but everyone is here. Our kids went to school. Businesses are open. A lot of people will order-in for lunch today, which means the takeout guys will be working. I let the Labrador stay inside today because she’s not an Arctic breed, but the husky was curled up on her old armchair in the woodshed, happy as a husky in cold weather.

Fairbanks, unlike (say) Valdez, does not get huge amounts of snow most years, but occasionally we get two feet in a 24-hour period (Valdez has gotten two feet in a hour). When it snows here, traffic moves slower, but it moves. I work for Department of Transportation and all hands have to be on deck because we’re the ones who make the roads passable. Same when it decides to rain after winter has started. We have to get to work and we do.

DOT here in Alaska never tells people that they cannot drive. We occasionally close specific roads for specific reasons — avalanche danger, for example. We issue travel advisories suggesting extreme caution in certain conditions. State Troopers occasionally ask us to tell people not to drive. We decline and they wimp out on doing it themselves and people drive anyway. Then for a while, the Troopers will suggest that people “stay home if able”, until they get a new watch commander from the Lower 48 who has to learn the Alaskan way. He’ll request/demand, we’ll decline, his Public Information Officer will explain the nightmare of government ordering Alaskans to do (or not do) anything, and he’ll learn to suggest rather than order.

And absolutely no government agency here would ever think they had the authority to tell people they could not walk in the snow. Is there an occasional death of someone who drove their car off the road or fell in the snow and couldn’t get up? Yes … and that is the acceptable cost of freedom.

The shutting down of New York City for five inches of snow is a clear example of out-of-control government and people who do not push back when they should. It’s one thing for government to suggest you stay off the roads and even to warn that they won’t rescue you if you get yourself into trouble. That’s fair. But to order you to do it on pain of arrest … ???

You’re kidding, right?

A Glimpse of My World   Leave a comment

Two weeks ago, it was snowing while we were picking out maple trees to plant. Two days later, we broke 40 degrees for the first time in 2013. Last Saturday we turned the garden and discovered frozen ground just 18 inches deep. The next day it was 102 degrees on our front deck where the 80 degree sun bounces off the light-colored paint. This week it was 80 degrees or more every day. Today, it was nearly 100 on the deck before I got too busy to pay attention.

Last Saturday, our trees were still in ice nap — just starting to set buds. Today, the trees are in full leaf.

This was an unusual spring in Alaska. It was about three weeks late; it lasted two days and then it was summer. Alaskans are used to weird weather. That’s what comes of living in an extreme climate. Last year spring came three weeks early. Next year … who knows?

The reason I share this with you is that there are so many in the world who want us to believe that the sky is falling. Unless you live in Oklahoma or Kansas this summer, it probably isn’t. Weather happens. Relax. Adapt. Build a storm shelter if you live in tornado alley. Buy a wood stove and stock up on birch if you live in Alaska. The world has been turning on its axis for a very long, long time and our ancestors were no more in control of the weather than we are. Accept that and get on with your life.

I’m taking a nice glass of lemonade out to the deck where it will still be 75 and sunny at 10 pm. Midnight sun, don’t you know? In fact, the photo of the park above was taken about 8 pm on a June evening. The sun was in the west, right about where the sun would set if we were in Seattle. Instead, the sun was two hand-breadths above the horizon. At about 11:30 pm, on the summer solstice (June 20-22), the sun dips below the northern horizon for 2 1/2 hours a night. It doesn’t get dark. You can still play softball or hike at midnight. About about 2 am, the sun come back up. I call it “sun dip”. The Alaska Goldpanners play a double-header entirely without artificial light on solstice eve. I saw the great Bob Boone (back when he was an unknown) hit a grand slam once right at the stroke of midnight. Just look at that sky at midnight!

Why I Doubt Global Warming   Leave a comment

Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner’s Office Extends Studded Tire Deadline

I’ve lived in Alaska for a half-century. The winters used to be much colder. Temperatures would drop to negative-50 degrees and stay for weeks. For much of the 80s and 90s, -50 was rare and it rarely sustained for more than a few days. The outlier on that was January and February of 1989 when the temperature dropped to negative-60 and stayed for three weeks. In the “aughts” the winters were often so mild it rained occasionally, which would have been unheard of when I was growing up.

But, in 1922, it rained in November and never got below -30 all winter and there are the Vikings farming in Greenland a thousand years ago that always made me wonder.

Summers were warm when I was a kid. June and July were hot. Sunburns and tans were not uncommon. The fall rains would usually start the last week of August, just before school started. Throughout most of the 1990s, summers in the Interior Alaska were cooler and wetter and the fall rains would descend in early-August. In keeping with the “the sky is falling because of global warming” a reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner did an article in 2002 stating that all the tamarack trees were dying because it was too hot and dry for them. The problem with this was that in the same newspaper edition, the UAF forestry department noted that tamarack trees were an invasive species, brought across the Alaska Range by migrating Athabaskan Indians about 200 years ago and foresters weren’t at all surprised that they were dying of a blight. And, now, 11 years later, the tamarack are back, especially in areas where the black spruce forests burned in 2004-2006.

So, it’s April 30 and it’s still snowing. Normally, by this time, we’d have all brown lawns and maybe pockets of snow on the north side of buildings. The snow bank formed by my neighbor clearing his driveway all winter is 5 feet high STILL. I have NEVER seen winter hang on this long.

Why do I doubt global warming? Because I’m standing in the middle of winter when it ought to be spring. Last April, after a cold winter, I got a tan from sitting on my deck in my shirt shelves. This year, I’ve been shoveling that same deck every three days. It warms up to near normal temperatures and then it drops to sub-freezing and snows. I would note that this same pattern emerged in the 1930s. After several years of mild winters with little snow, there was a cold winter with a late spring and then a few years later, it got really really cold for several winters in a row.

Is this April snow storm freak weather or just a normal climate cycle that we so-intelligent humans don’t have enough historical perspective to evaluate? I vote with … we really aren’t as smart as we think we are.

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