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June 24, 2008

Unprecedented wildfires in California
Posted by Teresa at 11:55 AM * 172 comments

Estimates are that 842 separate wildfires are burning in California—and for once, they aren’t in Southern California. The southernmost fire is near Monterey, and they range northward all the way to Siskiyou county, just south of the California-Oregon border. The LA Times has a good story about it, and an excellent map. News 10 has a more recently updated version, plus a slideshow.

They’re saying it was caused by three highly unusual circumstances: a record shortage of rain that’s left the entire region tinder-dry, a huge batch of lightning storms that rolled in off the Pacific, and uncharacteristically high winds.

Comments on Unprecedented wildfires in California:
#1 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:26 PM:

Flying back from Seattle on Sunday I could see fifteen or twenty of the fires from 38,000 feet up. They look harmless from that height--and then you realize how large they are, to be visible from such a distance.

#2 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:29 PM:

The air quality in the SF Bay Area, at least in the East Bay where I am, is terrible. My eyes are stinging, I have a headache, and my chest is tight even indoors. No exercise this morning for me, and no long walk with the dog. (Which means I'll be grumpy all day.) How are other folks doing?

#3 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:52 PM:

And of course global warming has nothing to do with this. [/sarcasm]

The Soldier fire is a few miles east of the cabin my parents had. It's an area that generally doesn't allow fires in the summer, because it's hot and dry and way too much vegetation is way too flammable (full of resins and other volatile compounds; even the native ground covers are resinous).

#4 ::: Megan ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:00 PM:

My poor state. It is only June.

#5 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:12 PM:

Lizzy L @ 2:

Yeah, the air in Berkeley looks like it's rusted. Blech.

#6 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:18 PM:

Everyone affected is in my thoughts.

Lizzy L, I sympathize. There's a still-smoldering (controlled, but still smoldering) fire Down East here in NC, and we've been told that absent a hurricane or tropical storm, it will just keep smoldering and we'll keep getting Code Red or Code Purple air-quality days whenever the wind blows from the east. It is not a good situation and I'm so sorry you're having to deal with it. Stay safe and healthy.

We have got to get global warming under control. This can't go on.

#7 ::: Tom S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:25 PM:

PJ Evans @ 3:

Of course not. Clearly, it's divine retribution for California allowing gay marriage.

(Seriously, I've seen this argument already.)

#8 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:30 PM:

Air in Davis is mighty thick, although I'm not smelling smoke as such, to the degree I was on Sunday night.

I understand most if not all of the evacuation orders in Solano County (southwest of here) have been called off.

Just for the record, there were some pretty bad fires in the area last year, too--though admittedly nothing on this scale.

#9 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:40 PM:

May I recommend this article by Daniel James Brown (author of Under a Flaming Sky) on "Smarter ways to handle fire"?

#10 ::: Liz Ditz ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:42 PM:

If you would like to keep track of California wildfires, I recommend, from the state department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and Cal Fire News, which appears to be an amateur effort, but with good access.

Although small (630 acres) the Trabing fire (Watsonville) was really nasty and fast-spreading because of the dense stands of eucalyptus, which is notorious for sending burning brands for miles.

The original reports suggested a motorcyclist had been setting fires by the roadside, but more recent reports say "under investigation".

Yes, there was a thunderstorm (with lightening strikes) on Saturday over the Santa Cruz mountains, which appears to have started the Hummingbird fire.

The Indians fire (near Big Sur) has been burning since June 8..

Wildfires Today has national coverage.

BTW, many of the sites are very slow-loading, so be patient

#11 ::: Max Kaehn ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:44 PM:

And sunlight here in Sunnyvale has a distinctly orange cast to it.

#12 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:44 PM:

I was going to bring a load of fireworks with me on my trip to the Bay Area next week.

I still might, but we won't be lighting any off!

#13 ::: Joelfinkle ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:08 PM:

It's just a plot to glom our abundant great lakes water.

#14 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:08 PM:

Max 11: Well, that's the outgassing from the Hellmouth, surely?

Oh wait, you said Sunnyvale.

Seriously, bright blessings to all who will take them, best wishes for the rest, and I'm keeping a good thought for the affected areas.

#15 ::: Max Kaehn ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:27 PM:

Sunnydale is close to Santa Barbara; we don’t have a Hellmouth here, just Superfund sites from old microchip factories. :-)

#16 ::: Brenda ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:45 PM:

Well, all around the world Mediterranean climates are becoming desert. The devastation is much worse elsewhere. It's not surprising and it's happening much faster than the worst fears of the IPCC. In our lifetime we will be unable to grow wheat in the continental US. But don't worry, Al Gore is fat so everything is a lie.

#17 ::: embee ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:47 PM:

Reporting from one of those Superfund sites here in Palo Alto...peachy fuzzy light here as well, and a few people gone home to their HEPA filters. My cats have been a bit freaked out, sticking close to home.

I'd love the look of this light, actually, if it weren't for its genesis.

#18 ::: Brenda ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:52 PM:

Oh, in anticipation of [citation needed]:

America’s Breadbasket Moves to Canada?

#19 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:55 PM:

Darned good thing there's no such thing as global warming and there's nothing we can do about it anyway and besides American Jobs are at stake!

#20 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 03:02 PM:

Caroline @ 6: For a few days we were smelling the faintly smoky air from the NC fire(s). It was very odd: each time I stepped outside, I would smell the air, wonder if there was an incinerator nearby, and then remind myself there was a fire Down South.

To everyone in CA (Northern or Southern, I don't discriminate): I sincerely hope it ends well. I would send face masks, only the last time I tried to do that it never got anywhere (unless someone else scooped the package in transit for their own air protection).

#21 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 03:15 PM:

On eucalyptus: Sometime in the last2nd-to-last century, some bright boy thought to start a pulp-paper industry by importing one species of eucalyptus from Australia. Our climate works for them, but they don't work well with our fires.

But because the oldest have gotten mighty tall and big, some folks don't see that it's just another invasive species.

Stephan Jones @12,

The Bay Area isn't completely devoid of fireworks--Pacifica still allows them. This leads to one of the local beaches being filled on the evening of July 4, as everyone who still wants to use them legally shows up.

(Sadly, people will still use up their budget for mixed cheap fireworks: with so many people, if everyone spent their budget on one big kaboom there'd still be entertainment for all.)

I would note that Pacifica is on the coast with an average temperature in July of 55-60*: it is cold and damp. Other than those swearwordable eucalyptus, it isn't a bad place for fireworks.

* I've heard, sans proof, that it has the coldest average [temperature/ summer temperature/ something] of cities in the lower 48. Certainly the biggest "differential temperature over 30 miles"--easy to see 100+ degrees inland, 50 there at the coast, because high temperatures draw in air from over the ocean, causing fog.

#22 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 03:20 PM:

Liz @10 - thanks for the links.

This does not bode well for SoCal. This is my first year as a CERT volunteer, and every time the humidity drops and the wind comes from the north, I get twitchy.

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 03:26 PM:

Liz @10:
Although small (630 acres) the Trabing fire (Watsonville) was really nasty and fast-spreading because of the dense stands of eucalyptus, which is notorious for sending burning brands for miles.

Ah, yes, euks. I remember how their burning bark jumped the fire lines over and over again in the 1991 Berkeley Hills fire. We were not far from one section of it, and the bark floating on the wind toward us was still smouldering.

Looking at the map, I see that one fire is near my parents' cabin; can't tell how near from what I can find And so many other places I've loved are marked. Shelter cove, where I did my first solo trip. Napa. Whiskeytown. The forests near Monterey. Willows and Red Bluff and Redding.

But my grief for the places feels a little wrong here. Fire is a natural part of the lifecycle of the forest. It always has been, and global warming isn't going to make it better. If the redwoods and the Doug firs don't burn, they bay laurel doesn't have a chance to grow in the gaps in the canopy.

Wish we could find a way to make the people safer from it. Take care, all affected.

#24 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 03:32 PM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale @21:
Sometime in the last2nd-to-last century, some bright boy thought to start a pulp-paper industry by importing one species of eucalyptus from Australia. Our climate works for them, but they don't work well with our fires.

Many bright boys, one of them being Jack London. Reminds me of Mark Twain and the Paige Compositor, or Conan Doyle and the spiritualists.

#25 ::: Janice Williams ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 03:47 PM:

t mst b mr thn cncdnc tht Clfrn hs vr 840 wld frs csd by lghtenng th sm wk tht gy mrrgs r llwd. Myb Gd s tryng t tll s smthng!!!

#26 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 03:55 PM:

Hi, Janice. You'll see that your comment was anticipated in post #7 above.

Coincidence works fine for me.

(Actually, God is trying to tell us something: "Get serious about this global warming stuff, you dimbulbs!")

#27 ::: Brenda ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 03:59 PM:

Hansen on Warming: We have ONE year

Hansen's testimony before congress;

I argue that a path yielding energy independence and a healthier environment is, barely, still possible. It requires a transformative change of direction in Washington in the next year...

Climate is nearing dangerous tipping points. Elements of a "perfect storm", a global cataclysm, are assembled... ominous tipping points loom. I argue that a path yielding energy independence and a healthier environment is, barely, still possible. It requires a transformative change of direction in Washington in the next year...

Climate is nearing dangerous tipping points. Elements of a "perfect storm", a global cataclysm, are assembled... ominous tipping points loom.

#28 ::: Brenda ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 04:01 PM:

I don't know how that happened. It wasn't like that in preview.

The transcript of Hansen's testimony can be found here (pdf).

#29 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 04:01 PM:

I heard somewhere that they thought at some early time that eucs could be used for railroad ties. That didn't work out either. (But driving through a forest of them is an aromatic experience!)

#30 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 04:03 PM:

On air pollution and health:

I've worked a bit in subjects related to air pollution*.

It's been known(2) for decades that air pollution is associated with increased ill-health, hospitalizations, and mortality. Last year an important study came out that tracked one biochemical pathway as to how it does this. Particulates--> lungs release interleukin-6 --> excess blood clotting (sticky blood).

The lead author (3) says one response is for high-risk individuals to take aspirin.

This leads me to have a theory, which because it is mine is for entertainment purposes only, about what most other people might do in response to air pollution. My theory. Here it is.

If you're dealing with pollution, take fish oil or another source of omega-3-fatty acids(4). O3FA has been found to reduce levels of IL-6 and reduce overall inflammatory markers.

(I believe that O3FA's are generally important to take (4), because their benefits are well corroborated.)

That is the theory that I have.

* as we-in-the-lab talked about then, if you work in a restaurant and find out what's in the food, you can choose not to eat there. What happens when you find out what's in the air?

(2) studies where pollution vs all hospitalizations are tracked--good solid data.

(3) in the Science Daily link via the LJ.
(4) if your doctor says it's ok to take it.

#31 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 04:06 PM:

Just over a week ago we here in Raleigh had our own experience with the smoke from a wildfire. A huge (over 30,000 acres) wildfire east of us near the coast has been burning for weeks, and since the ground is made of peat nothing but a tropical storm is going to totally put it out. The wind shifted for a few days, and suddenly we were in Code Red air conditions even though we were 200 miles away from the fire.

The air smelled of scorched dirt and burnt wood, and taking a deep breath hurt. Visibility was down to half a mile in areas, and the sky had a milky look everywhere. My wife has asthma and elected to stay inside and at home for a day rather than drive to work. Fortunately the winds changed direction and the air cleared, but it was nasty while it blew our way.

#32 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 04:07 PM:

I started smelling the smoke on Sunday and finally checked out the wildfire reports last night. Ah, Sonoma, that might be where our smoke is coming from... no, Amador County, that must be the one...

Then I get down to "6,400 acres at highway 16 and Bruceville." Oh. About ten miles yonder. That's the one. (That's pretty much grass and scrub oak, not particularly high danger and already contained.)

I've got a sort of weird attitude about wildfire, because this happens every few years. Most Californians have some sort of amnesia about it but I swear, the state burns down every few years. I was living in Denver when the Hayman fire was turning the skies brown and realized just how weird my attitude was when my major thought, when everyone was freaking out around me, was, "Oh, the state's just burning down again."

Incidentally, I'd rather we have fires like this now than later. Every fire now becomes a fire break later in the season, as we're certainly not going to get much in the way of fresh growth before winter. And this sort of thing inspires caution and awareness. I'm all for personal fireworks, particularly in-city where asphalt makes for safe platforms, but some idiots need to be reminded that vegetation burns and I'm glad they're getting that reminder now.

One last comment. Every single year seems to be high fire danger. This year it's because of a dry winter. A few years back, it was an unusually wet winter. (The plants grew tall and then dried out.) Why don't they just admit that this whole state is a tinderbox and get over it?

#33 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 04:15 PM:

Re the breadbasket in Canada thing; urm, no.

That 'viable for wheat in 2050' area is rock and muskeg swamp; it's either not flat at all with the billion year old roots of granite mountains or it's dead flat because it's wet and rotted. There's nothing you could actually call dirt; there isn't that much mud. Some sand, lots of spruce trees, various kinds of low ground cover, but trying to plow it would be eleven separate and distinct sorts of hell. Starting a viable soil chemistry for crops would be more than somewhat entertaining, too.

Also, farming when one year in three is a drought and one year in three is a deluge doesn't work so well no matter the temperature.

Less wheat, more vegetables from big -- skyscraper big -- vertical farms in cities, and, oh, yeah, time to do something about the emissions. (Also about the stuff that'll drown when Greenland goes.)

#34 ::: PJ ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 04:30 PM:

Lizzy L @ 2: The smell of burning is getting a little old at this point.

Normally when I look at my kitchen window, I can see hills (golden or green) not far away. Now I can't see them - there's just this grey wall out there. :-(

The fires closest to us are 60% contained at this point, so they're doing a pretty good job. I'm just hoping for sooner rather than later.

#35 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 04:38 PM:

The moon was orange when our plane landed at SFO last night, and even the landing lights on the planes at the back of the landing pattern were orange. I had bad dreams of smell of woodsmoke and little flecks of burnt pages drifting down from the sky, just large enough to have a few letters each on soft white ash, and so thick that I couldn't breathe without inhaling them.

#36 ::: Liz Ditz ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 04:42 PM:

On eucalyptus: Sometime in the last2nd-to-last century, some bright boy thought to start a pulp-paper industry by importing one species of eucalyptus from Australia. Our climate works for them, but they don't work well with our fires.

From an interview with my great-grandfather

A Tree Missionary
On arriving in Santa Maria valley I observed that the land showed great fertility, but that it was treeless and windswept. At the close of the dry year of 1877 I engaged in the sale of trees and seeds for a San Francisco house.

Unfortunately a shipment of treees arrived at Port Harford while the railroad was disabled from washouts and I lost the trees. I spent 1878 and a part of 1879 in paying up my losses.

Incidentally, I planted over forty thousand eucalyptus trees in 1879 and 1880, some of which still stand. The giants in front of Frank McCoy's Santa Maria Inn were planted the first of June, 1879.

#37 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 04:48 PM:

In 1988, the year half of Yellowstone went up in flames, I was living in Casper, Wyoming, about 250 miles downwind. The daytime sky was orange for weeks, and you could look directly at the sun at noon, there was so much smoke in the air.

#38 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 05:01 PM:

This whole thing makes me feel so helpless. As do many things, actually, but this one reminds me of one of those "stupid question" surveys, which was "if you were a god, what kind of god would you want to be?" I wanted to be a rain god.

If I were a rain god, cthonic to North America, California would be a much damper place, but I would save up in case of a really big fire, and then drench it.

Also it would HAIL in NYC every Saint Patrick's Day, but that's not directly relevant here.

Brenda 28: I thought at first that it was the beginning of a misformatted villanelle.

#39 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 05:09 PM:

When I was a youngster I used to spend time in the spring and summer with distant relatives in the Oakland/Berkeley area, and was always amazed at how green the hills were compared to my native San Diego. When I was up there in April, things were just as brown as they are down here, which is a sure precursor to wildfires.

I hope everyone up there is holding up all right.

#40 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 05:12 PM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale #21: Right now eucalypts are being planted in the northwest of Spain in order to develop a pulp-paper industry there. Since that's a region with the rainfall of Ireland, that makes even less sense than planting them in LoCal.

#41 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 05:23 PM:

"Also it would HAIL in NYC every Saint Patrick's Day, but that's not directly relevant here."

Heh. Evil Rob— of Viking ancestry— wants a shirt for St. Patrick's Day that reads: "My ancestors made your ancestors pay rent— for their own island."

#42 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 05:25 PM:

Janice 25: There is no 'e' in lightning. 'Lightening' means "getting lighter" or "causing to become lighter." 'Lighter' can be in either the sense of "less weight" or "brighter" (in either illumination or coloring).

Fires are never caused by lightening. Lightening is at most a correlary: vegetation does get lighter (in weight and in some cases color) as it dries out, but it's the lack of water, not the weight or color, that causes it to become flammable. Please try to keep these things separate in your mind. I know it's hard for you.

These fires were caused by lightning (please note, no 'e'—I know I said it before but I assume you've forgotten by now). Lightning is a kind of weather phenomenon associated with rainclouds. It takes place mostly in the summer.

Speaking of rain, did you hear about all the communities in the Midwest Godfearin' Red States that got pretty much washed away? What do you think God was trying to tell us about them? Did you hear about the four Boy Scouts who were killed in that tornado in Iowa? What was God trying to tell us about them? Do you think they might have been homosexuals?

Please remember the next time something bad happens to you that God is telling you something. If someone you love dies, God is telling you that they were a bad person, and that you were bad for loving them. If your house burns down, God is telling you that you deserve to be homeless. And if you fall and crack open your head, God MIGHT be sending a message, or might just be hoping that some wisdom will leak into it...since obviously the wisdom pressure from, say, a gradeschool playground would be positive versus the inside of your skull.

#43 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 05:41 PM:

Everyone: Yes, I know that "Janice" is probably a driveby who is spreading that coprocephalic message to every site s/he can find that's discussing the CA wildfires, in hopes that the evil seed will take root in some foolish people's minds.

Yes, I know that in the unlikely event that "Janice" comes back, it will just be to troll, and I just fed him or her.

Yes, I know that even in the unlikely-within-unlikely event that "Janice" is a real person named Janice who was really thinking that, being nasty at her won't help, and that genuinely stupid people usually don't even notice being called stupid.

I know all that. I just fucking HATE those people, and I felt that it needed to be said. They don't even read the Gospels, obviously, because if they did they'd find Jesus saying "Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?" (Luke 13:4)

I hope she acquires wisdom and lives in peace. Failing that, I hope she breaks her leg!

#44 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 05:45 PM:

B. 41: Tell Evil Rob that most Irish people today have some Viking ancestors. So it would be more accurate to say "Some of your ancestors made the others pay rent." Fullblooded Celts never have blond or red hair, did you know that? Did you know that Donnegal (where most of my Irish ancestors are probably from) comes from Dun na nGaill, meaning "Fortress of the Enemy"?

My gripe is with the Ancient Order of Hibernians *spits* not with Irish people generally.

#45 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 06:30 PM:

Any time you think you hear the voice of God and the voice is saying anything other than "Love Me and love each other," you can be pretty sure that it isn't the voice of God you're hearing.

#46 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 06:40 PM:

Best way to describe what it can be like in CA: looking at for my area, seeing the relative humidity is 18%, and thinking 'wow, that's high!'

#47 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 06:49 PM:

Xopher, so it'll hail every year until they stop keeping the GLBT groups out of the parade?

#48 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 07:03 PM:

I guess I'm too used to people being happy about marriage equality in California; I read "Janice" as tongue in cheek, and not at all serious.

[[sigh]] I hate that I cannot tell satire from reality anymore....

#49 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 07:08 PM:

I'm too disorganized today to respond to specifit posts, forgive me.

Eucalyptus wood is amazingly heavy and difficult to put fasteners into; we got a load of pallets made with eucalyptus wood from somewhere (my father was an infamous scrounger) and laughed to find they were assembled with screws; the resulting fenceposts are twenty years old, riddled with dry rot, and it still takes a stronger arm than mine to put a fence staple in. I can't imagine trying to drive railroad spikes into wood that hard!

It's amazing how far the smoke from a big fire can go; in 1995, the air in Olympia was stained with smoke from the Chelan fires- nearly 200 miles away, and on the other side of the Cascades.

(back to weedingand laundry)

#50 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 07:21 PM:

Nancy C. Mittens@48

One is reminded of the old saying about it being impossible to parody creationists.

(Because no matter how insane you make your parody, the real creationists have already topped it.)

#51 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 07:35 PM:

Saturday my wife and I were home, staying inside in hopes of avoiding the 108 (F) forecast high temperature. Around noon we both noticed that it was starting to look a bit overcast, which is rather unusual for a very hot San Joaquin Valley day. (It looked more like a hot day in Lousiana where I grew up.) By 3 that afternoon we had to start turning on lights in the house, and we started to get some light but rather cold rain. We could also hear a lot of thunder toward the Sierra, and wondered how bad the fire situation was going to be.

We already have the worst air pollution in the country. The air has been brown and visibility low for the past couple of days. There are two fires about an half hour or so up the hill from us, and we seem to be getting a bit of the smoke from the north as well.

So far there is only one fire in Big Sur, well north of some friends -- the King City fire is closer in air miles but less likely to be a problem. It will probably get worse for them before it gets better as the Santa Lucias tend to have a big hard burn about every decade, and they are due now.

#52 ::: Tim in Albion ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 07:47 PM:

While it is true as B. Durbin (#32) says, there's high fire danger in CA every year - the current mess arose from the confluence of two extreme events. One was the extraordinarily dry spring: in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties this was the driest April-May period on record (going back into the late 1800s). There's your first statistical outlier. The proximate cause was a series of "dry lightning" storms, with lots of ground strikes but almost no rain. These do occur somewhere in CA occasionally (and caused a bad set of fires about 20 years ago IIRC). But this time they marched right up the coastline, where such conditions are practically unheard-of. I'm one mile from the surf, and a dry day here is anything under 50% humidity, yet we got hammered as if this were the Sierra foothills. Of course the normally damp climate here fosters vigorous brushy understory growth...

Two of the larger Mendocino County fires (Table Mountain and Flynn Creek) are 4 to 6 miles from me; luckily I am upwind. A lightning strike due west (upwind) did cause a fire Friday night, but it was quickly extinguished. Our VFD is performing heroically, which is pretty much normal behavior for them.

CalFire counts 131 separate fires, of which about half are "unmanned" at present. Wind is picking up. The situation is going to be very bad for some time.

#53 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 07:56 PM:

Claude @51,

A saying at an air quality lab I know was that a particular particulate filter "would take 2 months to clog at Mt. Rainier, 2 days to clog in the Central Valley, and 2 hours to clog in LA."

But since then many more people have moved to the CV, and LA's pollution keeps moving there too.

Another scientist I know once calculated that if it weren't for the delta (and it's evening breeze), the Central Valley would be 130+ most of the summer: things build up (heat, pollution), and don't have many places to go.

#54 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:01 PM:

Sympathies to all in the fire areas! (Here it's only hazy, but some years ago we had a big fire pretty close by so I know how bad it can get. And the house I lived in as a teen in Oakland burned down in the Hill Fire.)

On a somewhat lighter note, Graydon (#33): Does this mean our ancestors will need to terraform Canada?

#55 ::: yeff ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:19 PM:

At home in Sacramento and at work in Roseville, it's a yellow, thick, gritty sky in the daytime and a dull red sun at morning and night.

I think I've been transported to another planet. Not sure which one, though...

- yeff

#56 ::: kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:19 PM:

I'll second Tim in Albion about the lightning storms being an outlier.

If you haven't lived in Mediterranean / 'out of sight of the Sierras' California, you might not know how rare thunderstorms are here.

You may notice, for instance, that Californians can be amazed and impressed by single lightning flashes*.

In the South Bay (Silicon Valley), we average 2 thunderstorms a year, I read. I'm surprised the number is that high.

* I still am, even after visits to the East Coast let me experience the phenomenon of "sheet lightning." More than one flash at a time? Unbelievable. 4 seconds of that storm beat my entire experience of lightning here in CA, including times in the Sierras.

#57 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:25 PM:

Mountain View has a gray haze near the horizon, but at least the sky is still blue.

Air quality still not great but getting better over the past few days.

Reasonably strong winds, which can't be good for the fires but has been keeping the air clearer, I think.

#58 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:34 PM:

Here's a picture from the Aqua satellite as of yesterday: Fires in California. The smoke from the fires in Big Sur is blowing all the way down past the Channel Islands. It's worth expanding to the 250m/pixel view to see the details.

#59 ::: Tim in Albion ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:42 PM:

As Kathryn from Sunnyvale says, T-storms are unusual here along the coast. We do get one almost every other year, though, typically in March or April, invariably accompanied by (in fact, caused by) torrential downpours. That part was missing this time - the air under the clouds was dry, so the rain evaporated before it hit the ground. I've experienced that many times before - it's pretty common in the Great Basin and the Southwestern desert - but never along this coast.

Watching those big black clouds come up from the south, and those huge forked bolts of lightning hitting the ground, just at sunset... that was a terrible beauty.

#60 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:44 PM:

You can also see there's hardly any snow left in the Sierras. Just a few patches on the highest peaks. All the passes look open. By comparison, after a heavy winter, I've seen 6 foot thick snowbanks down to 9000', in August.

#61 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:46 PM:

Out of curiosity, sometime last week I played with one of the slidable sea level displays to see what the SF Bay Area would look like with another 30 feet of water like Cedar Rapids (and yes, I know it would take a *lot* more water to do that to the bay, but still)-- the east side of the Peninsula would be submerged up to El Camino Real.

Air quality isn't too bad near the gap from the coast along 92, but when I had to drive down near Stanford earlier this afternoon, visibility was getting to be impaired within a few hundred feet.

#62 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:51 PM:

Okay, time to start really nagging my partner to get the bumper sticker into print that says:

"That voice in your head? IT ISN'T ME. - God"

And who'd be interested in that on a T-shirt?

#63 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:54 PM:

Report from the East Bay (San Pablo, to be specific): the wind is blowing briskly, as it often does in the late afternoon/early evening, around 20 mph I would guess, and the air quality feels/looks/tastes/smells better than it did this morning. Thanks for all the good wishes.

#64 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 09:09 PM:

Lee @ 62: (raises hand) Me!

I also want that saying of ethan's, from a few days ago ("My goodness, my bingo card seems to have burst into flames").

#65 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 09:23 PM:

Lee @62

#66 ::: Tim in Albion ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 09:41 PM:

TomB @ #58 - Thanks for that link! The fires nearest me show up very clearly. Also note that only a fraction of the fires are spotted with red squares - there are 131 separate fires in Mendocino County alone.

#67 ::: Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 09:58 PM:

Kathryn @ 30: related to the air pollution and Omega-3 oils, another tidbit (though less rigorously documented.)

I'm asthmatic, and as well as talking to nice mainstream doctors about it, I see an herbalist (who focuses on the daily quality of life stuff).

My herbalist says that lung issues tend to deplete the fat soluble vitamins (A and E) because you burn through them far faster than normal. She has me start on A and E supplements at my normal flare times, and if I hit problems at other times.

Funny how when I do that, a significant set of fat-heavy dietary cravings go away. And I feel better - substantially so. We're not talking megadoses here but 'take one of these a day' sorts of thing, from well-reputed vitamin sources. That little bit helps a lot. I suspect my experience and your theory may be related (though it depends on the oil source: they have different amounts of A and E)

One other note for folks with lung issues:
Doctors and other research have told me that lungs take a long time to heal up (as much as they're going to).

If you've had a significant lung issue/flare in the last 12 months, expect subsequent ones to hit you harder and faster, and plan/medicate/make decisions accordingly. (Consulting with your doctor as needed, of course.)

#68 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 10:18 PM:


Sounds worth trying - my asthma is quite mild, but it's annoying. I never know when it's going to say 'Hi! remember me?'

#69 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 10:22 PM:

abi @ 23: "Fire is a natural part of the lifecycle of the forest. It always has been, and global warming isn't going to make it better. If the redwoods and the Doug firs don't burn, they bay laurel doesn't have a chance to grow in the gaps in the canopy."

IANAE, but my understanding of it is that the natural cycle has been thrown so far out of whack that now even the fires aren't helping us get back to equilibrium. They are burning too hot, and killing entire forests, instead of just clearing out undergrowth. Then, scrub grows back, but so light and crowded that it burns again entire, and still we don't get the well-spaced old-growth that can survive the periodic understory fire. I'm not sure how we can get back to a stable forest without some relatively intensive human intervention.

Like I said, IANAExpert, so if anyone knows more/better, please do tell!

#70 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 10:38 PM:

My first thought on hearing thunder in the Bay Area is that someone set us up the bomb. To be all internet traditional. Seriously, you never get the pealing claps, and one far-off boom, from some weather that's happened once in my vision in the 10 years I've been here... Seems less likely.

I really miss weather. Last Saturday it was so hot we actually had proper crispy white clouds up in the sky, not just hovering over the ridges.

Here in Oakland/Emeryville, the air is maybe slightly greyer/more diffractive than normal, but there's no smell. We're right across from the Golden Gate, though, so the air is generally straight off the Pacific.

#71 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 10:48 PM:

My understanding is the fires have to have a certain amount of time between them for the various plant communities to survive. Chaparral likes the fires to be 75 to 100 years apart; some of the plants produce more seeds when they're older, and they need that much time between fires. (A lot of the plants come up from the roots after fires; others need fires for the seeds to germinate properly - it seems to be the smoke - or for the seeds to be scattered at all. Then there's the fire beetles, that mate and lay eggs on twigs that are still very warm.)

ISTR that they've also found that smaller, patchier fires are less harmful than the bigger ones, at least in part because the neighboring areas serve as sources for plants and animals, so they're seriously looking at more-and-smaller-but-less-frequent. Or they were, before George took over. (Smokey the Bear did a lot of damage to the west, trying to prevent forest fires.)

#72 ::: melissa ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 11:07 PM:

Kathryn @ 30 - I am not a air quality/health specailist, nor do I play one on TV, but I am a mom who lived with my (now 14 year old) daughter in Cupertino for 2 years.

She had a continual cold when we were there that only cleared up when we visited my parents in MN over Christmas. When we moved to Minnesota, she got better. I blame the air quality.

#73 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 11:29 PM:

Rikibeth 47: Yeah, and stop being dicks in other ways too, but mostly that one. And I'm talking the kind of stripping hail that will put holes in your umbrella and give you a nasty bruise.

Faren 54: Does this mean our ancestors will need to terraform Canada?

Absent time travel, there's not much we can do about that.

Lee 62: ME!

#74 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 11:43 PM:

Jennett @67,

You may be interested in a study that just came out yesterday:
Study further defines potential role of fish-based fatty acids in resolving, preventing asthma [mouse study]. "Resolvin E1 (RvE1) is a metabolic product of an omega-3 fatty acid [specifically EPA]...made by the body in response to the onset of inflammation. This study identified RvE1 as having a key role in both dampening the development of airway inflammation and promoting its resolution in mice, in part by dampening innate immune signals that trigger inflammation."

Since there are studies that suggest O3FA helps asthma in humans, and studies like this new one point to how it might work, the combination makes a strong case for O3FA.

#75 ::: Barbara N. Dowell ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 11:52 PM:

Before I went outside this morning, I thought we just had an overcast day; then I smelled it. On a fair weather day, we didn't see sunshine in the Central Valley until six or seven this evening. The sun had to sink far enough in the west to come in at a very acute angle. Since we are well within the "endangered" populace--age, you know-- we have changed the filter on the air conditioner and stayed inside. Cheers from the Smoke Bowl.

#76 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 12:46 AM:

Trying to figure out why we had such a spectacular, red sunset. Maybe there are a lot of pollutants in the air in general, but we've had such a regular rain schedule that it may not be local.

It was beautiful though. Wish I'd brought the camera.

#77 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 01:27 AM:

I leave for four days in Palo Alto tomorrow (I'll be available thus/fri, in the daytime), to visit Maia on her internship.

When the wind changed at Cp. Bob (SLO/Monterey Cty border) I could smell the smoke).

Interesting times.

#78 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 02:08 AM:

Terry @77,

Sunnyvale's not far from there--if you're having a ML meetup with other westbay/ peninsula denizens, let me know.

hmmmm. This thread'll be a good reference for the next SFBA Making Light Making Weight gathering.

#79 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 02:34 AM:

Barbara @ #75, You and Soap stay healthy, hear?

#80 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 05:09 AM:

Xopher, #43, besides, she can't really be a Christian, she communicates with Juno.

#81 ::: Mikael Vejdemo Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 06:24 AM:

Yet another sign that my life after my postdoc @ starts will be very, very different from the nice, cool, humid European life I've led so far.

It feels weird being able to relate the various places mentioned in here to each other and to my own future.

#82 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 07:48 AM:

Mrs. Dowell, I'm glad to hear you guys are staying inside. The last thing you want is to be wheezing and sniffling for weeks because you got a snootful of that stuff. If you run out of things to do, you can always make a teepee out of a broomstick and some sheets, and play Cowboys and Indians.

#83 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 08:15 AM:

Ok, so global warming won't free up humanly useful land in Canada (I already knew that and I think it was from a previous goround here), but what about Siberia?

#84 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 08:53 AM:

Oh gods. Which type of eucalypt are they, anyway?

Aussie input here: basic fire control with eucalypts - big firebreaks, and for crying out loud, cut the bastards down to about ground level as soon as the whole mess is over. Don't panic, they'll grow back - most gum trees coppice beautifully. Oh, and uproot all the seedlings you'll get afterward.

Australian ecosystems have a weird relationship with fire - a side effect of depleted soils, low vegetation levels, and a certain amount of slash-and-burn agriculture from the Indigenous peoples for a few millennia. Effectively, the end result is a lot of species need a quick, coolish fire to get growing (clears out the undergrowth, provides a bit of easy fertiliser), others need smoke exposure to germinate, and still others need for the seeds to be burned and carried underground by ants.

Australian people have learned the following tricks to cope with bushfire season:

* Backburning, or burning off - this is where the fireys will go through an area with a lot of undergrowth shortly after the end of the winter rains, and burn off all the tinder materials. Deprives any fires of fuel and cuts back their intensity.
* Firebreaks - these are usually at least 6' wide, and they'll tend to be cleared earth. You'll find them along the sides of railway lines, or anywhere else where corridors of open ground could become fire corridors.
* Cautious planting near houses. (As many people in Canberra could testify, pine plantations across the road from housing is something of a no-no).
* Clearing out tinder from gutters, verandahs etc come the beginning of summer.
* Keep the insurance up to date, and the valuables stored in the bank vault if you live in a fire-prone area. When the order comes to bug out, you get the hells *out*, or you burn. Bushfires move fast.

PS: Graydon @ 33: Also, farming when one year in three is a drought and one year in three is a deluge doesn't work so well no matter the temperature.

You don't say? *looks at the wheatbelt here, and the large chunks of drought-affected farmland over east*

We've been trying to make it work for about 150 years now. Takes time, takes persistence, takes a bloody large heap of money, and even then it doesn't work. I'd suggest looking into adapting what you can grow to the conditions you have to grow things in. It's much easier in the long run.

#85 ::: Mikael Vejdemo Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 10:11 AM:

Meg @ 84: Actually, the naturalized attitude towards Fire Sanity was one thing that surprised me (with my naïve Scandinavian background) both in the Bay area and in Sydney on my recent visits... How people'd talk, almost with a shrug, about how the recent weather was all but inviting bush- or wild-fires, and how they'd made sure to take care of this or that, and now were ready to take anything nature had to throw at them...

I understand how it occurs, I just wasn't prepared for it.

#86 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 10:40 AM:

Meg @ 84

Minus the eucalypts, that's pretty much what California apparently had before the Europeans showed up. The eucalypts fit right in with the local ecologies (and the hummingbirds took to those and to bottlebrush plants as if they were designed for each other).

(It's also kind of fun watching the old bark explode off the lemon-scented gums this time of year.)

#87 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 11:17 AM:

I thought I'd look for some more information about eucalyptus, such as the story about how it was grown for hardwood and railroad ties in California, but turned out to not be suitable. I was delighted to find all that and more in this scholarly volume:

The Eucalyptus of California, Seeds of Good or Seeds of Evil?
Robert L. Santos
California State University, Stanislaus

#88 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 11:27 AM:

Mikal, here's a couple of books to get you started:

Harold Gilliam
Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region
California Natural History Guides, 63
hardcover 978-0-520-22989-1
paperback 978-0-520-22990-7

Doris Sloan
Geology of the San Francisco Bay Region
Photography by John Karachewski
California Natural History Guides, 79
hardcover 978-0-520-23629-5
paperback 978-0-520-24126-8

#89 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 12:28 PM:

And may I say that I appreciate the thoughful nature of the disemvowelling of #25. Thank you.

#90 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 02:54 PM:

Just appeared in my inbox, a note from UC Press about a new book:

Introduction to Fire in California
David Carle
California Natural History Guides, 95
cloth 978-0-520-24873-1
paper 978-0-520-25577-7

#91 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 02:58 PM:

TomB @#58: Thanks. Now I can see that my old summer camp isn't threatened— that's good, evacuation would be hell.

And yes, I did have to help fight a wildfire there once. Bit of a nightmarish scenario, that— it was just down the hill from a stand of dead pines. If we hadn't contained it, the camp would be gone.

#92 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 03:01 PM:

Xopher #44- how are you defining "full blooded Celts"? Apart from the more modern recognition that much of the populace of the British isles in the "Celtic" period is descended from people from the neolothic and paleolithic period, there is also the DNA evidence of red hair appearing in the WEst of Scotland several thousand years ago, before the "Celtic" culture really appeared.

Or in other words, full blooded celts can have red hair. Blond is another matter I suppose.

#93 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 03:48 PM:

Xopher (#73): Must-have been brain-damaged when I typed "ancestors" in that terraform-Canada line. Heirs! Scions! Future generations! Or something like that. KSR could write a trilogy about a new ecological "frontier" a whole lot closer to home.

PS: Glad to hear (quite a ways upthread) that my old stomping grounds in Emeryville aren't too smoky. I suspect it's worse at Locus HQ up in the hills.

#94 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 03:57 PM:

"My ancestors made your ancestors pay rent— for their own island."

Got Danegeld?

From my limited family history, I think I’m descended from the people who got called on their extortion game and had to actually settle on the land they’d captured.

#95 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 03:58 PM:

guthrie, the Celts didn't come to Scotland until after they were in Ireland, and didn't come to Ireland until after they were in Spain. They started as the western arm of the Indo-European expansion, in what is now Hungary (where, oddly, a non-Indo-European language is spoken). Full-blooded Celts (of whom AFAIK there are none in the world) have light brown or dark brown hair. The blond is Norse, and I believe the red is too (though I don't know who the people you're talking about were). The raven hair is from the time in Spain.

Faren 93: Descendants, maybe?

#96 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 04:03 PM:

Faren Miller @ 93... my old stomping grounds in Emeryville

Don't you need boots to do that even at low tide? And don't you squelch more than you stomp?

#97 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 04:24 PM:

Meg @84: my reaction the first time I smelt eucalypt oil hanging in the air during my first summer living in the SF Bay area was what you'd expect from someone who has the phrase "total fire ban" embedded somewhere down at lizardbrain level. There were stands of the things in built-up areas near me, although fortunately not within several blocks.

#98 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 04:45 PM:

Excuse us while we take this thread off topic...
Xopher, I don't want to sound arrogant or suchlike, but where on earth are you getting your information from? I've forgotten the details, but to summarise:
There is little evidence for widespread "Celtic" migration into Britain during the 1000BC to 0BC, although a few tribes did make it into Kent etc, as recorded by the Romans. At the same time, it seems that a large proportion of the populace of WEstern Europe, i.e. UK, Ireland, and proabbly France, Germany, SWitzerland etc, had lived happily in these areas for thousands of years before the "Celtic" period.

When it comes to Britain and Ireland, the DNA and other evidence is unequivocal, that the people often thought of as "Celtic" have been there probably since the neolothic, and almost certainly since the bronze age began. I can't seem to track down the research about red hair and Celts, some reasonably respectable scientist did it a couple of years ago. Funnily enough the search is hampered by lots of websites claiming that Celts have fair skin and red hair. What do you prefer to call the people from the west of Scotland who have red hair?
Try this link for what looks like real information:

Suffice to say that until you tell me what time periods you are talking about, I can't have a better discussion.

I do however agree that there aren't going to be many or any full blooded "Celts" around.

It also seems clear that different populations have different mutations for red hair, see Jews for example, I heard their red hair mutation was different from the one in Scots.

#99 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 05:07 PM:

Faren Miller @54 and 93, a recent Tor e-book (Kage Baker, "In the Garden of Iden") appears to have exactly that kind of plot (just started it): arrange to have your ancestors terraform and generally rearrange the world for fun and profit.

With regard to crops and climate change, the effects and interactions are going to be complicated, to say the least. Reports I've read on European studies (Andreas Fangmeier seems to be one of the prominent researchers) indicate that elevated CO2 levels may have beneficial effects on some plants, harmful ones on others. The nutritional level of grains and potatoes may be significantly reduced. It's not going to be enough to shift the location of where crops are grown, even if geography allowed it; we're probably going to need new varieties as well.

#100 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 05:19 PM:

On CO2 fertilisation, as per Debbie in #99:

Basically every climate change denialist (as opposed to merely uninformed member of the public) ignores all evidence like that I have linked to above.

#101 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 06:22 PM:

guthrie, I'm getting mine from a class I took, but come to think of it that was a while ago and the evidence could have changed. It was before widespread DNA testing, for example.

However, the Indo-European expansion began in c. 4000 BCE, so that's well before the period of migrations you're talking about (talking about not happening, that is). I confess I'm a bit uncertain when the Iron Age took over from the Bronze Age, but there's plenty of archaological and linguistic evidence for a widespread Celtic presence in Spain and France from fairly early times. 'Gael(ic)', 'Gaul', 'Gallic', 'Galicia' all come from a common root, as do 'Iberia', 'Hibernia', 'Eire', 'Erin', and 'Ireland'.

I'm not asserting that the Celts were the first people to arrive in Ireland; still less in Scotland. Both scientific evidence and the traditions of the lands themselves refute such an assertion (and whoever built Stonhenge, it wasn't Celts; they divided the year by events in Earthbound nature (first frost, sheep lactation etc.) not by astronomy). I'm asserting that when they did arrive, none of them had blond or red hair.

Even there I could be wrong. If the gene that causes red hair in Scots is actually different from the one that causes it in Norwegians, I would have to rethink a bunch of things. If not, it strikes me as not implausible that the Norse were raiding and raping in Scotland before the Celts arrived.

Because those Norse did get around. They tended to conquer some country, then forget they were Norse in a couple of generations. The Normans thought they were French (and then they thought they were English!); the Rus thought they were Slavs.

And as for red hair among the Jews...again, if the mutant gene is really different in its actual structure, I'll believe in the multiple-mutations theory. Otherwise...well, does the term 'pogrom' mean anything to you?

#102 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 07:29 PM:

Yup, not that I want to know how old you are or anything, but theres been a lot of change in "Celtic" studies in the past 20 or 30 years. Suffice to say that anything from before that should be approached with bucket load of salt. I had a knock down drag out argument with someone once and I was quoting up to date books and research, and he kept coming up with stuff dating back to the Victorian era...

You'll be able to guess which I thought was more accurate.

Off the top of my head, the iron age started in the middle east around 1200BC, but it took a good few hundred years to reach central and then northern europe.
The Indo-European expansion may well not have reached the UK, evidence is mixed, although I think it matches up with the arrival of the beaker people, so makes sense. However, as previously mentioned, DNA evidence suggests that such movement was not, at least in the case of the UK, a matter of complete population shifts and replacement of locals by incomers.

Indeed, if you read the url I gave in the previous post, it suggests that yes indeed, the Irish and others came up from Spain, but after the ice age retreated, not a mere 4,000 years ago...

Furthermore, talk of the Indo-europeans and Celts together confuses me, because it is probably best to talk about Celtic culture, which has its roots in the end of the bronze age, and the word "celtic" should be used carefully- after all, there is little sign of direct involvement of much of the UK in the Hallstat and La-tene cultural gubbins, and yet everyone gets lumped together as "Celts".
However, the general opinion at the moment is that the "celtic" languages either took over by trade and intermarriage with the older established peoples, possibly with some conquest as well, or else date back even further than was thought. After all, your average starry eyed romantic Celt worshipper like I had the argument with mentioned at the beggining of this screed, seems to take the myths and legends as referring to 500BC or so. But the evidence we now have is more complex and interesting.

And what I am asserting, is that when it comes to red hair, the people in the north west of Scotland who are now refered to as "Celtic" people, have and had red hair. If you type something like "red hair celts" it seems that lots of people do associate red hair with "Celts". True, some of the websites are racist junk, but the rest? Or is the term "Celtic" so widely used as to be hardly worth using because of its lack of specifity?

As for the differences between the builders of the henges and astronomical devices, I have a very good example 6 or 7 miles from me, Cairnpapple hill, which was used for religious purposes for something like 3,000 years. The earliest henge had stones, then cairns and graves added to it over hundreds of years. The difficult thing is that we don't know why the beliefs changed, but it is absolutely certain that they changed even in times of apparent ease. So it is quite likely that the changes in calendrical observation occured as they changed farming methods, or became more settled from families, into villages, especially as the climate changed and peat bogs began to cover the stone circles. (Bearing in minds a generation was probably 15 or 16 years at this time, and an old person would be in their 40s, that leaves a lot of time for things to drift even if you have a memory like a druid.)

At Cairnpapple, there are a number of pits which happen to align with the calendrical times of sunrise and sunset that the "Celts" used, Samhain, Lughnasa, Beltane etc. It seems likely that these times of the year were important for a very long period of time.

Given that the rough googling I have done suggests that red hair could go back as far as 20 to 40,000 years, it might be that red haired Norwegians got it from that far back. Or, as is probably more likely, they got it (its a recessive) from ancestors who were kidnapped from Ireland and the West coast of Scotland.

But as for the Norse raiding and raping before the "Celts" arrived, that is a nonsensical statement given that the norse were not capable of crossing the North sea until after the properly "celtic" period in Scotland, which is generally thought to be the end of the bronze age on to about 500AD.

As for the red haired jews, apparently there is some sort of legend or mention in the bible, but I got the bit about it being a different mutation from some bloke I met after a re-enactment event. He seemed honest enough...
Again, searching online does suggest there are several different places for the mutations to occur, which would be useful in tracking down the origins of each lot of red headed people. As for pogroms, here in the UK we tended to murder the resident jews rather a lot. Look up York and Cliffords tower.

#103 ::: Cynthia Gonsalves ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 07:40 PM:

#88 and #90

Thanks PJ! I needed a science geeking close to home fix.

Cynthia (who works in the alternate Hellmouth Sunnyvale and lives at the end of the line in

#104 ::: Tehanu ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 08:05 PM:

James at #45: Hear, hear!

#105 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 08:07 PM:

People NOW in Scotland might be called Celts, but their ancestry is mixed. Period. There are no full-blooded Celts anywhere any more. The fact that they're called Celts and have red hair doesn't make red hair a Celtic trait! By that logic English is an American language. Well, colloquially it is, but colloquially the term 'Celtic' means absolutely nothing except maybe "I or some of my ancestors lived in Ireland/Scotland/Wales at some point" (note the omission of Cornwall, Mann, Brittany, Galicia, Northumberland...and many other names). And American language families, in reality, have names like Algonquian and Athabascan.

You cannot find times for Samhain etc. by cross-quartering from the solstices and equinoxes, or by any other astronomical means. They were not determined by calendars, but by events in nature; for example Samhain was celebrated (if that's the word) at the first frost, which for many crops is the de facto end of harvest season.

OK, this is the old nonsense about "an old person would be in their 40s." That's just not true. You're misusing "average life expectancy." People weren't old at 40; lots of people just never got to be old. "Threescore and ten" is from a 3000-year-old text. You have ten children, five die before their first birthday, and the others all live to be 80; average life expectancy, 40 years. They weren't as healthy as we are at the same age, but they weren't OLD at 40. And after 21 years of study to become one (seven to become an ollave, seven to become a bard, and seven more after that), a druid would get the best care (especially since medicine was one of the things druids DID).

And it's nice to know my limited knowledge is up against "some bloke I met at a re-enactment event." I was beginning to feel intimidated, but no more! :-)

And the point of mentioning pogroms was this: in Russia they didn't kill so much as rape (well, they did both, but more Jews are descended from the ones they raped, for obvious reasons). Other places too. This is why most Ashkenazic Jews are about as Semitic as I am Celtic (that is, a fair bit, but not necessarily even the dominant genesource).

#106 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 09:27 PM:

Also on the Celtic subthread:
Galatia in Asia Minor. Has redheads in the population. Apparently they were relocated or migrated into the area in the late BCE to early AD. And continued speaking the language, to the point where the later Roman writers noticed that the Galatians and the Gauls could speak to each other, although with some difficulty.

#107 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 10:39 PM:

P J 106: Ha! Now THAT I KNOW is wrong! Galatia is the statue Pygmalion made, and Aphrodite...

What? That's Galatea?

Never mind.

Seriously: Refuted. Me. I have been refuted. If all the facts presented here are accurate I need to rethink everything.

It sucks being refuted. But it's better than being ignorant and close-minded, which I kinda was leaning towards at some points upthread. Sorry.

#108 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 10:56 PM:

The sun was as red and as dim as sunset, two hours ahead of sunset.

Here's a new satellite picture that shows why. That smoke is thick, and the central valley holds it in.

#109 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 10:56 PM:

There are also the red-haired Tarim mummies, buried in plaid-patterned textiles ~1800 BCE in what is now northwestern China; their hair color isn't just an artifact of decay, since artwork from the period shows red-haired people with pale skin, blue eyes, and big noses. I don't think their language group (Tocharian?) is thought to be particularly close to Celtic, although it does seem to be Indo-European.

#110 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 11:05 PM:


It was red here in LA too. About like a bright red cherry, or an orange-red rose. It was getting darker all afternoon, and the light was going brownish, which is a pretty good sign it's smoke.

On the good side, it was much cooler today. I got some O3FA capsules on the way home.

#111 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 11:48 PM:

Ok, this isn't where I thought I was putting that.

I am free tomorrow, Saturday (though a trip to SFO is needful at 9 PM) or Sunday.

I am also free during the day on Friday.

Meeting Light would be nice. I'll open a screened post on my Lj, or people can send mail to pecunium at (less spaces and with the needful substitutions).

#112 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 12:19 AM:

Kerry @111 & others in the vicinity

There is now a BYOF Canada Day party being planned for Sunday, with an afternoon of cheerful activities and ending post-sunset with works of fire, to be properly purchased* from nearby vendors.

I'll have a LJ post up (also protected) soon with details, and/or email me at the address connected to my name.

* focusing on quality per $.

#113 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 10:57 AM:

Kathryn @ 108: The interesting thing about the satellite photos is that they aren't very good at showing the extent to which smoke covers northern California. I live just north of Lake Tahoe (in Truckee), and on the 24th, at about the time of the satellite picture you link to, the town was full of smoke from several fires west of the Sierra crest. Yet, the view from the satellite shows what seems to be clear skies over our region.

The implication, of course, is that air quality must've been extraordinarily poor in those areas where smoke is visible by satellite.

#114 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 11:10 AM:

San Jose has vague intimations of fire, but not to those who aren't looking for it. Palo Alto/Woodside (which is where I am at the moment) has a moderate level of "smokelight". The deer don't seem bothered.

I can smell faint hints of fire, but it's not, to me, oppressive.

#115 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 02:24 PM:

For those keeping track, here's today's satellite photo. (Well, yesterday's photo, posted today, I mean.)

Doesn't look like it's getting any better at all anywhere, except maybe in a little bit of the Central Valley due east of San Jose. Even my coworker out in Nevada is complaining of the smoke in the sky.

#116 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 02:31 PM:

Also, in San Francisco Bay Area forecasts, Weather Underground is predicting winds from the North through late Saturday at least. Which I think translates to "no reprieve in sight".

#117 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 03:11 PM:

It looks like a really good month to avoid the Sacramento Valley, if you can.

Also the fog is clearly 'in'. Or not-so-clearly 'in'.

I think I'll try tracking down the pictures from 2003 and from last year.

#118 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 04:09 PM:

Xopher #107- I wrote a reply much earlier, but it seems to have gotten lost.
What I should have said, but forgot completely, is that the most sensible use of the label "Celtic" is in refffering to people who speak or have spoken recently a "Celtic" language.

As for Samhuin, what is your information regarding how it is decided? I live in Scotland, and first frost varies by weeks because of the weather/ climate, depending also whether you live on the coast or inland. Certainly, the date tended towards being fixed on one specific day, probably thanks to Christianity and writing, but interestingly enough different places had different dates, in Ireland and elsewhere.

As for no full blooded CElts, by that way of looking at it there is no full blooded anyone left anywhere anymore. Of course culture matters as much and more so than genes, and the simple fact is that things are a lot more complex than people used to think 30 years ago. Have a look in a decent local library for some up to date books, preferably the last 10 years or so.

On the subject of lifespans, yes, its an average, sort of. The problem is that, (Again going from memory, in the bronze age and neolothic, it does seems that there were high infant mortality, deaths in childbirth, and deaths in hunting and accidents, such that people who survived into their 40's and 50's were much rarer than today.
Of course we need to find more bodies, but an old fashioned lifestyle of the sort practised by these people was a lot more hard work than many people think. Bear in mind that by the time the Druids came around, there had been much social evolution etc, and conditions were different than say 2,000 years earlier, when their ancestors arrived in Britain, so it is unwise to draw conclusions for the neolithic from the historic era.

Julie L #109- everyone has this fetish about plaid like wovens. Its a very common way of doing things all across Europe, has been for millenia, and yet all people ever think of is bloody tartan. I'm afraid its one of my hotspots, due to the number of people who think Braveheart was a documentary.

#119 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 04:23 PM:

Brooks @115,

All in the San Francisco Bay Area:
That's one reason why we're holding our summer / Canada Day party Sunday in Pacifica--if there's any fog, it means clean, cold ocean air. And that it is safe and sane to have fireworks there.

My Name links to my LJ--(protected post, though), or email is in posts above.
(Local fen may already be on our mailing list--it went out last night.)

#120 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 04:33 PM:

Xopher, I'm willing to be corrected on this, but I thought the Celts followed a lunar calendar?

#121 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 06:40 PM:

guthrie, please remember that even in medieval Europe most people never traveled more than 10 miles from the place they were born. And Samhain (/sawan/, the end of a phrase meaning "three days at the end of Summer") would have been celebrated in each village when frost came there. Because many crops would be ruined by frost, it was the end of the harvest season, and the end of Summer (one of two seasons).

I have all this from the scholar Kondratiev. OK, I took a class from Alexei Kondratiev and this is what he taught.

Samhain was the "new year," and the end of Summer. All things (seeds, children, years) begin in the dark, so Winter is the dark half of the year, and begins it. Time to make peace with your dead, and your own death. 'Samhain' is now the Irish Gaelic word for 'November'.

Imbolc was celebrated when sheep began to lactate, showing that while spring was not yet there, it was on its way. Time for candles and poetry. And making sheep cheese, if you have a sheep, which I don't.

Bealtaine was celebrated at the flowering of the hawthorne, and was the beginning of Summer. Time to cut down a hawthorn tree for an older form of "pole dance" to celebrate life, renewal, and sexuality, as did the god Mabon* when he helped a human hero (whose name escapes me) slay the Hawthorne Giant (a Fomorian) and marry his beautiful daughter. (Yes, horrible monstrous giant, beautiful daughter, these people were not big on heredity.)

Lughnasad was celebrated when the grain from the first harvest could be made into bread. It is the beginning of the harvest that ends with Samhain. Time to remember that your life is dependent on the death of living things, symbolized by the death of Lugh. 'Lúnasa' is now the Irish Gaelic word for 'August'.

Lori 120: I don't think so. But as has been proven upthread, I am quite capable of being wrong! Wiccans do, and also celebrate the solar-cardinal days, but we're probably the first spiritual group to do all of those.

*I have never been able to figure out why some Wiccans use the name of a god of spring for the mid-harvest holiday. We just call it Harvest.

#122 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 07:13 PM:

Xopher- the old "nobody travelled more than 10 miles from their bithplace" thing has been around so long I thought it was dead. Yes, the majority of the populace were serfs and freemen, but they would have travelled to markets and to shrines, albeit not necessirily more than 10 miles away. More importantly, the rich folk and the merchants travelled hundreds of miles, as often did the clergy. Assuming you are talking about the high and later medieval periods, this fairly extensive travel by an appreciable fraction of the populace helped knit Europe together. I'm afraid I don't quite see the relevance to the current chat, unless we go into much more detail about the dates, times, numbers of people who travelled, and what they did with their travelling.

OK, so this Kondratiev, obviously you can't just ask him where he got the idea about the frosts from. It sounds logical enough to convince people, but as it obvious with "celtic" discussion, its better to stick to the evidence rather than mere logic. Suffice to say that I don't agree with it at all, mainly because its not possible for you to provide enough evidence to make me change my mind, without putting yourself to some trouble.

Lets mosey on over to wikipedia- it suggests that Samhuinn was held at the end of the harvest. Further down the page, it says that Celtic reconstructionist pagans, whatever they are, tend to celebrate it on the day of first frost, or when the last of the harvest is in and the ground is dry enough to have a bonfire. Now, applying the "I'm the local expert 'cos I live in Scotland" approach, I can assure you that first frost and end of harvest don't always happen near each other, let alone the chances of having dry earth at the correct time of year, although global warming seems to be altering that, and I supose our ancestors wouldn't have been bothered about keeping it on precisely the same day each year.

Mind you, a random google on the topic of first frosts finds this:

Which suggests that the end of October is a reasonable average for the first frost. However, you can also see that such dates vary. So, on that basis, perhaps its not such a silly idea, but I have not come across any writing anywhere saying that the "Celts" timed Samhuin by means of the first frost. I would have thought such an interesting piece of information would have surfaced somewhere.
Oh, and I've stewarded at Samhuin and Beltane for this:
Maybe I'll ask around next time I seem people, theres some hard core pagan Celtic people there.

And another random link, maybe someone with some knowledge of Pliny can comment:
Suggests that the moon was rather important to the "Celts". But again, we have to consider dating carefully- I see little reason to suspect that the "Celts" of 0AD are the same as the "Celts" of 800BC or, the people that DNA testing suggests havn't moved around too much for the past 5,000 years, in Britain at least.

To my mind, what makes most sense is to consider that large parts of Britain were merely "Celticised" in terms of material culture, and changes in language occured as their languages which would have been related to the continental ones, altered over time, but ultimately Britain was different from the continent precisely because of the large reservoir of paleolithic people still present. The local variations were such, 4000 years ago that different styles of burial tomb and stone circles were being built in different parts of Scotland.

#123 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 07:27 PM:

To my mind, what makes most sense is to consider that large parts of Britain were merely "Celticised" in terms of material culture

I like that way of thinking about it. If you consider modern examples, people move a lot, but culture moves even faster. You can go pretty much anywhere in the world and find local people wearing 19th century European dress, whether or not it's suitable for the climate.

#124 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 08:02 PM:

guthrie, if you didn't realize that I was saying they didn't give a flying fling at a rolling donut what calendar DAY it was on...well, that's what I was saying. The first frost where I grew up was in September a lot of the time, where I live now it could be in January, I don't have a sheep (as I said), I'm not reliably certain that I've ever seen a hawthorne tree live, much less flowering, and flour is available to me 365.25 days a year.

Hence, calendars. I don't keep those times. I have no way of knowing when the sheep are lactating in my area...I wouldn't be able to point in the direction of the nearest sheep. And we're practicing all this stuff in a modern world.

And you keep making arguments about modern practice (the end of harvest in modern agriculture is quite a bit different than when you had to do it all with hand implements) to justify your case about ancient practices. That makes no sense at all. And you keep missing the point about "the end of harvest." Yeah, a farmer, even a whole farming community, might finish early, if the crop was meager. But Samhain (and I've never seen your spelling before) is the end of the time when you CAN harvest (for many crops) because the FROST SPOILS WHAT'S LEFT.

And btw, modern Wicca has only a tenuous (though loving) relationship to ancient Celtic practice. For example, anyone who tells you the ancient Celts worshipped the Triple Goddess needs to go back to school.

So, I know a few things about the Celts (and you Scots got all mixed up with the Picts, didncha). But I am a primary source on Wicca. That said, different people do things different ways in different places. I don't know who these "hard core Celtic pagans" are, but if they're practicing as the ancient Celts really did, they're not really doing anything much like modern Wicca, much as the authors of certain books would like to believe they're identical.

#125 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 08:17 PM:

It was only a few years back that a large part of SE Asia was badly affected by smoke haze from a series of deliberate fires, some of which had got into peaty soils. There was quite a fuss at the time, and a few changes in laws and so forth, though I'm not sure how much really changed.

Meanwhile, back in Oz: a photo I took of a solar eclipse near sunset that happened during bushfires in 2003 (I think).

#126 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 10:06 PM:

Xopher, in the San Francisco area, lambing is at or shortly after the spring equinox. It isn't necessarily after the last frost - recently I was consulting the historical records for that area, and it has in fact had frost at summer solstice (!), although what caused that cold spell I couldn't tell you.

#127 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 11:08 PM:

Xopher @ 105, this would explain why, based purely on phenotype, strangers will stop me on the street in Brooklyn and expect me to be able to speak enough Russian to give them street directions in that language. Nope. Maybe my great-great-grandparents 120 years ago, if they had enough Russian in addition to Yiddish.

And the sarcastic explanation for why my ex-husband was white-blond was "Cossack in the woodpile."

I have no knowledge of the DNA involved (and would only be able to follow that sort of explanation on the most superficial level, not judge its validity) but I have to say from experience that there's a certain cluster of features I expect along WITH red hair when I hear "red-haired Jew," (or "gingie," depending on who's talking) and they're very distinct from the ones I expect with "red-haired Scot" or "red-haired Dane." I don't know whether to attribute this to a separate mutation, or just the existing mixtures of traits that the red hair got thrown into in each case.

#128 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 11:34 PM:

There's a rather lovely wildfire going in the Gila river bottom, on the Gila rez south of Phoenix, at the moment. It had an impressive pyrocumulus cloud over it this afternoon, with lightning, that I could see from forty miles away. No structures threatened but the smoke is rather dense over the city.

The area's all river bottom full of salt cedar and mesquite. It burns rather well.

#129 ::: Rozasharn ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 11:53 PM:

Having gardened a little, and known people who farmed, first frost doesn't sound like a good time for a party or ceremony. See, you can't predict the frost, so you aren't done harvesting when first frost hits.

In my experience, the day you wake up and find frost on the ground is when you frantically cut/pick and bring in everything still salvageable. Then you have to process it: hang the tomato branches so the last few fruits can ripen, wash/trim/dry/pickle/salt vegetables, and so on. I would expect a farming community wouldn't have time to catch their breath until a few days after the first serious frost.

#130 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 12:05 AM:

P J 126: OK, but sheep begin to lactate partway through their pregnancy. Lambing is when they give birth, yes?

As for the frost at Midsummer, was it by any chance sometime between 1883-1888?

#131 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 12:05 AM:

guthrie @118: [Plaid-patterned cloth is] a very common way of doing things all across Europe, has been for millenia, and yet all people ever think of is bloody tartan.

Oops, I forgot to note that I considered the Tarim mummies to be spontaneous parallel evolution rather than any evidence of a monolithic proto-Celtic culture of redheads in tartan-- as you say, plaid is one of the easier pattern-weaves and is well-nigh universal. Though I do miss some of the old overreaching syncretic theories such as the Ural-Altaic language family skipping across Eurasia all the way from Finland to Japan, because it's just so conceptually nifty.

#132 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 02:26 AM:

Rikibeth, #127: My boyfriend is a red-haired Jew. His family refers to it as "milkman's red".

#133 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 10:25 AM:

I have heard my (German, Irish, touches of Scottish, & Welsh) hair color referred to as "hymie red."

#134 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 10:43 AM:

1954, actually. I think July and August are the only months that the records indicate as frost-free over, say, the last 120 years.

What they used to do when the frost killed the tomato plants before they quite bearing: the ones that are turning color, keep warm and hope they ripen enough to use. The ones that are about to change color (the 'white' stage) get used for pies ('mock mincemeat' is the usual recipe name, AKA 'green tomato pie'). The rest goes into the yard waste.

#135 ::: affreca ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 11:09 AM:

Thanks for mentioning my favorite recipe. I've never split up the green tomatoes, and use them all in my green tomato crumble. Last year, I was doing field work when the first frost hit. The green tomatoes still worked in crumble, even though they'd been on the vine a week past frost.

#136 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 11:25 AM:

A lot of frost-damaged produce makes for fine animal fodder -- in fact, I used to save a few $$$ on feed by turning my poultry loose into the garden after I was done harvesting everything. Chickens (and pigs) will eat practically anything that's not outright toxic.

(And "toxic" is debatable with chickens -- mine got into a flower garden once and ate all the ornamental tobacco plants, which was a fairly substantial amount of tobacco per bird. I kept waiting for them to drop dead, but it didn't seem to affect them.)

#137 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 12:01 PM:

Ach. I promised myself to stay out of the whole celtic discussion, but herewith a single datum and few educated generalizations.

First, the definitive Celtic textile feature is not so much the plaid as it is a twisted warp twill.

Generalizations about evidence in prehistoric context:

Technologies are more persistant over time and distance than either genetics or subsistence behavior. This is because looms and ceramic or metallurgic fabrication assemblages have high material investment and also share with basketry and woodworking long training periods. A family of migrant weavers or smiths can marry into a large resident population and have their genetics sumersed in very few generations while their techniques live on.

There are other aspects of culture- notably music and cooking- which persist in diaspora, but they are difficult to trace in the archaeological record.

It is easy to be blinded by averages- that the average person died before their fiftieth birthday (excluding deaths in the nursing period is standard archaeological demographic technique) and did not travel more than ten miles from their birthplace does not exclude the wise old granny nor the strong old man with many sons any more than it says that the Ice Man was the only person travelling the high passes of the Alps. Statistical outliers who take off after an argument with their neighbors and don't stop moving until something stops them are the most probable explanation for weird out-of-place stuff in the archaeological record, although archaeologists are as prone to confuse "hardly ever" with "never" as anyone else.

Human beings are contentious and deadly, but they are also lazy, sociable, and curious, and a person with pretty things, new songs, and stories of foreign lands is a welcome relief from Dad's old jokes.

#138 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 12:08 PM:

OK: For those of the fluoroshpere who are in the Bay, Maia and I will be at the Kathryn from Sunnyvale's party. Might not get there until Pizza-time, but we will show up.

#139 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 02:14 PM:

Xopher #124- I did get around to working out they couldn't care about the calendar date, eventually. I'm afraid I just got a bit carried away by running through it as an information gathering and fitting stuff together problem.

I find it interesting that at #129, Rozasharn suggests that when you are farming, the first frost is a busy period, if theres still food about to be picked.

I am entirely aware that the end of harvest is different now than it was then, the problem as always is finding definite evidence for the pre-historic period of their actual practises.

Spelling Samhain as Samhuinn is the old Gaelic spelling. I've got it right here in my 1832 reprinted 1934 Gaelic dictionary. Of course the spelling of Gaelic words probably varied as much as any english words for a long time, and the Samhain spelling apparently comes from the Irish gaelic.

I also know modern wicca has a tenuous connection to old "Celtic" practises, which is why I'm interested in where the Celtic reconstructionists get the idea of the first frost from. Maybe I've missed it when I've read (The admittedly old translation of) the mabinogion, or the Irish myths and sagas, or perhaps some Roman wrote it all down somewhere. Its just I've reached the stage where there is so much crap spewed about "The celts" that it gets on my wick, and I apologise if this gets up your nose.

There is little to no evidence that the Picts were non-Celtic, by the way, although possibly you know that. It seems most likely that they might have spoken a different branch of the Celtic language, hence the incomprehensibility by Columba and others.
But your right, the Celtic pagan like people won't be doing anything much like the original "Celts", nevertheless, some of them may well know something interesting. the Beltane fire festival is an interesting Edinburgh institution, made up of luvvies, pagans, performers, random students doing it for a laugh, and a few others.

#140 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 02:30 PM:

Terry Karney @138, all,

I've sent the directions to you. It's right off highway 1, about 15 minutes SW of downtown SF.

If you (not TK) can't see my LJ party-details post, email me at kathryn point sunnyvale ate yahoo dotcom.
We're starting it at 2:30, 6:30 for dinner* (RSVPs suggested so we know how much to get), and dusk for the fireworks.

*even though the motivation for the sudden party is fireworksCanada Day, since there aren't any Canadian restaurants nearby that do catering, we'll have pizza, & Chinese BBQ from the city, plus snacks (and can take food requests)

#141 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 02:35 PM:

guthrie 139: Its just I've reached the stage where there is so much crap spewed about "The celts" that it gets on my wick, and I apologise if this gets up your nose.

That would imply that I'm sniffing your wick.
After it got crap spewed on it.
Ew. :-)

We all get exercised from time to time. I certainly did, in this thread.

And of course everyone knows that the Picts were actually from Tibet...they just got Pict up and deposited in Scotland. This was called "the dePiction of Tibet." I have Pictures! That's why there's all that technetium there (Tibet), too, though the country became all pale and sad after that. You don't believe me? Wan Tibet?

#142 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 02:43 PM:

Xopher... What is your life's gaul?

#143 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 03:37 PM:

That's a very Galling question, in fact it might Cymrude* to ask. Pardon me while Iberia it in the backyard.

But since you were Manninough to ask me, I guess I'd like to Erin enough to live quietly the way I'd like, without drawing anyone's Eire. A little house in the country, with a gaeldun in the back where I can grow gaelic bulbs for spagaelti sauce, and for making Breizhed brocolli.

See, that's not at Albad. I just don't think it's going to oKernow, or ever.

*OK, you have to mispronounce this to make it work. Tough.

#144 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 03:59 PM:

Xopher, I wouldn't bet with you. You might welsh.

#145 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 04:01 PM:

Nancy C Mittens @ 144... You might welsh

...and escape Scot-free?

#146 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 04:02 PM:

Xopher #143: And here I thought you were 100% Armorican.

#147 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 04:22 PM:

Nancy, I wouldn't Breton anything with you, either, so there!

Fragano: Careful, or you'll get my Irish up.

#148 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 04:29 PM:

Leva Cygnet @ #128, that's an impressive and discouraging fire.

I'm somewhat amused to see that the video was brought to us by BabbittFord. Bruce and his family still live in Arizona, do they?

(I'm an ex-Tucson/Phoenix resident, thirty years ago.)

#149 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 04:49 PM:

Xopher #147: If you caught my galley, I expect you'd let my Galego.

#150 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 10:39 PM:

Xopher, guthrie, others: My two cents about crops and first frost. Despite a mostly Scots/Welsh set of genes, I know from nothing about Celts. But I did grow up in Western Canada where the growing season is short and frosts mean business.

So I've got to agree with Rozasharn -- the time for celebration isn't when the first frost hits, or even the first killing frost. (Depending on what kind of plants you're growing, those two dates may be weeks apart.) Rather, it's when you've at last done all you can do to gather and store your crops and preserve them for the winter. And that depends critically, not just on climate, but also on what crops you planted.

Most cereal crops will have their quality and yield reduced by an early frost, and the seeds might not germinate well the next year, but they'd still have to be harvested, so you wouldn't ever just throw your hands up and quit. Well... not if you were depending on that grain to get through the winter without starving, anyway. Even if the damage was very severe, it would still have to be cut for silage to be fed to livestock.

On the other hand, Xopher, if the cue for Samhain is "first frost + whatever time is needed after that to get snug for winter" ... and in your case you don't happen to have any crops you need to hurry to get in ... well then, the second term just reduces to zero, doesn't it?

#151 ::: Leslie in CA ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 11:09 PM:

Still heavy smoke cover in Davis and environs. We haven't seen the sun since, what, Wednesday? Current forecasts are that the smoke won't begin to clear until Monday, and there are more thunderstorms with lightning but little moisture headed for the Sierras this weekend.

#152 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 11:20 PM:

The four seasons of the Central Valley:
Fog, pollen, tomato-truck, and smoke*.

* even without the forest fires, there'd be grass fires.
Worst was when the rice farmers could burn their stubble after harvest: big columns of smoke would rise up like disconnected tornadoes, 2 or 5 at a time, all around. Once they'd hit the inversion layer the smoke would spread, but it wasn't going anywhere but back down. And rice-stalk smoke is worse than ordinary smoke.

#153 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 11:55 PM:

Any kind of truck with fruits or vegetables in bins. Think about oranges.

(One year my mother made 'road pickles' with the cucumbers that didn't shatter when they fell off the trucks.)

#154 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2008, 02:19 AM:

You gotta watch out for those tomato trucks. A friend of mine was driving near Escalon. A tomato truck turned over going around a corner right in front of him. A two-foot deep flood of tomatoes came at him and stopped his car. Fortunately, there was no damage, except to the tomatoes.

#155 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2008, 02:46 AM:

Out here, Kathryn, it's sugar cane fires that did that. Before the major companies mostly got out of the business, you could drive north or west from Honolulu and see smoke columns every day.

These days we're getting vog (a contractive word from "volcanic" and "smog") from the newly erupting Halemaumau Crater on the Big Island, 100+ miles SE. First time in 84 years that sucker's gone off, and it's been going since March.

#156 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2008, 02:54 AM:

PJ @153,

Those tomato trucks are uncovered double-trailer bins that just guarantee dropped tomatoes at every bump and turn, and county roads have both. by mid-harvest certain corners would have a slippery coating of tomato sauce: bad for biking, when all you want is to have a quiet ride in the country without risk of skidding at each intersection.

By the end of summer, there's this faint but pervasive smell of badly sundried tomato (those 100 degree days) mixed with roadkill skunk and mixed dry grasses. It's what a vengeful cook might make.

#157 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2008, 03:06 AM:

linkmeister @155,

What reduced those fires here were air quality and other researchers.

They insistently pointed out that rice straw has silica fiber. Sharp, small silica spines. Not unlike, say, asbestos. That finally got various powers to start the phaseout (which, iirc, is done, although emergency burns are allowed in case of disease)

(sidenote--growing rice in the Central Valley can make sense. It used to be a 40-mile-wide marsh, so the rice at least gets things partway back...i.e. good for the flyway)

#158 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2008, 09:37 AM:

Black cloud with legs of lightning,
Striding imperiously across the landscape.
Footprints left on the land burn brightly
In memory of your passage.

#159 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2008, 09:47 AM:

The announcer on KQED just read the weather: wherever one would normally say "Fog," she said "Smoke," as in, "Low clouds and smoke." There are more than a thousand wildfires burning in California. Not a normal fire season. I guess the air quality is going to remain wretched.

#160 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2008, 10:07 AM:

I used to live in San Jose (and one year in Sunnyvale). That was when there were several canneries still operating (Libby and Contadina are the big names I remember), and the trucks would be lined up at the curb waiting to get in and unload.

(I remember the fires in 1978 too. The Ventana fire burned tens of thousands of acres.)

#161 ::: embee ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2008, 02:42 PM:

A couple of friends lost their mountain home in the Summit fire above Capitola few weeks ago. They had a barbecue this weekend on the site where their house used to be. Already the ruins are bulldozed, and the dust is ankle-deep. Some of the neighbors' houses are fine; the fire jumped about a bit, and left some green spots here and there. Though most of the forest looks dead, much of it looks like it died of heat from the ground fire - lots of brown leaves still cling to the live oaks. The bare trunks of the oaks and madronas are each encircled with burgeoning green shoots, between 6 and 10 inches high: lively roots, determined to get what daylight they can this summer.

The usually peaceful ridgelines echo with the sound of construction equipment. Apparently the insurance companies provide much better benefits for rebuilding than for buying elsewhere (not that folks would particularly want to - it's still beautiful up there, just kind of autumnal).

#162 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2008, 12:49 PM:

Now we're smoked-in here in Prescott AZ as well -- I guess from the latest Crown King fire quite a ways to the south. Low visibility, blood-red rising sun, *that smell*, the works. So I can join all the Northern Californians in their grumbling (though AZ is a bit more likely to get rain sometime in the next few weeks, courtesy of Monsoon Season).

#163 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2008, 06:02 PM:

As many of you know, things have not gotten better in the Santa Lucias near Big Sur. The Basin Complex fire had been listed as only 3% contained for more than a week, but has now jumped the lines. Evacuation orders cover the coast from Big Sur Village to Limekiln State Park -- roughly 25 miles along Highway 1.

The personal connection for me is New Camaldoli Hermitage, adjacent to Limekiln. This is a Benedictine community of hermit monks that I have been associated with for several years. Fires are not unusual in this area; the Hermitage was destroyed by fire in 1958 and threatened by the big fires in 1999. The Hermitage is at 1,800 feet above the Pacific, more than two miles up a steep winding single lane road from Highway 1. While there is a fire road leading from the back of the Hermitage up over the ridge behind them, the only real evacuation route for them or any other residents is Highway 1, and the fire looks close to the road both near Big Sur Village and Esalen. I hear that it's bad up Palo Colorado canyon near Tassajara Zen Center and Lost Valley.

But Nepenthe is still there.

My guess is the monks will evacuate to San Luis Obispo, where there is a large oblate community. It would be nice to know for sure if they are safe.

#164 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2008, 06:31 PM:

I'm driving south on I-5 from Portland to Bay Area. I'll have a camera ready for interesting / scary sights.

#165 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2008, 09:20 PM:

Claude, it would be nice to know everybody's safe.

#166 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:12 AM:

Too true Marilee, too true.

#167 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:25 AM:

For anyone else wanting to keep up on the Big Sur fires (Basin Complex and Indians) there is a community site up handling notices, messages, as well as requests and offers for housing and assistance.

#168 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 06:25 PM:

It looks today like the fire is still well north of the monastery, although the monastery's within the evacuation area, at the south end. (The active fire area is north of Julia Pfeiffer Burns park, going north.)

#169 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2008, 10:57 AM:

Camaldolese monk Thomas Matus blogs at, and reports that most of the hermits have relocated sucessfully to the Franciscan community in Soquel near Santa Cruz. Four monks will remain at the Hermitage on fire duty, as long as they are allowed to.

This seems to be a pattern throughout much of the fire area -- evacuate everybody but a few able people at some key sites, such as Nepenthe and Post Ranch Inn.

#170 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2008, 07:57 AM:

It's continued smoky in these parts, off and on. Last week things were almost clear, and then yesterday the whole sky was covered in gray haze, and the sun was dim. Some people I've mentioned this to haven't noticed -- I find this astounding. How could you not notice the change in the quality of the sunlight?

#171 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2008, 08:37 AM:

David, most people don't look at the sky, or pay much attention to the weather unless it's actively dropping things on them. I find this inexplicable, but it's definitely a trend I've noticed.

#172 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 11:53 PM:

I'm blessed to have windows on three sides of my bedroom. I look at the sky a lot.

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