Tag Archives: weather

Christmas

July 15, 2014

This week, grab a sweater before you head out — apparently the polar vortex doesn’t yield to pedestrians, either. A piece of this arctic wind system seems to have broken off (by whatever mechanism wind “breaks” into “pieces”) and barrelled through Canada again, just like in January. While some insist this midsummer breath of fresh air is the vortex’s fault, the National Weather Service has retracted its previous observation. Meteorologists are tweeting their discord over what kind of air event this is, from polar vortex to “polar air invasion” to a mere “trough in the jet stream.” As one meteorologist said in a nicely graphic-assisted defense of the term, “Some critics are being too literal about its definition and/or burying their heads in the sand, blinding themselves from a fascinating weather reality.” Sounds a lot like the debate over climate change, actually.

The Free Press supports the National Weather Service’s new position that the chilly spell has less to do with polar air than with the usual jet stream breezes disrupted by a typoon — if not one sensational thing, then grapple for another. Mlive also denies heavy polar vortex involvement in this week’s weather, which, in a temperate summer overall, doesn’t even feel that weird, but advises to keep a lookout for waterspouts forming as the cold air glides over warm water. If you see any of these bumming around on the river with the freighters, let me know and I’ll ramble over extra-fast.

Whatever your beliefs about arctic air patterns, it’s luxurious waking up to a piece of Christmas in July. To acknowledge this meteorological gift of walking around being less sticky, I present some items from my ongoing collection of red bows found around town. Why are the bows always red? Why is the grass green, the sky blue? Science, of course. Social science.

This early holiday celebration is for longtime rambler Sara, who might love autumnal weather even more than I do and has recently been so kind as to share photos from our Hamtramck ramble in the Detroit Area Rambling Network flickr pool. Thanks!

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And last but not least a boa of sorts.

UPDATE: 20:36

And a rainless rainbow emerging from the casino. Merry Christmas!

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Earth Day

April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day! While kids make happy crafts, fingerpainting soy-based inks on recycled paper and participating in a macabre-sounding “endangered species scavenger hunt” at the zoo, I’m taking a walk, and keeping in mind some of the world’s most impressive hikers, the sherpas.

Photo by Laurence Tan for Reuters

Photo by Laurence Tan for Reuters

Sherpas are an ethnic group living in Nepal’s northeastern Himalaya Mountain region. They’re renowned for their superior mountaineering skills in their home territory, due to a combination of experience, bravery, and, some have suggested, genetic adaptations to life at high altitude. In a country with few economic opportunities, some sherpas take high-paying jobs on Mount Everest, locally known as Qomolangma, ferrying fuel, food, and shelter for western adventurers, setting up routes for them to follow — basically doing the work of climbing the mountain, while climbers kind of just come along for the (really rough) ride.

Last Friday, the deadliest Everest avalanche in recorded history struck, taking with it sixteen sherpas who were out setting up paths for their clients to follow. That avalanches happen on mountains and are likely to be deadly is a given, an obvious danger recognized by sherpas who work there. After sherpas found inadequate the Nepalese government’s pledges to help with medical funds for injured sherpas and financial relief for grieving families, they’ve gone on strike, effectively cancelling the 2014 climbing season. It takes a lot to walk away from the most lucrative job you’re likely to find, work that lets you send your children to private school in hope of a different future. As the Wall Street Journal quoted one sherpa who lost a friend to the avalanche, “It’s made us pause and question whether the money we make is really worth the loss of our own lives and the harm to our own mountain from the mountaineering.”

Nobody’s saying it, but one wonders whether climate change has anything to do with the rapid end to this year’s Everest season. Avalanches happen, and any would be deadly if there were people in the wrong place at the wrong time. Aside from shaking heads at bad luck and bemoaning tragedy, maybe we need to at least reframe how we approach some the world’s most imposing natural features, since, as a whole, we’re not really into doing much to slow climate change.

Here, things are pretty tame on these walks, big fluffy clouds and lots of flowers. As I gear up for what will be my first backpacking trip, it’s good to temper my enthusiasm with this bad news and not become some righteous outdoors zealot, to not get too lost myopically poking around websites wondering whether I’ll be any happier getting the titanium cookset that weighs 90 grams less than the other titanium cookset.

Read more about the Mount Everest avalanche in the news:
“Sherpas leave Everest; some expeditions nix climbs” at the Associated Press
“Mount Everest’s Sherpas Shut Down the Rest of This Year’s Climbing Season” at The Wire
“The world’s most renowned Sherpa talks Mt. Everest” at Washington Post
“After Avalanche, New York’s Sherpas Recall Perils of a Job They Left Behind” at the New York Times

Walking — it’s for the birds!

March 4, 2014

When the tide of conventional holidays slogging by fails to inspire, or when they’ve passed unacknowledged, it’s reassuring to have something else going on, something better. Late on Valentine’s? Don’t care for dead roses and gobs of cheap chocolate? Be all the more romantic celebrating Dragobete, while perhaps affecting a bright spot of good in the world.

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Dragobete, a Romanian Valentine’s holiday taking place since ancient times antedating Romania itself, is celebrated on February 24, marking the beginning of spring. It’s “the day the birds are betrothed,” when they begin to seek mates and construct their nests. Humans are more or less expected to do the same.

As Wikipedia has it, “If the weather allows, girls and boys pick snowdrops or other early spring plants for the person they are courting. Maidens used to collect the snow that lay on the ground in many villages and then melt it, using the water in magic potions throughout the rest of the year. Those who take part in Dragobete customs are supposed to be protected from illness, especially fevers, for the rest of the year.” There’s also a bit about singing together after gathering the vernal flowers, but as much as singing relates to the well-being of birds, the karaoke can wait for another occasion.

It’s well before the vernal equinox, and hardly a thing springlike outside, but all the more reason to collectively attempt to banish the midwinter and its blues. (It seems that ancient Romanians didn’t expect spring to show up after Dragobete, either — another spring-bringing holiday associated with fertility, Mărțișor, is scheduled just a week later on March 1). On the Sunday we finally got around to belatedly showing the birds what our best wishes were made of, it was rainy and 46 degrees in Bucharest, Romania — certainly a higher proportion of spring to winter than the bitter 11 degrees we endured here.

We sensibly started with some warming tea. Kukicha, or twig tea, nested in one pot, and the green lushness of stinging nettles steeped fragrantly in another. Perched on the table next to bowls of trail mix fixings was birdseed toast accompanied by homemade mulberry preserves, mulberries being an apparent favorite of birds around here. Brownies made with buckwheat and sour cherry, the fruit harvested on walks around town, would have probably been enjoyed by birds as well. Mulberries seem like a greater hit with birds than the cherries, but the bias may come from the telltale seasonal splotches of bird poop inked dark by berries.

Leftovers, food bloggers, leftovers.

Leftovers, food bloggers, leftovers.

Tea is just ceremony; the most important part of the Dragobete celebration is offering the birds some avian housewarmers to ease early nesting dilemmas. We rounded up our bags of hair clippings from the winter’s haircuts, or the morning’s hairbrushing, in the case of one superb brushwad encased in a small paper bag, and some of us bravely snipped offerings on the spot, including one person who literally went under the knife to harvest a lock. We set off at dusk in the general direction of “more fields,” which are less numerous nearby given recent fruitless destruction of bird habitats.

Plastic bag full of hair, wandering up Grand River. Wonder how many of those there are.

Plastic bag full of hair, wandering up Grand River. Wonder how many of those there are.


Once, there was a streetlight. This teacup of hair was briefly illuminated.

Once, there was a streetlight. This teacup of hair was briefly illuminated.

We trudged through the snow for a couple miles, eventually finding some nice fields skirting stands of promising scrubby little trees. The snow was etched with bird tracks unidentifiable to me, hopefully birds that enjoy nesting in our silky split ends. The wind funnelled the hair hither and thither. It was very quiet. We wondered where the birds were sleeping.

This is primarily a picture of wind.

This is primarily a picture of wind.


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Of course we could have just thrown the hair out the window and been done with it, but over the years the holiday has evolved to incorporate a longer and longer walk — and what holiday, especially those celebrating the rhythms of nature, isn’t better for that?

Much thanks to everyone who took part in making spring a more probably reality for our avian neighbors. Next year, bird house construction party? Field guide reading group?

Empire Detroit

January 11, 2014

Walking through Corktown on a typical route southbound to the riverfront, the road is transformed into a slushy single lane that is the real estate of honking, unsympathetic taxis. Their tires kick up clods of grey sludge as they speed back to their headquarters. The conditions aren’t ideal — outside of densely residential or commercial areas, sidewalks are nonexistent, snowed into oblivion. Pedestrians are left to fend for themselves, dodging crumbling snowbanks and the vast ponds of murky snowmelt radiating from the curbs. Sharing the streets with impatient drivers, I navigate these gingerly and keep moving.

Where Vermont bends into Porter, it’s quiet as usual outside Ponyride. On the other end of the block, at the intersection of Rosa Parks, a pair of utility trucks is out, servicing who knows what. The two contractors, chatting, look at me suspiciously. I issue a generic Detroit greeting involving such pleasantries as hellos and how-you-doings. They kind of nod in return. Distracted by an incomprehensible sticker on the b-pillar of the leading truck, I consider taking a picture, but deem it weird and pointless. Looking back at the guys looking back at me, I carry on toward the river.

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The riverfront has changed significantly in the past year. Since we last rambled there, the trees, except for a few lonely willow specimens, have been cut down, and red emergency phones have been installed in their place. All of this is behind a chainlink fence dotted with “private property no trespassing” signs. It’s progress everywhere, except for the remaining accessible narrow nub at the end of Rosa Parks where people still fish as long as the river isn’t frozen.

By the afternoon, the media’s caught wind of a new expansion in Dan Gilbert’s empire, the Detroit billionaire darling lauded with catalyzing the most profound revitalization the city has seen in decades. His focus has been building a two square mile piece of the downtown business district into a workable, liveable, and, incredibly, walkable destination. But Crain’s calls Gilbert’s new Corktown warehouse, the building I had unknowingly ambled past hours before, “about as anti-Gilbert as it gets.”

The building at Rosa Parks and Porter was purchased in November from the owner of Boulevard & Trumbull Towing. The real estate office facilitating the deal said that they supposed Gilbert’s new acquisition would be used for “warehousing for the owner’s personal belongings.” Deadline Detroit posits that “we can only assume a Gilbert-owned industrial warehouse will be used to store all the small buildings he doesn’t want anymore.”

So what will he really do with this odd purchase? If only Curbed were correct in their glib suggestion on the motivation behind Gilbert’s strange new land use. “An indoor beach, perhaps?” they wonder. “There are two cryptic clues: The seller’s lawyer told Crain’s that the warehouse would be a great place to “run something that required a lot of electricity,” while CoStar added that “some kind of communication center” will be installed.”

Screen capture from WXYZ.

Screen capture from WXYZ.

Does this mean a communication center like the infamous state-of-the-art one currently housed downtown in the Chase building? It’s unlikely that there’s any plan to relocate the center to this decentralized spot, but it’s impossible to imagine a Gilbert building without its fair share of cameras.

According to WXYZ, as of October Gilbert had installed 300 cameras in his downtown stomping grounds. Let’s just say it’s doubtful the plan has ended there. Some downtown residents claim that the cameras now number as many as 600. With these cameras “[o]perators can zoom right in on individuals. All of the images are recorded,” ostensibly helping police identify suspects.

We can hope that the subjects of surveillance will be limited to criminals, but will they? What of the homeless, the rambling, the otherwise quirky individuals who don’t fit the whims of Gilbert and his 7,600 young professionals spiking demand in the downtown housing market? The evictions of longtime residents are taking place on camera. As one Detroit writer said of Gilbert, “He also just sent a notice to one of my ex-girlfriends, explaining he has purchased the apartment building she’s lived in for the last 16 years and his future plans don’t include her.” If not welcome to live their lives within the walls of their own homes downtown, how welcome will they be to visit their old streets?

Basically, these improvements downtown just mean that Fernando Palazuelo has to deal with more bodies snatched from high-surveillance areas getting dumped at his new house on E. Grand Boulevard, further dividing a city whose edges are already sagging under the weight of heavy segregation. Crimes will continue to be pushed to outlying areas where “nobody” lives, places actually inhabited by plenty of people who are not Gilbert’s new 1%.

No one can argue against the local benefits of increased security downtown, and Gilbert’s surveillance plan has made for neighborly partnerships with General Motors, the Ilitches, and Compuware, not to mention Detroit, Wayne County, and Wayne State police, which itself has a small empire of cameras. Detroit Police Chief James Craig optimistically said, “I’m hopeful that sometime in the very near future that the Detroit Police Department can replicate and even expand beyond the technology being used in Rock’s Ventures,” adding that it was very nice to be “invited in” to use the system during special events.

It seems that what Dan Gilbert wants, Dan Gilbert will get, with city officials paying gentle lip service to his empire, dubbed Opportunity Detroit. As previous mayor Dave Bing told the New York Times last year about his relationship with Gilbert, “My job is to knock down as many barriers as possible and get out of the way,” expediting permits while longtime Detroiters are left to abide by bureaucracy’s schedule.

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Rambling downtown last weekend, the cameras’ presence was palpable even through the veil of oncoming snowstorm. As a Detroiter who, like most, does not reside downtown, it’s been luxurious having my activities go uncharted by an omniscient eye, or at least only as much I let big data peek in. No more. Welcome to Corktown, cameras! Empire Detroit surveillance is now coming to a neighborhood near you.

Rambling report

January 6, 2014

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Thank you, intrepid ramblers! Snowpocalypse be damned; this weekend we walked right into the polar vortex. We met in the deserted Guardian Building lobby and traipsed through the drifts downtown, covering something like a 4.5 mile jaunt for which most ramblers were surprised to find themselves overdressed as temperatures graciously hovered near freezing.

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We cut through a number of buildings, exploring interior and exterior spaces connecting various destinations, following an excellent route planned with historic preservationist Timothy Boscarino and Joe Krause of Backseat Detroit tours, whose knowledge of the city may be as vast as the city itself. You can also catch up with Joe on select Saturday afternoons when he guides walking tours for D:hive.

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The elevated tubes at the Millender and Renaissance Centers gave us shelter and perspective as we made our way to the riverfront, an essential stop in any downtown sojourn. The only ship in our foggy field of vision was a motionless freighter, waiting out the storm. Ramblers worried about a lone family of ducks whose runty offspring were bravely surfing the icebergs.

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We squiggled through the deeper accumulations in Hart Plaza, untouched by buses and business as usual. Finding the snow imperfect for sculpting snowmen, a halfhearted snowball fight broke out.

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Aiming to traverse as many tunnels as possible, we were foiled by locked doors at Joe Louis Arena, which was just as well, judging by the scent making its way out of the window grates. Intentionally or otherwise, we made a fairly complete survey of every set of stairs in the area.

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After some alleys and a visit to Capitol Park, the ramble ended at dusk, with 50% of ramblers in favor of looping back to Lafayette for consolation coneys and pie, the whole group disappointed by the dearth of establishments open and ready to serve them hot coffee during the ramble. We were undoubtedly the snowiest patrons there this slow evening.

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Rambling home later in the night, I happened upon success where earlier we had failed — a snowman stood in the middle of a field, wearing an uncertain expression as the wind gusted mightily.

Snowy day

December 15, 2013
from The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

from ‘The Snowy Day’ by Ezra Jack Keats

Saturday’s commute isn’t quite as fantastic as Ezra Jack Keats’ famous treatise on the merits of snow days, but it’s close.

Snow is hitting me in the face. People come bundled in pairs, shuffling along. It’s hard not to think of duos boarding the biblical ark before the flood. In questionable logic, pedestrians take to the streets as cars grapple for traction.

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A pair of pedestrians walking down Woodward.

A pair of medics are out in front of an apartment building, waiting agitatedly. As I hike closer to them, one yells, “Hey, are you the patient?”
“The patient? No,” I holler back, laughing. How, in this moment, hale and red-cheeked, might I look as though I require medical assistance? Maybe these perambulations are an outsider’s preoccupation.
They shrug, frustrated, and climb back in the ambulance. When I catch up with them a minute later, they roll down the window. “How far are you going? Do you need a ride?”
“No, I’m fine,” I say, all instinct, “Just to the library,” abbreviate my course for their benefit. The streets aren’t empty; the buzz is that the library is closing early. Hastening is absurd. There’s still time. The snow slows everybody’s footsteps, covers their tracks.

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Darkness takes longer than usual to show up this evening. When it does, the snows reflects light, giving the sky has that comforting wintery pallor. It brings about memories of being small and warm, someone making hot chocolate with marshmallows, the lofty roof of a blanket fort overhead. Brushing off my coat and hat, I take the long route home, searching for snowmen other than myself. There aren’t any yet. No snow angels either, but residents are out with shovels and brooms in a seemingly futile effort to keep the still-falling snow. Someone walks with a dog up past its elbows in fluff.

Snowfall gauge.

Snowfall gauge?

All in all, it was hardly a snowpocalypse. The National Weather Service claims just six inches of snow in Detroit, but as the blustery flakes fell into windswept dune-like formations, it seemed like more. Of course, winter is yet to come.

Serendipitous solstice!

December 21, 2012

In the sudden flush of wintry weather, one can sense warmth pulsating from a mile away, a lighthouse beacon.

On a whim, taking a different route across town, distortions in the air over a metal trash can promise heat, or at least something interesting. It’s noon, and when the sun stands still, so do I.

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The park was empty. He saw me and sauntered over. “Hey, I like your boots!”
“Uh, thanks.”
“Oh look, did somebody put more wood on there? I put some on this morning.”

In Redmond Plaza today there are warm hands, a feeling of gratitude for those who keep things illuminated in the city, and, as always, a large concrete seal.

Happy solstice!