Friday, October 09, 2015

Aurora musings

Were those the Northern Lights? – or: Aurora musings, a work in progress

Five months and seven years after coming to Oban, I've at last seen the Northern Lights with my own eyes – from the top of the hill behind my house. As I walked up, the ground ahead began to fall away. In the first hours of last night, wide beams of light seemed to reach up into the clear sky above an unusually bright northern horizon.

Up there I stood in wet grass beneath a dark sky glinting with thousands of diamonds. The air was still. Behind me lay the glare of Oban town, the humming pulse of a ferry in the harbour, the roar of cars...

Orion had risen to the south-east. I tilted my head right back. The Milky Way above me guided my eyes to Ursa Major. From it I got my proper bearings: at five times the distance between the two stars at the rear of the heavenly beast, I found the Lodestar that for millenia has helped people find their way across the northern darkness. Northward I looked.

By the houses to the east at my back, a fox barked and barked again. Its rasping voice came nearer, dipped away behind the big house to my right, grew louder briefly and then faded away as the creature fled to the rough ground beyond. Between my spot and bare-topped, round-crowned Battleship Hill, several cars roared past on the A85 below, speeding towards the villages nestled on the sea shore at the foot of mountains.

Due north, above the dark horizon, lay an almost blinding, blurry band of silvery light. I had to close my eyes. The afterglow was strong. As my retina continued to send a large lentil blob of brightness to my brain, I struggled to make sense of this new sight.

Open-eyed again I saw more broad beams of light rising up towards the stars. Slowly, ever so slowly, the beams – faintly tinged with green? – shivered across the horizon from north-west to north-east, moving closer together and drifting apart as they went.

Was that silvery sheen really the aurora borealis? Where was their bright-green hue? And did I really see faint rainbow specks or had my eyes played a trick on me?

Suddenly, to the west of Battleship Hill, it looked as though it was raining light. Or as if several more long, tall slivers of shimmering light were rising up to the stars. The hill stood in their way. The spectral glow grew fainter. The deep band of silver, though, remained like a blanket above the horizon, flowing higher then descending again, like a huge beast breathing in a restful sleep.

Just such a beast gathered itself in and came to rest on Battleship Hill, a cloud dragon whose long toothsome jaws devoured the stars. And the silver-green light lay still on the horizon.

© 8 October 2015 – Margret Powell-Joss

Friday, April 12, 2013

Walbesuch und Heidebrände

Hier geht es manchmal doch ganz spannend zu und her.

Am Karfreitag schwamm ein junger Pottwal in die Bucht von Oban, ein sehr aussergewöhnliches Ereignis. Das arme Tier muss schrecklich verwirrt worden sein ob all dem Lärm von Fähren, Fischer- und Touristenbooten. Zum Glück hat es am Montag Nachmittag den Weg aus der Bucht gefunden. Ob es jedoch den Weg in die offene See hinaus findet, ist noch nicht sicher. Die langen Meeresarme hier können ganz schön zu Fallen werden...
Hier ein guter Bericht, halt auf Englisch, doch immerhin hats ein paar gute Bilder:

Oban wimmelte während der 10 Tage "Walbesuch" von Menschen, die bloss hier her gereist waren, um einen Blick des seltenen Wesens zu erhaschen. Selber hatte ich leider das Glück nicht – dringende Arbeit "fesselte" mich an den Bildschirm, und ich kann mir keine verspätete Abgabe von Arbeiten leisten.

Nach 7-wöchiger Trockenperiode regnet es seit gestern früh endlich wieder. Der Winter war hier auch extrem trocken, wir hatten ja kaum Schnee, höchstens 2cm.
Wasserknappheit und Heidebrände sind die Folge. An sich verhindern kleine Heidefeuerchen schlimmere Brände, doch wenn unvorsichtige Bauern oder Fischer ohne Rücksicht auf Windrichtung klingeldürres Heidekraut anzünden, geht die Sache rasch aus dem Ruder.

Von meinem Wohn-/Arbeitszimmer aus sah ich vor drei Wochen die Flammen hinter dem Hügel am Horizont emporflackern – das war nicht mehr gemütlich! Und für die Leute in den Häusern ganz in der Nähe wurde es gefährlich.
Zum Glück ist bisher "nur" Sachschaden zu beklagen, sowie leider wohl der Verlust unzähliger Wildvogelnester inklusive Goldener Adler!

Jetzt atmen wir auf, und die Landschaft sieht schon etwas grüner aus als vorgestern.

Nie hätte ich gedacht, dass ich mich hier in Schottland – und erst recht an der Westküste – jemals nach Regen sehnen würde! Verkehrte Welt, dank Klimawandel.

Friday, February 15, 2013

"We teach life, Sir!" • Rafeef Ziadah

Palestinian peace activist Rafeef Ziadah will be in Newcastle upon Tyne on the afternoon of Friday, 8th March 2013.

See here for details of the event.

And watch one of Rafeef's powerful, moving performances:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Science of Success - The Atlantic

The Science of Success - The Atlantic

I've just finished reading this article by David Dobbs.

It started out explaining why kids do better when they have nurturing parents.

As I read on, this quote caught my attention:
"... attentional restlessness can serve people well in environments that reward sensitivity to new stimuli. The current growth of multitasking, for instance, may help select for just such attentional agility. Complain all you want that it’s an increasingly ADHD world these days—but to judge by the spread of DRD4’s risk allele, it’s been an increasingly ADHD world for about 50,000 years."
I have thought for a long time now about why it is that so many of us seem to be endowed with ADD/ADHD brains. This seems a very plausible explanation. And it's nice to be likened to an orchid. Might I just add that a lot of orchids don't need a greenhouse to flourish – take the Spotted orchid or the Marsh orchid that do very well in montane environments such as the Swiss Alps (where they're increasingly rare) or the Scottish Highlands (where they're still relatively abundant).

3July2011: large Pink marsh orchid at Gallanach near Oban
Read Dobbs' piece yourself. I'm sure you will find your own favourite quote.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Understanding Adult ADHD/ADD

Have had my diagnosis of ADD/ADHD for about six months now – what a revelation, what a journey I've been on!

This is an excellent article by Sharon Begley on the subject:

Please leave a comment if you're interested in more information.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Dolphins sighted between Lismore Lighthouse and north end of Kerrera

On our way back from the Mull Mòd on the 7pm ferry we were delighted to see many young bottlenose dolphins cavorting in the bow waves. There was quite a strong tiderace in the narrow passage between Mull and Lismore, which must have attracted these predators for a feast on disoriented fish.
I'm saying "young" dolphins because they looked quite small. How many? Hard to say because we couldn't see under water, of course. But I'd guess at least six, maybe a dozen, maybe even more. At any one time, three, four, five of them would jump out of the otherwise very calm sea.
A fantastic end to a great day.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Scotland going it alone? Some thoughts on the Independence Referendum in autumn 2014

As many of you will know, Scotland has longed for independence ever since the not very voluntary union with England in 1707. As a Swiss I have a fairly good idea of the resentments this "union" caused, and of how important historic events are to traditionalists.
A "Saltire" sky above Oban, November 2011. Photo © MPJ
But I have my doubts and questions about full Scottish independence, on which I will – fingers crossed my application for UK citizenship goes through next year – be able to vote in 2014.

Some of my questions are about financial impacts. I would like to see hard-headed, independent figures on just how much money flows south from "Holyrood/Edinburgh" and how much comes north from "Westminster/London". This is a tall order given the interconnectedness of the only partially independent economies in the UK.
And of course no-one has a crystal ball to see into the future. Still, despite recent massive upheavals, past figures may tell an interesting story. The Nationalists, I'm afraid, are hugely biased and do not show the full picture. So this here future voter wants some pragmatic facts and figures.
She has found more questions in this highly readable article:

The information and thoughts given by Douglas Fraser, the BBC's Business and Economy editor for Scotland, pulls up lots of caveats. For example:

• "... given the importance of oil and gas revenues to achieving […] greater prosperity in Scotland, how does that square with making the country greener - particularly when claims are repeatedly made that a country that produces as much oil as Scotland shouldn't be paying such high fuel tax?"

• "Alex Salmond said he wanted a million signatories to the declaration. […]
"The round number […] brought to mind a speech in October 2006, months before becoming first minister, when Mr Salmond envisioned a million small wind turbines powering Scottish homes, on house roofs and in its gardens.
"That meant roughly two turbines for every five homes, including all those who live in flats. Achieving that by 2016 was a tall order then. It looks taller now. […]"

Mr Fraser is putting it kindly. I'd have said unachievable, given the sometimes irrational resistance to wind turbines up and down the country. Currently, according to this source, there are 467 wind turbines in Scotland, with a further 1,255 in planning – I rest my case.

More worrying information regarding the future of countries' economies:
• "[…] the cost of insuring UK bonds against non-payment has risen steeply recently, but money still floods into London for safety, and demand for bonds pushes prices up, meaning yields automatically fall.
"It's not clear why money would flood into the market to buy Scottish government bonds as a safe haven, least of all when they start, inevitably, with no track record. Bond traders will make a judgement on the credit rating of a newly-independent Scotland.
"[…] Until now, Holyrood's revenue has had very little flexibility, and as it's lacked any borrowing powers, the Scottish government simply has to balance its books.
"So [presenting a balanced Scottish budget] is not an achievement so much as a requirement. And it's been accompanied by many calls from Scottish ministers that they would like very much to borrow more to stimulate more growth into the economy.
"Whether or not they're right to call for that, it would mean unbalanced budgets and, at least initially, bigger deficits.
"Any bond trader wanting to price risk on Scottish debt might listen with interest to the rhetoric from the Fountainbridge cinema on Friday, as several prominent voices pointed to a radical repudiation of market orthodoxy."

I quake in my shoes at Scottish ministers calling for more borrowing – see where that got the Royal Bank of Scotland, to name just one huge financial institution that had to be bailed out by the state!

If the launch of the Yes {to Independence} Campaign is anything to go by, Scottish Independence won't happen. Here's an overview of press responses to the "Declaration of Fountainbridge" presented on 11 May 2012.
Goodness, how could I have missed that? Because it failed to make waves – is why.

In my humble opinion, people in Scotland today have massive worries about their economic futures. I now know personally more than half a dozen adults who have moved or are having to move back in with their parents because they've lost their jobs and can no longer afford to live their own independent lives. A friend has told me of a couple having stopped living together and each of the partners going back to live with their sundry parents. I've spoken to parents whose children have moved back in with them; the parental response is not one of unmitigated joy. Unsurprising, really: how would you feel if, at the tender age of, say, 65 or 70, you suddenly found yourself cooking again for a whole family, doing the shopping for them, and the laundry, and the cleaning? All of this to enable the "children" to focus on finding a new source of income, for example. I certainly would never want to have to move back in with my parents, no matter how much I love them, and there's no question that I do.

So, anything that's going to bring yet another big wobble to the already fragile economy is not going to be very welcome here.

Bring on the hard-headed, hard-nosed, pragmatic information, please! Treat your voters with respect and trust us to make the right decisions. We can only do that, however, if we're given serious and reliable information, no matter how complex it may be.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Zygaena filipendulae – Six-spot Burnet moth

Delighted to find this striking day-flying moth also exists in my adoptive home country. See here for a photo: Seil Natural History Group – Zygaena filipendulae (Six-spot Burnet)

And these are my own three photos documenting the find on 16 July 2006 near Montana, Valais, Switzerland:

I photographed the beauty on a walk along the Bisse du torrent neuf near Montana (southern flank of the Swiss Alps).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

56.4 million kilometres around the Sun

Hiya again

One of my beloved nephews recently sent me a message saying that I've completed 56.4 million kilometres (35,045,335 miles and 426 yards) around the Sun – guess how many years we've been going to achieve this unimaginable distance?

Thank you, all my dear friends and family, for making life such an exciting journey. Thank you, Mum, for life and flowers and support.

Oh, and my wee fundraiser resulted in £100 going to Oban Concern for Palestine any day now.

Big hug all round from a deeply grateful coast dweller:

Peace! Pax! Salaam! Shalom! Eirene! Sìth! Fois! Paix! Pace! Paz!

PS: In case you're interested, more pix here: