Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Mountains, Tule Fog, and Time

Eat your hearts out, Utards. this is what I can see with a forty-five minute drive to the east.

I can have this view with roughly a  thirty-minute drive from most parts of the the valley floor.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!  We're actually well beyond evening I suppose, and rapidly approaching those twilight zone hours or graveyard hours, or whatever one might care to call them. i don't believe there's a mutually-agreed-upon term for the hours between midnight and dawn. I googled but found that the several terms pertained more to dusk and dawn than to  those hours between midnight and that time just before - for my location, anyway -- the sun allows its very first rays to glow softly above the looming Sierras, before even the tiniest arc of the spherical sun makes itself visible -- if  -- and this is a BIG if --  the air is sufficiently clear to allow a view of the mountains themselves. When the night has passed, we see a soft glow peering at us regardless, and we can see that something occludes its total view from us. On our poor-air-quality days, that large presence blocking our view of sun's pre-dawn hint of rays might just as well be the Great Wall of China as the majestic Sierra Nevada range. 

I presently view the fleeting pre-dawn moments  from  a spot on the peninsula west of the San Francisco Bay, giving me a more distant and less clear view than that seen by those on the mainland, but even the mainlanders report that it's a rare day that they have a really clear view of the Sierras in their snow-capped glory.  I've had Utah natives tell me that nothing matches the Rockies, and in terms of sheer breadth, I suppose they're technically correct, at least as far as our North American continent is concerned. Where sheer beauty is the criteria by which mountain ranges are compared, however, I'd put my beloved Sierras ahead of the Rockies any day of the week or month of the year. The Sierras may not be purple, but they're utterly breathtaking in their magnificent splendor.

My mother tells me that when she was a young child and her father was stationed at Castle Air Force Base in the heart of California's San Joaquin Valley, she thinks the mountains could be seen from her part of the valley every day.She says she merely thinks this is true because it was so taken for granted that it wasn't something of which she made a conscious note. She simply recalls frequently looking to the east and seeing them in all their glory and thinking very little about it at the time. She believes that had the view of the mountains been an especially unusual occurrence, she would have remembered her views of the mountains as such.

The former view of the mountains from the San Joaquin Valley existed unless it was foggy, as it frequently was and still is in the winter there. The floor of  both the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys have this tule fog  thing that goes on in the winter. Officially it can happen from Halloween through the end of March, but it ordinarily peaks from mid-December though late Januray. When  a person tries to explain it to someone who has not experienced it, thr explainer may find the explanation impossible. The person will say, "Oh, I've seen fog before. I know  all about fog." Tule fog, however, is a whole different animal. It's the primary cause of multiple major automobile accidents each year, as in literally thirty (or more)-car pile-ups, and often with fatalities resulting. One does not want to be on a freeway in dense tule fog, as no matter how carefully one drives, there is perpetually one idiot out there who thinks it's perfectly reasonable to drive at a speed in excess of the maximum speed limit under optimal conditions despite the fact that her or she cannot see to the end of the hood of his or her own vehicle. 

With global warming and its effects, the valleys  don't see as much of the dreaded tile fog there as they used to, though I understand that January and even early February have been especially bad in terms of tule fog this year. It comes on in the evening or early morning hours. It doesn't typically remain in its densest form for an entire day,  but some days the sun never makes its way through the fog. They've had as many as twenty straight days where they couldn't see the sun -- and this is in supposedly sunny California.  When the tule fog hits in full mode,  driving, bicycle riding, or even walking is something one does at his or her own risk. 

Schools in the Central Valley have fog days the way schools in areas experiencing more classic winter phenomena, i.e. snow,  have snow days. Parents and children, each with differing hopes regarding the outcome -- watch public television or listen to designated radio stations to learn if their school's buses will run late and school will begin at later hours. If the buses run late, the children sit in front of their TVs crossing their fingers and praying that an update will appear, announcing cancellation of school for the entire day. Their parents, i'm sure, pray or cross their fingers with hope of the exact opposite result. if school is canceled, depending upon the ages of children, it becomes an impromptu "Take Your Child to Work" day, or normally supervised children become latch-key kids. Stay-at-home parents simply have the headaches associated with children being underfoot who normally would be the school's problem for at least six hours. It's  a major source of worry for parents, I'm sure, but it's the materialization of every school-aged's child's fondest dream.

Tule fog, school closures, and view of mountains and lack thereof, and absence of adequate nomenclature for my favorite part of the day or night notwithstanding, if I'm awake by totally by choice during the quiet hours when most of the sane people in any given time zone are asleep unless they're gainfully employed at a job that requires them to be up and alert, I cherish that time. I don't enjoy being awake in those no man's when hours I've worked or attended class all day and studied all evening and still feel as though I haven't mastered the material, forcing me to pull an over-24-hour work/study shift. On these wonderful days, however,  when i'm essentially free tomorrow minus a two-hour stint in the E.R., and when I've already studied  hard and productively, being awake in these quiet hours is a precious gift.  In many ways, there is no gift more precious than the gift of time. Not any one of us knows just how much of it we'll really have.

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