C.Bear and the Weather Gods

Everybody complains about the weather …

C.Bear's Window sillC.Bear likes to travel in the Bear Bag, which is usually stowed in the overhead compartment when we fly, and we tell him about the flight afterwards. From the railing of a ferry boat, C.Bear once peered into the steely churning waters of the James River. Never, so far as we can recall, has he ever expressed interest in gazing from an airliner window upon the ground so far, far below.

Looking down from 30,000 feet aloft, there is an ocean of sand. Out of the sands protrude weathered tips and ridges of mountains so ancient that they must be at least half-buried in their own debris and exfoliates. Decaying talus and scree slides wash down the mountainsides to meet sandy floodplains; “bays” and “inlets” filled with flowing sand encroach deep back into the bowels of the mountains.

Visualizing this sand and debris as a rising tide, into which the eroding mountains slowly sink, it is easy to realize that, deep underneath the level surface of the desert floor, there must be an “ocean floor” of bedrock, lava, or some other more ancient plain. How deep? A thousand feet, a mile? How deep do the marine ocean beds get? How long did it take for this to happen?

From what we know of the growth habits of more vigorous younger ranges, this must have been going on for an unimaginably long time. Peaks and ridges that must once have appeared snaggletoothed, show now as blunted, rounded and worn into bumps. A hint of their former harsher majesty is revealed in seeing how the extruded stone foundations supporting these bumps are characteristic (in younger ranges) of other upwelling extrusions that in turn buttress much more imposing rock superstructures.

Then too, you can guess from the talus slopes, and from the height to which they ascend the old mountainsides, that it took many times more bulk to create today’s talus slopes, than is presently visible in the remaining solid bumps and broken-down ridges.

If you look carefully, once in a while you will see just the miles-long backbone of an ancient ridge protruding as a long line of weathered rocks perched on the sand, and a slight bulge of the sand plain along the backbone suggests what remains of ancient talus slopes after they swallowed their mountains entirely. The poor thing is just on the edge of sinking out of sight forever.

Could these have been the continent’s first mountains? How many epochal inland seas might once have helped level these ranges? Once again, time is the great leveler.

None of this means much to your typical stuffed Bear, but some of us — and I’m sure this includes our own A.Bear — believe in the importance of trying to visualize what existence on this planet must have been like Before There Were Bears.

2. Flying Around The Weather

The airplane slides between horizontal layers of an early monsoonal tropical storm, this one forecast to move over California and dump moisture at least as far west as the Pacific. Below us are giant corregated air cells packed with billowy cotton wadding clouds. The cells seem to flow along without mixing much with each other, and where they collide, the disturbances in the cell-bubbles corrugate roughly perpendicular to the westward flow of the lower air mass.

But we are too close above them to get the big picture. From here they look like a gymnasium floor covered wall-to-wall with slightly compressed cotton balls. You can discern super-groups of cloud cells that appear to be dividing into almost-distinct entities. If you stared long enough at the cotton-ball floor, or at clumps of blown-on insulation, you would start seeing such patterns there, too. Sandwiched between air layers in our flight, this vista is no weather map.

Occasionally a cumulus formation, growing out of the cells below, towers above our aircraft, but they are gentle; no thunderheads right here. Above us, way above us, floats a gray fog-like layer with no discernable features. As evening envelopes the planet, the overhead layer breaks and the sun streams straight through the middle layer to illuminate free-floating cumulus in a brilliant golden yellow. Surely it is such astounding beauty as this that gave people the notion of a heaven above.

The bottoms of the middle cumulus are dropping light rain, which probably never hits the desert floor, and under each cloud is a small arc of rainbow. At one point I see four of them below us at once. I have never seen a rainbow from above before, except possibly from the top of Nevada Falls.

We exit the weather system just before late twilight. We seem close enough to the golden cloud formation to touch it, and it extends above us and below us as far as the eye can see. Light inviting tendrils reach out to us, hanging on the evening sky, and they seem to invite us back some other day, just as the plane throttles back for its long descent into Phoenix.

But then, the whole subject of weather and meteorology is but of passing and strictly academic interest to Bears, who lead an exemplary if sheltered indoors existence. Bears never ever venture outdoors alone. Getting Bears in their travel bags safely through their car journey, the airport, airport security and the flight to our home in Phoenix, bears some resemblance to the complexity of a NASA moon launch. “Bears?”

3. Weather Bears and Bear Gods

Phoenix Bear saw on the Weather Channel that there is a 20% chance of thundershowers tonight and tomorrow night, though he says it does not look like this is going to happen.

But you can never be sure of the weather. Fear of the unknown can be a powerful motivator. The advertisements of the insurance companies only confirms this, especially when you consider the accumulated wealth, power and political position of the advertisers.

Insurance companies are not the only organizations which have learned to harness the fear of the unknown into a profitable risk management enterprise.

Someone has gotten some of the younger Bears to believing that lightning is caused by angry Bear Gods hurling thunderbolts in displeasure, when they have not received the Bear Kibble offerings on time.

On this trip, A.Bear notices that some of the Phoenix bears had put together a little Offering, in a spot secret from prying eyes and vacuum cleaners. It consists of some lucky coins and dried flowers and something that could possibly be bear kibble, arranged carefully on the dresser in what could be the world’s first secret altar in plain sight.

A.Bear inquires gently about this, and probes to determine whether the Offering is completely serious. Phoenix Bear explains that some of the younger bears “wanted to do it just for fun”, and points out that there can certainly be no harm in it.

The Phoenix Bears have been mostly isolated for a long time now, more than ten years of our time. Their ranks have doubled with the sudden influx of the Phoenix Volunteers last year, while they have assimilated themselves into the local group without effort. But it was not surprising that some differences in local customs would inevitably develop.

The “Mr. Squirrel” cultural visitations, so popular in Castro Valley, would hardly make sense in Phoenix, where we see no squirrels ever. Likewise, the “Mr. Cactipus” legend has little impact on some of the Castro Valley Bears, who have still never seen a cactus plant.

Despite daily use of the Bear Channel to keep the groups in touch, and the biweekly visitor exchange program that the People instituted, it seems to A.Bear that the Phoenix group is quieter, more introspective. Since no one is here most of the time, that much more of the day’s activities must come entirely from the imagination, and more of their time will be spent simply waiting for something to happen.

Could Bears, then, start their own religion? Phoenix Bear stresses again that this is “all in fun”, and adds that it never hurts to play it safe.

A.Bear frets at this easy dismissal, alluding to how murderously divisive religion became in so many human communities. He wishes he had never started that particular rumor in the first place, and vows to inject into his school classes more emphasis on the sciences and the physical world we live in.

A “Bear Church” in Phoenix? A.Bear tries to picture easy-going Phoenix Bear dressed up in High Episcopal red robes, sprinkling holy water (wait, no water, it would have to be powdered Bear kibble) to the faithful followers. Could this come to pass? Phoenix Bear is gregarious, likes to play cards with the fellers (and generally likes to take them to the cleaners), and he fixates on the Weather Channel developments when the TV is tuned to it.

No, A.Bear concludes, even if this were so, it would not endure any better than any of the other organizational efforts, including his own classroom activities. Bears just want to have fun. They would soon drift back to the TV and pillow-sliding.

4. Nicknames and Spoonerisms

The People started it as a teasing game. Cubby became “Chubby”, “AZ” Bear became “CRA-Z” Bear, and the People would deliberately mix up the names of the Bears of The Day. A teaming of LV Bob and Johnnie Walker might be announced as LV Walker and Johnnie Bob; “Happy” and “Paulie” would become “Pappy” and “Holly”.

Sometimes the People would just forget who were the Bears Of The Day, and a lazy one, usually Alex, would say that he thought it was “Bear & Bear”. The People would guffaw over that, and then Bob would walk over to the List and announce seriously, no, it wasn’t “Bear & Bear”, but “Bear and Walker”. Then they would guffaw all over again, and some of the Bears were beginning to feel slighted over this treatment.

5. Things You Can Do About The Weather

Some mornings are sunny from the very beginning. Some mornings start out sunny, and you can watch the weather system gradually move in to blot out Mr. Sun.

Still other mornings are Blah from the very beginning, and when the fellers looked out the window first thing this morning, they all silently trooped back to bed.

The high gray cloud layer blankets the state. It is almost featureless from horizon to horizon, a condition passed on to the new day without change since yesterday afternoon. Of course you would expect humidity in the monsoon season, and it is humid, so the cloud cover can be counted on to only provide a few degrees of relief from the summer heat. But it is still only 80 this morning. A very lightest of rains tries to sprinkle the yard just now.

You can actually see a droplet hit the quiet surface of the pool now and then, one drop or so every square yard of swimming pool surface. The air is still. The pool patio is, if not wet, just slightly dampened. You can see crisp, perfect, dry no-rain “shadows” under the patio furniture, the diving board, and even under the tubular metal poolside rails that swimmers hang onto when climbing out of the pool.

When the Weather Service casually drops figures like a hundredth of an inch of rain, or less, this is what they are talking about: a well-developed weather system that delivers less moisture all the way to the ground than a decent coastal drizzle.

Even this has stopped now. It is early in the season. This is a very hesitant, non-committal weather system. Nothing will probably come of it. Somewhere in the state of Arizona, something probably will come of it, and it is characteristic of the area that we can have weather like this here, while fifty or a hundred miles to the west, they are having high winds and flash floods are washing away trees, cars and dwellings.

If you don’t like the weather, maybe you are not quite able to accept what every day has to offer on its own terms, or maybe you are taking it personally, as if a state-wide weather system cares how your day is going so far. You can always complain to the National Weather Service. They are certainly interested in hearing how good a job you think they are doing in serving the needs of the public.

A breeze picks up to awaken the trees, but you cannot tell what this means. You cannot out-guess this kind of meteoroligcal indecision, and we don’t think the Weather people can, either. It is not the kind of thing you would fret about, but it is fun to be able to take the time to be an interested observer.

The morning’s new pot of coffee is ready. We are on vacation, and we can plan our day any way we want to. The Fellers already have their movies and nap schedule prepared for the day.

6. “Paybacks Are Heck, Tim.”

The fellers have been throwing back at us one of our favorite lines from the old “Home Improvement” show. Whenever Tim Taylor would suggest some particularly dumb idea to Al Borland, Al used to reply, “I don’t THINK so, Tim.”

So when we suggest that maybe the fellers would like to help us do the laundry, or wash the dishes, they throw the “I don’t THINK so, Tim!” line back at us. And of course they still think this form of mild disrespect is pretty daring, so, often you will hear tittering in the background.

This probably has something to do with our getting their names mixed up. Sometimes now, to express their displeasure with a TV channel change they didn’t approve, or a suggestion they’re not particularly keen on, they’ll just call us “Tim.”

7. “Bear Union Rulz”

As noted in earlier chronicles, we’ve had a Bear Union for some years now, and our redoubtable little C.Bear remains its most capable shop steward. Suggestions of helping us with the dishes are invariably fended off with the “Bears can’t get their paws wet” rule, and of course there is a corollary “dirty paws” rule covering all possible permutations of household dust, garbage, wastebasket duties … and all other tasks that might be deemed inconvenient or distasteful.

The “greasy paws” clause excludes any sort of culinary activity at all, excepting of course the eating of Bear Ice Cream.

The other fellers admire C.Bear greatly for his negotiating talent, which may help explain why, when it comes time to pack the Bear Bag for the vacation in Phoenix, C.Bear always gets to go.

For any particularly difficult challenge to Bear Union supremacy, C.Bear always manages to cite some new and inventive paragraph or section of the Bear Union Rules. If we were to suggest, for example, that C.Bear might want to give up his spot in the Bear Bag just once, to make room for some other bear who had never even been to Phoenix, C.Bear might cite Union rule and subparagraph 2.22.2, which would state that Bears transported to other states or municipalities must always be accompanied by a duly elected Union Representative.

Since C.Bear is the only elected representative, and is, we suspect, the only Bear who ever will be a duly elected Bear Union representative, we think this pretty well covers all bases. We also notice that every rule and paragraph so cited is always the numbers “2.22.2”, consistent with their counting system.

8. People, Places, Things … and Bears.

We should have been able to see this coming, but, yes, the Fellers have adopted the old kid’s game of renaming people, places and things (whose original meaning may mean little to them), so that the new word or name has a context more confortably familiar to them.

The key sound here is anything that sounds remotely like “Bear”, of course: the legendary ’50’s rock’n’roller Chuck Berry becomes “Chuck Beary”; Barrington, Rhode Island becomes “Bearington”. Yes, you get the idea. We know you’re already horribly familiar with this little game. This works best in the South and in the Western states, where folks are much more relaxed about pronouncing the soft sound of the letter “e” (as in “Chairies Jubilee”).

An educated person’s worst fear would be that even the homophone rule would eventually break the game down into verbal anarchy. Without monitoring, the simple sound-alike device in this game could get stretched to the most patently ridiculous limits. As you might guess, A.Bear never participates in these sessions.

We all watched a DVD re-run of “Goldfinger” the other evening, that great old 007 spoof starring the impeccably attired and properly accented Sean Connery, of course, not that Roger Moore imposter. We thrilled to the brilliantly crisp sound track scored by Lionel Barry, and we hung on every syllable of the title song “Goldfinger”, as belted out by Shirley Bassey.

Within minutes of the opening sound track, we were treated to a second chorus refrain, that of “Bearfinger!”, and we did think it a bit much. We did not catch who played the role of lead heavy Auric Goldfinger, though it struck us the actor bears more than passing resemblance to both Alfred Hitchcock and Nikita Krushchev. We told the fellers we did not think he would be pleased, and that perhaps he might dispatch Odd Job after those who so mock his name. They managed to behave less badly after that.

What do we People do get out of these word games? We get a much richer smorgasbord of English-sounding words, such as “hibearnation” for sleeping, “Beargonia” the houseplant, or “Cybearg” for all those Bear TV robots. I guess we won’t be watching “Bearetta” any more, though.

9. Mr. Storm’s Nice Little Visit

If you want to take it that way, yes, you could say that “Mr. Storm’s Nice Little Visit” sounds somewhat patronizing. It was a nice little rainstorm. Like other purely social calls, it didn’t last long, and left behind little of substance to remember it by.

This was just as well. We mostly dozed through it anyway. Shortly after we turned of the Leno show re-run for the night, it seemed as if we heard a distant thunder rumbling gently through the sky. But it could have been an air conditioning vent, or cheap loudspeakers breaking up in the trunk of a passing low-rider. Later, it seemed as if we could have had a lightning flash or two, but this is hard to tell through closed eyes, and, it could have been the high beams from a late-night car turning around in the traffic circle.

Then the rain came, not as a torrential downpour, but as just a steady patter of a rainshower on a roof. To this sound was shortly added the noise of rainwater falling off the eaves into the dripline in the garden below, and this is good; in July, we need this kind of moisture in the soil.

All in all, late night rainshowers like this cause people worldwide to adjust the bedding covers one more time and bundle into even deeper sleep. That’s what we did. There may have been one respectable thunderclap, but no more. It was a very pleasant rainshower, and we all got a good night’s rest.

C.Bear and I started the coffee this morning (“Bear Coffee, of course!), and we went outside to have a look. If you had slept through all of it, you’d have a hard time guessing whether it rained or not.

The front pavement was completely dry. There was a small puddle in the front walkway. Don’t the automatic drip sprinklers come on later in the morning? In the back yard, the pool patio was dry. Under the porch roof, the indoor-outdoor carpet matting was damp, which means there had to have been enough standing water to wash in from the patio. If you looked carefully, you could see traces of dampness in some of the bare topsoil in the yard.

The sky was mostly overcast, with much the same high cloud cover of previous mornings. Outside air temperature at 8:00 AM was a solid 80 degrees in the shade, which is how the mornings are starting off. Humidity displays on the big L.L. Bean outdoor thermometer as 65%. We don’t trust the humidity indication completely, because it is too near the pool, but it displayed at about 50% yesterday morning, so it is more humid, for sure.

C.Bear’s bougainvillea still sports a fair number of white blossoms, and he was pleased to see them. These are far from being the fussy, overly-delicate domestic garden plant that you might think, not at all the sort of bushes that might swoon into shock at the first hint of neglect from a doting Aunt Bridget. Bougainvilleas are actually hardy and quite drought-tolerant. Along with the Mexican birds of paradise, indigenous compact shrubs and tough little sword grasses, bougainvilleas line the freeways of Arizona.

You can pretend to prune your own bougainvilleas if you want to, or you can hack them back into submission, but, in the end, their sprawling growth habit will have its own way.

Looking into the morning sky, we remembered that friends of ours are hiking in the Sierras right now. Out here in the desert, on those few occasions when the weather blows in from the south, it comes quickly, it is spectacular, and local residents should take heed.

But when the monsoonal weather comes in from the east, it continues along far to the west, and often fuels massive summer thundercloud buildups parallel to the Sierra crest. We remember some spectacularly awesome displays in the Sierras, as chronicled in About Summitlake.com, and we hope that our friends do have a safe and enjoyable hike.

Our C.Bear doesn’t fuss much about the weather. If you are a farmer, you might well pay somebody the big bucks to help you plan the planting time, or fix whether conditions are ripe for an early harvest this year. If you are a Bear, it is probably best to just take the weather as it comes, one day’s worth at a time, and to make enough time to enjoy and appreciate it.

10. epilogue

The rain seemed to have washed some of the desert dust off C.Bear’s bougainvillea, and it seemed happier too. We went inside to check on the coffee.

The morning’s new pot of coffee is ready. We are still on vacation, and we can plan this new day any way we want to. The Fellers already have their movies and nap schedule prepared for the day. That’s what vacations are for.

off Cull Canyon, circa 1986

© Alex Forbes, July 10, 2001

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