Science of observation

Aug 17, 2005

Book club again tonight, talking about Defining the Wind with the author, Scott Huler, who tells a fascinating and enlightening tale of the wind and how we measure it with the Beaufort Scale. Chris Brodie praised the book for it’s “observations on the nature of science and the science of observation,” and that made me chagrined that I’ve not posted as many of my own observations to this blog as I promised I would.

In his book, Huler writes about standing atop a four-masted schooner and feeling the wind as he sees the beauty of the ship below him. The closest I came was in a helicopter ride on Paama. That’s right, a helicopter showed up on Paama one week, there to help an Aussie contractor build a telecom relay tower atop the island. Erin asked the pilot for a ride, and he gladly took us up and away. As we climbed, he told us how he mentally pictured the winds as rivers and how his helicopter plied those air streams. To this day, when I recall that afternoon (when clouds briefly grounded the copter at the worksite and I thought we’d have to hike down), it seemed the ride in the air was no different than the ride on the Maid of the Mist to the base of Niagara Falls.

I can remember other winds, like the steady gales that tried to blow me off the top of the Oahu pali, or the blast of cold air as an advancing thunderstorm caught me out in the Illinois fields one summer. But the most frightening wind was one that, in retrospect, probably nearly killed me: for post-prom my senior year, my date and I and another couple drove on a Sunday to the cliffs overlooking the Mississippi River. We finished our picnic early because of the ominous storm coming from the west. In our car later, in the middle of flat farmland, we watched as the winds sent the moist black earth into the air. Our car stopped, we sat in blackness and noise.

Once we could drive again, we made our way home to DeKalb, listening to the radio as we went. A news bulletin announced two tornado touchdowns – one to the west of where we been stopped, another to the east. It seemed as if a twister had skipped right over us.

Next on the reading list: Oranges by John McPhee.

Anton Zuiker

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