~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ enigma

~9-23 through 10-23-19~

One Saturday in October Quinn was invited to a d and d sleepover party at the house of Legolas. The fellowship seems to be going strong, and I am so pleased he has these friendships. I know friends can be a very challenging area in middle school, and especially with poppies, but it is one area I just don’t feel I need to worry about him. These kids want to play d and d together!!! Soon they’ll be wearing trench coats! Legolas got a whole bunch of dice so they can each use a set of one color (Quinn chose green).

I listened to Quinn read sections of the latest Trials of Apollo (Rick Riordan) out loud – hilarious as usual. He pronounced the cat’s name (Aristophanes) as ah-RIST-o-fanes. I countered, “Air-ist-OPH-an-eez,” but he would have none of it. Then Tarquinius superbus, an emperor the characters were trying to defeat, instead of superb-us (picturing someone grandiose) was pronounced super-bus (it’s big and yellow and full of school children). I got him laughing but he would keep reading it the same way. He also came across a couple of words he didn’t know. “Ella the harpy was an enigma wrapped in red feathers, wrapped in a linen shift. Mama, what’s an enigma?” And Apollo talked about he and Meg being “sympatico” about some topic. I had him look them both up in the IRL dictionary from the shelf in the living room.

Meanwhile, he spent the week with me getting caught up on work he missed from skipping school on the Friday of the climate strike. He ran into one issue with a class where he hadn’t realized he had been expected to be taking notes each day, and here it was week three. He had to problem-solve that, which took a few days, and he was only just getting started on that when he went back to his dad that Friday, but got all his other assignments done. There were several for social studies like a map of Rome – Rich was incredulous again, “he procrastinated that?” and current event summary, which I helped him not take too seriously and just get-it-done, a health assignment or two, something from language arts, studying for math test, and getting his math notebook all caught up as well.

He problem solved the math notebook on his own, having figured out where in the online textbook the notes were coming from, he knew he could just copy them from there. He made plans to stay more on top of that now that he knew how long it took to catch up from a whole unit with seven sections. He had taken some notes during class on some of the sections, and a few not at all. He needed to make them very neat and the perfectionism is still a big hurdle, but he can also talk about that, and this awareness is an ability to take one step back from it and therefore be just a teensy bit less likely to succumb. His attitude for all of this homework was just so good. On the following Thursday night he told me, “I would like to participate in the climate strike again, but I really don’t think I can afford to take tomorrow off.” He is being very pragmatic and level-headed. For math note taking, we talked about strategies for staying on top of it in class. I asked him what it looked like for him during class- was it hard to split his attention between teacher and notes, etc. He said he thinks it’s hard for him to switch back from group work to individual notetaking work- once the group work is activated it stays activated. So we talked about picturing a switch and being able to activate the notebook work again and what does the switch look like. He could describe his image and what it would do and how it would help him in the long run to take most of the notes in class instead of having to copy them over after school. Again, his dawning awareness felt like such a huge step in the right direction.

The next Saturday, Quinn got up early to ride with Rich for firewood. They came to market when they were done and surprised me. They hugged me a lot then went together for pastries.

It was nacho night!

map of Rome!

I was forced to play Risk, and of course Quinn took over the world. He put an app called my singing monsters on his phone (he asks me permission and also knows I have to electronically approve the app based on the phone family link thing, and he seems good with that arrangement. I tell him I trust him to let me know if something seems off or there are inappropriate ads.) This app is cute, each monster you add to your collection does one type of music and then they all do their thing together and make songs. You can also add your own music, so Quinn googled the sheet music for his current jam, the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army and got the monsters to play it. That night I overheard him in the shower singing the Beatles song do you want to know a secret, which seems like it is on our local radio station a lot. Ooooooh is one of the major lyrics. I remember being a sponge for radio song lyrics at his age.

Sunday morning after pancakes, he hadn’t tackled homework yet so he got his social studies current event homework done quickly so he could play my singing monsters some more. Then he got his math homework done quickly after lunch for more video game time. He’s getting more efficient for sure.

I worked on the Haunted House that day, and I’m still not sure why slicing into a salt dough brain, spray painting creepy skulls onto plastic tablecloths, and developing a menu for a haunted cafeteria was so satisfying, but I  strangely enjoyed myself. When I got home, we had dinner on the earlier side and Quinn asked me to play his new game he was creating. It was a build-your-own Jurassic park game, and I managed to accumulate 8 triceratopses in a forest enclosure on a piece of graph paper that evening.

Quinn had a rough day at school on “committed cubs day” during which those students who have all their work done/turned in/graded/passed get to take off the last hour of the school day. He worked really hard to finish things, but couldn’t get the follow up signatures with the teachers done in time. He went in that day feeling hopeful, and got in the car at the end of the day looking defeated. I just let him tell me about it and validated his disappointment, and then when we got home I copied the white stripes album with seven nation army into his computer and he played it on repeat for about an hour. He felt better. I made sure to point that out to him. Music makes us feel better!

I told him I was sorry that this reward for some kids can feel like a punishment to others like him. I told him he didn’t do anything wrong and I was proud of him working hard. I also told him I think he has a chance to try again and that the first one of the year (it happens every six week term) was bound to be harder for him because he takes a little longer to get the procedures (aka executive functions) dialed in with each teacher, whereas other kids might not have as much trouble with that. In this case, he had handed in health current event assignment #1 one day late, but the health teacher does not accept current events late at all (Quinn hadn’t caught that detail at first), so Quinn got a fail on that; the teacher was still willing to sign off that he did it, because he DID do it, but he didn’t get to follow up with him so he was lacking that one last signature on his form. He had really hustled to get the math caught up, so he was a disappointed kiddo.

I was glad this happened for Quinn while he was with me so I could help him deescalate his emotions, rather than make the school the enemy and encourage Quinn to quit trying. I want to encourage him that even when things are hard it is worth trying, and that the trying is what shows his character, and that we can do hard things. It felt kind of like one of those moments the Asperger’s parenting books talked about: if your kid can’t deal with adversity, you need to let them come up against some small adversities incrementally so they can get to a point of being more able to deal with life’s unpredictability and difficulty. I am never one to arbitrarily put stumbling blocks in his path, or make his life hard intentionally, but when those things arise organically and he has to come up against hard things, I’m for it. I’m for him learning he can handle the disappointment, I’m for him figuring out how to bounce back from it, learning how resilient he can be.

Quinn was a zombie both Friday and Saturday nights for the opening weekend of the Haunted House fundraiser for marching band. He was awesome. The previous set of marching band uniforms are amazingly creepy. they looked SO cool behind their screen under black light in the haunted band room… Quinn loved all the details – stuff you may not even see when you are a customer touring the house, but the “band concert today” poster in the band room has some sheet music attached to it… only when you looked closely could you see it was music for the itsy bitsy spider. His band teacher is arachnophobic, and one day she told the class the two sources of material for the haunted band room were that “the only excuse for missing a concert is that you’re dead” (hence the zombies still making it to the concert- they are undead). And number two, the legend of spider mouse… a spider she found in her band room one day that was so huge she thought it was a mouse. She had the principal come and remove it from the room for her. So fake spiders (and itsy bitsy spider music) were featured heavily in the band room.

It was pretty amazing taking all the money from all the people who wanted to go in our haunted house. I mean I DIDN’T WANT TO GO IN IT. I did go through one night with Rich, and Quinn went through it with a few of the band kids, all in their zombie garb.

He had a hard time with makeup removal and I was no help. Thank goodness another mom passed on some removal wipes and the awesome tip of using coconut oil.

We kept playing his Jurassic park role play game. He really developed all the details to an impressive level. In addition, it encouraged him to work on his spelling, because he wanted to spell each dinosaur name correctly so he kept consulting his dino book. Words like field and other “ie”s and research have given him trouble so we also made a list of spelling words to continue to work on.

Seventh grade parental relationship with the gradebook: checking my motive for looking, and then not looking if it isn’t necessary. He is now looking at it as needed, and is doing well with recognizing what he needs to do about his work. He had mostly As and Bs and I think a C in health class.

His homework waited until one Sunday because he was busy being a zombie all weekend. Sunday morning I had him draw up a schedule for his day, and he alternated hour-long “HW” sessions with half hour “break” sessions, in which we played dinosaurs. He also helped me bake zucchini-blueberry muffins after dinner. He told me stories about school, such as the fun warm-up in social studies where they have to rename objects using words other than what they’re normally called. The first example was his phrase for trees “wood plants” that he had used on me in a game of Taboo, but the best example was “Magical knowledge pianos,” as one kid renamed chromebooks.

minecraft monday with cousins!

The one math teacher at the middle school who he hasn’t had yet is the one going on his Italy trip in March, and she subbed for his math class one day. She is known to be very enthusiastic about math (I think Q will really like her on the trip and they will bond about rubik’s cubes and mathy nerdy things).  He was at the back of the room with his hand raised to answer her question about what to do with x3. Other guesses were “square root?? Divide?”  But Quinn knew: “cube root!”

He is an enigma, wrapped in a flannel dinosaur sheet, wrapped in a Grammy quilt, wrapped in a mama pokemon rainbow star quilt, wrapped in a fuzzy owl blanket, which he sorts into four separate piles in his sleep.

He finished off the month doing dishes, “because I am already good at vacuuming the car, but I need to get better at washing dishes” in work trade for the Lego set I had bought him at the grocery store. The Jurassic world Dilophosaurus set, of course.


lucky thirteen

I sent this photo to my bff a few weeks ago on a Friday afternoon when Quinn came home to me after his week at his Dad’s:

Her response was, “wtf. Did he become an adult in a week?”

Straight to the point, exactly what I was thinking. She always does that.

When I was pregnant with Quinn I had the requisite pregnancy dreams, but I could never see my baby’s appearance, no facial features at all. Just one time, in one single dream, I saw him clearly, face, hair, posture, but as a teen, maybe sixteen, not a baby or even a young child. And this person standing in front of me looking me almost squarely in the eye is becoming exactly the boy I saw in my dream.

It’s a Fibonacci birthday for Quinn! The next time he has one of those, he’ll be turning 21! Eek! Time feels like it moves along like a Fibonacci sequence, spiraling ever more quickly, in bigger bites each year. It does feel like he was 1 for a while, then 2, then 3, then started jumping from 5 to 8 to 13, soon he’ll be 21 and before I know it he’ll be 34!

This spiral I printed on Quinn’s birthday card represents the Fibonacci sequence up to 13, and I have talked before about how I love the idea of spirals as a metaphor for watching my child develop, and the way we are both now able to look back together on his younger years from our positions higher up our spiral staircases, a feeling I couldn’t have anticipated when I was having a baby, or when he was little. I couldn’t picture coming home from our w pancake’s first birthday party yesterday, pulling out the baby book to show Quinn photos of his own first birthday, and listening to him make comparisons between his one-year-old self and his little niece.

Prime numbers are just cool. When he has his next prime birthday, I imagine he will look exactly like the teen of my pregnancy dream. How crazy to think seventeen is such a short few years ahead of us.

Thirteen is the smallest emirp, any prime number that is also a prime when its digits are reversed (31).

Thirteen is also a Wilson prime, and there are not very many of those! A Wilson prime is a prime number p such that p2 divides (p − 1)! + 1.  I checked the math on this: 132 is 169; 12! +  1 =  (12x11x10x9x8x7x6x5x4x3x2x1) +1 = 479,001,601; and 479,001,601 divided by 169 is 2,834,329. It divides evenly! The only known Wilson primes are 5, 13, and 563, so Quinn’s next Wilson prime birthday is way off in the fourth dimension!

Though a year contains twelve solar months, part of the thirteenth lunar month is also included in one year. A baker’s dozen tide cycles to enjoy!

Thirteen is cleaning his room independently, having a passport, opening a checking account, getting a debit card, taking ownership of his google account, having an A in Algebra, reminding me not to buy anything “too dorky” when I went to buy some paper party plates at the dollar store. It’s sitting here writing this blog post while some new teenagers sing Take on Me and fling themselves around the trampoline, then carry out a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, emptying bowls of snacks while one of them strums my guitar. Imagine thinking 13 is unlucky. In Italy, where Quinn is heading soon, fare tredici (translated literally, to do 13) is to hit the jackpot! Any way you calculate it, 13 feels incredibly lucky to this mama! Happy birthday, mighty Quinn!

~rainbow mondays~ embryonic

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

uncle dan

My godfather, Dan Weber, passed away on February 3rd. He was an amazing man, and leaves behind a prosperous legacy. His five children and many grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and more distant relatives like me, all celebrate his life this weekend. His wife Judy, my godmother, is surrounded by family and I send my heart to her as well.

Aunt Judy described him as her rock, and I know all of us are picturing a few specific rocks when we hear that metaphor used to symbolize his strength of character, his stable assuredness. Our summer family vacations all revolved around Upper Saranac Lake in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York, where Weber point is a landmark we all know well. This slab of bedrock angling up out of the lake at the tippy end of Pork Bay where our family properties and cabins were concentrated, was encrusted with lichens, visited by loons and beavers, forested with paper birches and conifers, and in August, sprinkled with fresh wild blueberries. Another rock a short hike from Aunt Margie and Uncle George’s cabin Benchmark on Fish Creek is known simply as “Big Rock”, another pilgrimage destination for all cousins looking for adventure. Though his point comes to mind first, his presence was more reminiscent of the Big Rock variety of rocks – proud and solid and upright, casting a towering reflection across the surface of the lake. From up high on Big Rock, the view was expansive; likewise Uncle Dan’s sights were always set on greatness, always focused on the big picture. His obituary captures this magnitude in describing his stature in the wider world, but Aunt Judy’s words best capture his foundational bearing in the family.

A tiny species of wildflower, a bleeding heart, grew on Big Rock. I noticed it one summer when I was in high school and made an effort to check for its blooms each year thereafter upon visiting Big Rock. Up on the side of this massive bedrock heaved and carved into being by the gargantuan processes of plate tectonics and glacier retreat, this impossibly small blossom could be easily missed, and reflecting back, I imagine it was missed by most. Its delicate root system could easily have been wiped clean off the face of the rock by ice and snow, but it persisted. Its life there depended upon the elements, the fanciful flights of birds depositing its seeds from somewhere else, a root tendril grasping a crack in the rock. Not built to withstand the type of geologic processes that formed and weathered a boulder, and yet born to stand up to the test of time by living and dying in ephemeral cycles, able to receive a small component of its nutrition from the minerals in the rock itself, but mostly relying on the reliability of rain, the certainty of sunlight, and an ability to go dormant and disappear in winter, for meeting its needs.

(borrowed this lovely photo of the probable flower species, Dicentra eximia)

Whenever I saw Uncle Dan, he called me his Pretty Girl. “How’s my Pretty Girl?” he’d ask, and I’d blush and tell him I was fine, give him a hug. I was an unnoticeable flower in the presence of a towering boulder. His attention, his affectionate “Pretty Girl,” was like sun and water on the tiny flower. He managed to make each of us in the bouquet of children feel like we mattered.

His philosophy was that anyone could achieve success if they put their mind to it. A wildflower could become discouraged and find her self-worth diminished by such a philosophy, looking up at all the tall trees growing off a large boulder, while she struggled to take root in a negligible amount of soil in a tiny crack on a rock. The flower could wonder whether this philosophy was just for other entities who already started off large, those with muscle to throw around, whether maybe success wasn’t intended for pretty girls at all. Yet it is easy to feel warm towards his optimism about the American dream and anyone’s potential to achieve it, even while I acknowledge my own belief that the amount of opportunity available to a flower or a pebble or a beetle is not the same as that available to a giant rock, to achieve boulder greatness. His belief was in the inherent goodness of all, the essential sameness in all of us, with which I can and do resonate, and while privilege plays a role in actual outcomes and successes, there is always reason to dream big and believe in ourselves. My own view embraces different versions of success than just the boulder variety, and I have come to feel it is good and right for me to belong among the wildflowers in a world that tends to value rocks.

We are all busy digging through photos of him, patriarch of the Weber clan. I can tell you that none of my photos of him, mostly from when I was first let loose with a camera in high school, are of his business successes or his wealth or status in society. What they show is the way I remember him, the things I loved about him: up at the lake, up a ladder with a hammer in his hand, or waist-deep in water, if he was building a dock instead of a cabin; with a baby on his lap having a bottle, or with a kid on his lap getting bounced or told a story; sitting around a table telling a story to a wider audience, over coffee and danish.

Then there are the memories not pictured. I remember him stoking the fire in the conical red wood stove, while Aunt Judy worked the red handle to pump fresh water for one of the kids to stir kool-aid into, the screen door slamming behind whoever had just returned from the outhouse, the sliding door out front simultaneously shuttling in the rest of the kids, out of breath from running up the pine-needle covered trail and the flight of stairs up from a morning of fishing for sunnies and perch off the dock, one or two of us with a smaller toddling cousin on our hip. I remember kids lined up along the ladder to the loft of the A-frame, before the A-frame transformed into a spacious chalet to hold the ever-expanding Weber family with running water and flush toilets. I remember his blazing grin and the sparkle in his eyes, his methodical way of telling a story, his voice soothing (the same way I feel about my Dad’s) but in a Long Island accent. I remember being his Pretty Girl.

This little bleeding heart is going to miss him.

~rainbow mondays~ middle earth

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed


About ten days into 2020, I started meditating for ten minutes a day. Our routine is to get up before 5:00, I start coffee and get breakfast and lunch prep to a point where I can leave it for ten minutes, and then head downstairs to sit on my ass and focus on my breathing. One thing I have noticed in recent years is that whole days of my life go by in which I barely sit down at all, and this past fall I received a warning message from the universe about that. After several days of excruciating leg pain in the evenings, I decided to start sitting down at least a little bit during each day, whether I had time to or not. Thankfully, the pain passed and I haven’t been receiving any more big messages like that, but I heard it. I decided 2020 has some built-in requirements for me. It is not so much a list of goals as a list of bare minimums; a quart of tea a day, a beach trip per month, a nap every time I need it, ten minutes of sitting on my butt daily. In 2020, I shall strive for nothing but mediocrity. I do have a few modest goals: to grow more flowers for butterflies and a few purple vegetables in my back yard.

I’ve been seeing a lot of eagles so far in 2020, and some of them have even been sitting down. I’ve been hearing a lot of owls, and at least one has been sitting itself down in the wedding trees, leaving behind the things it doesn’t need.

When I go sit down to meditate, it is an enforced ten minutes of sit time, right smack at the beginning of my day. On weeks when Quinn is home, I may not actually sit for even five minutes on a given morning, but now I do, it’s for sure. I also hardly ever “do nothing” and this is a must, as we all know from Winnie the Pooh. So now I do ten minutes of “nothing” to start the day, which feels like one thousand times more nothing than I had been doing. Already I have worked hard to achieve mediocrity in my meditation practice (I am not taking this class for a grade – thinking it was something you had to be good at kept me from attempting it). I went from sitting up with good posture in the middle of the bed to sitting with my back slouch-reclining on the headboard, my lap under the covers. I sit with my palms facing upward, like a butterfly unfolding its wings, open to receiving whatever is coming my way from the universe, which turns out to be my cat. Bart has been joining my meditation so the gift I receive daily is two handfuls of fluff, the gift of nineteen pounds of warm weight anchoring me in place, keeping me seated.

The feeling of warmth flooding my frontal cortex when it is ever so briefly not just keeping from overthinking, but avoiding thinking altogether seems a logical extension of cultivating a gratitude practice, another way of keeping a part of my heart set aside as a sanctuary for the butterflies of summer.

~black and white wednesday~ that’s a wrap


I have always been fascinated with the tides. For me, the place at the edge of the ocean, where the earth, air and water converge, is where the magic and bioluminescence are found. When I was in college, a few of my courses contained lessons on what drives the tides, and while most of the learning from the courses of that time period has ebbed away from the shores of my mind, I tucked those particular sets of notes away in a folder to one day revisit, so that I could stitch together the fragments I had learned into a more cohesive understanding.

Twenty years after college graduation, the time has arrived! I saturated my brain with this topic over the first weekend of 2020, autodidacting my way through a weekend graduate course in tides. The second chapter of my book (now that one chapter is written I’m daring myself to say out loud that I’m writing one) contains a tidepooling scene, and in my quest to represent factually both my level of understanding of our local tides at the time, as well as to avoid putting any dubious information out into the world, it felt like an auspicious moment to take this deep dive. A big part of my quest is to take on the challenge of writing about such subjects without wringing all the life out of them, but instead retaining as much of the magic and bioluminescence they naturally contain as I possibly can, to write descriptively and with metaphor about topics that often get handled, instead, with stuffy textbook sterility.

It took immersing myself in this coastal reality with a tide chart in my pocket to be able to holistically appreciate the factoids I had memorized in school. With theory and experience tucked under each arm, I waded in.

In disentangling the enigmatic cycle of the tides and putting it into words, I’ve noticed that my notes from each of my undergraduate courses contain only incomplete segments of the information, and that online resources, even from my beloved NOAA dot gov, are likewise incomplete and occasionally provide some misleading or conflicting information. I gleaned useful clues where I could and sorted through inconsistencies to integrate the theory with my lived experience to support the scene in chapter two.

Then I ended up with 700% more brainiac thoughts on the matter than the chapter requires, so the overflow is resulting in this blog post. This way when I forget what I learned, I can come refer back to this synthesis.

In my notes from Dr. Serafy’s Field Bio taken in the Spring of 1997 was a list of three types of tides that came closest to being understandable and seeming accurate, but it was missing one level, and some further nuance. His hierarchy of tides spanned daily, monthly and what he called yearly categories. I would compile a new list with four levels including daily, monthly, I would change his third category to monthly-yearly, and add a fourth level yearly:

Daily aka Diurnal tides: twice a day high, twice a day low, at least where I live. We can visualize the earth rotating through a bulge of water created by the gravitational forces on the earth’s oceans of the moon (primarily) and the sun (secondarily). When our geographic location on earth rotates through this bulge, we experience high tide, and as it rotates through the skinny part of the bulge, we experience low tide. On the far side of the earth away from the moon is a similar bulge, the result of centrifugal force – so we get one more high and one more low before we return to the point of origin on our rotation. Though the earth takes only 24 hours to rotate once on its axis with respect to the sun, it actually takes 24 hours and 50 minutes for the earth to return to the same relationship to the moon because the moon has also been moving during the 24 hour period and it takes 50 extra minutes for the earth to catch up.

Monthly aka Lunar tides: The pulling of sun and moon in synchrony or at odds with one another result in spring and neap tides. Full moon and new moon are created under conditions of syzygy, you’re welcome for this awesome new word in your life with its three sometimes vowels, which means the tidal forces of moon and sun act to reinforce each other, and cause the diurnal tides to be spring tides (higher highs, lower lows). Closer to half moons, the lunar and solar forces run perpendicular to and therefore counteract each other, causing more moderate neap tides which see the smallest change between high and low tide (higher lows and lower highs).

Monthly-yearly aka Perigee tides (Dr. Serafy called perigee tides simply “yearly”): Each trip of the earth around the sun (we call this a year) contains about 13 lunar cycles of 27 1/3 days. During each of these thirteen trips of the moon and earth around each other, the moon is closer to the earth at one point each month. This state is called perigee and is a consequence of the moon’s orbit being elliptical; apogee is when the moon is farthest from earth. Perigee produces even higher/lower spring tides. Twice-ish per year, the timing of this close approach of the moon to the earth coincides with the lunar spring tide on the new moon or full moon, and the effects are additive, resulting in spring tides of even greater magnitude. We can call this perigee syzygy, okay?

The internet will tell you that perigean spring tides occur “about three or four times per year, in spring and fall” but I took some time and dissected what this meant, and what it means is that in spring and fall, the syzygy-perigee phenomena are most likely to overlap each other in time, so the best bets are around March and October. Like blue moons, sometimes we can get an extra one or two of these perigee-syzygies happening in, say, April, or September. This year, in March, a full moon (syzygy) will take place on the 9th, while perigee will occur on the 10th! A nice block of negative low tides (6th through 11th) coincides with this lunar magic. In October, we’ll have new moon perigee syzygy, both occurring on the 16th, with several days of negative tides once again.

A September 17th-18th new moon perigee, and a full moon perigee on April 7th seem like they bring us to four perigee syzygies for this year! It seems that we probably have perigee-syzygy a minimum of twice per year, and could have it up to four times, with two of them having possibly slightly decreased magnitude based on how well synchronized the perigees and syzygies are.

Finally, Yearly aka Perihelion tides would be level four on my list: The sun is closest to earth (a condition called perihelion) on January 2, and farthest (aphelion) on July 2. (Aside: I know that sounds backwards, trust me it’s not, we have summer in the northern hemisphere because of the tilt of the earth on its axis, and that tilt being oriented sunwards in summer; summer is not a condition of the earth’s distance from the sun.) When perihelion and perigee coincide, the result is what in the past decade I started hearing referred to as “king” tides. If we picked ONE king tide of the year, it would be the high tide associated with the perigee-syzygy situated closest to that January 2nd perihelion: in 2020, the closest perigee is January 13, and the closest full moon is January 10 (hey, that’s today! First full moon of 2020!). The absolute highest high tide for the year, then, is predicted to occur on January 11, according to my tide table. Oh hey, that’s tomorrow!

last full moon of 2019

Sea level matters… so, the January king tide will have a nice negative low tide corresponding to it, but the lowest of low tides for the year will not occur until June. Sea level will be at its lowest in summer, which is one factor contributing to this being the case (but not the only one).

The folks in charge of king tides have named quite a few dates as king tides, not just ONE regal tide reigning for the year. Still, these dates do cluster around the perihelion, corresponding to when the perigee-syzygies occur.

Winter 2019-20 king tide Dates:

November 25-27, 2019

December 24-26, 2019

January 10-12, 2020

February 8-10, 2020

I looked at them closely, and I believe they can be summarized as occurring around perihelion, around perigee UPON (some of) the new/full moons between November and February. Let’s call them perihelion perigee syzygy tides instead of king tides, alrighty? The syzygies of interest in November and December happen to be new moons, while the ones in January and February happen to be full moons. This isn’t coincidence, it has to do with the stuff I said before about “more nuance” that I was missing from my notes from college (keep reading).

After I had tackled this much of the tide cycle picture, I still didn’t understand why the “clamming” negative tides always take place in the morning during summer time, and in the evening during winter time. I took it as a clue that these big tides are close to solstices, and another clue that the “switch” from the high magnitude tidal variations from morning to evening occurs very close to spring and fall equinoxes  – you can see this in very abrupt jumps from the AM column to the PM column of the shaded “negative tide” segments of the months if you thumb through your pocket tide table. Okay, so this is something seasonal, which means, it relates at least in part to the sun.

Seasons happen, as I mentioned earlier in an aside, because the earth is tilted on its axis, and as it revolves around the sun, the angle of the relationship between our equator and the sun changes. Let’s be geocentric for a second, and we’ll talk in terms of declination, which is the angle of a celestial body above our earth’s equator. Declination is a term I learned during celestial navigation, because if I knew the angle of the sun above the horizon wherever I was in time and space on a schooner, leaning against the rail measuring said angle with my sextant, right at exactly noon, this translated very accurately (through some complicated mathematical gymnastics) into my latitude. Which is good to know! At dawn or dusk, when a few stars and the horizon could be seen through the sextant, triangulating the latitudes indicated by the declinations of several of these navigational stars could be used for another accurate latitude estimate. We can talk about the declination of any celestial body – stars, sun, planets, moon, even though we realize they’re not all revolving around us.

From our earth’s equator, the declination of the sun can range from 0 degrees (at both equinoxes) to 23.5 degrees north latitude, (on ~June 21 or Northern hemisphere summer solstice) or to 23.5 degrees south latitude (on ~Dec 22 or Northern hemisphere winter solstice). When the sun’s declination is 23.5° North, it is the closest it is going to get to our latitude of roughly 45° north, giving us our longest, warmest days we fondly refer to as summer.

Guess what! The moon also has a declination! The moon’s orbit is at about a 5 degree angle to the earth’s orbit around the sun (confusing, I know, but we’re juggling three balls here) and so when considering all three orbs, we arrive at maximum north and south declinations for the moon of 28.6 degrees. The moon travels between its maximum extremes of declination north and south (and through zero declination relative to our equator) during each lunar cycle (aka month). Here in the north, it pulls on us hardest at its maximum northern declination. Any phase of the moon can correspond to any declination, but!!! There are times of year when the moon’s maximum northern declination (when it pulls on us most and makes our higher tides higher) coincides with syzygy (which is when our high tides are already higher because of full or new moon). These effects are additive as well, so when we have both conditions coinciding, we get extra big tides. As much as I read about this, it took drawing myself a diagram to fully grasp how this interaction of the moon’s phase and its declination indicated June low tides in the morning and December low tides in the evening.

When we are at the part of our trip around the sun where our axis is tilted towards the sun (and it’s summer solstice) and we are at the part of the moon’s cycle where it reaches its most extreme northern declination (it’s at 28.6 degrees just because that’s where it is in its orbit), AND we are in a state of syzygy (new moon in the case of summer solstice), we get the most extreme “diurnal inequality” of tides, in other words, our extreme low low razor clamming tides. In the case of summer, the highs will not be quite as high as the winter king tides, because sea level is lowest; the corresponding highs are maybe 9.5 ft instead of the 10 ft levels of king tides.) This June, we will have a very low tide on June 23 of -1.7 ft (perigee will occur June 30, syzygy/new moon will take place on June 20, and maximum moon declination will take place on June 22, with, of course, maximum sun declination on June 21). We will also have a -2.3 ft low tide (the most negative low tide predicted for the coming year) on June 6, with a perigee on June 3 and full moon on June 5. I think that the close correspondence of perigee and full moons in May, June and July are the reason the tides closest to full moon on these months will be the lower lows for those months.

In winter, the maximum northern declination of the moon (Dec 30) will instead correspond to a full moon (Dec 29) near winter solstice (Dec 22). Still with me?

Finally, to really get why the summer lows are in morning and the winter lows are in evening, we need to consider that the moon, when it is new, crosses overhead at noon in our geocentric paradigm. When the moon is full, it crosses overhead at midnight! (I have always felt that it is magic that the moon rises right at 6 pm whenever it is full, so we get to see it, and not be asleep for it.) The big low tides following syzygy occur about 18 hours after this passage of the moon overhead, at either time of year. Without getting too technical, the actions of gravity are not instantaneous because we are subject to laws of physics like friction; there is lag time. Summer solstice low tide associated with new moon, therefore, takes place 18 hours after noon, or the next morning around 6:00 a.m. Winter solstice low tide associated with full moon happens 18 hours after midnight, the following evening around 6:00 p.m.

Okay! That’s all there is!

Just kidding, that’s not it… there’s more! (But you might need to go make more tea.) Please…. Consider the following:

One of the most memorable and mind-blowing days of my undergraduate career was the day my physical oceanography professor had us perform a harmonic analysis and compile a tide chart from 11 different harmonic constituents of the local (Long Island) tide. Harmonic constituents are the things I was talking about above – the various forces acting in concert to produce the tidal cycle, mainly exerted by the moon and the sun, except summarized into coefficients, numbers that tell exactly the magnitude and frequency at which these forces are exerted.

Harmonic analysis is based on Fourier theorem which says that any repeating disturbance can be written as the sum of a series of sinusoidal waves. You can superimpose a collection of sine/cosine curves of different frequencies and amplitudes upon each other, adding and subtracting their contributing magnitudes at any point along the x axis of time to result in a function representing any “repeating disturbance,” say, a tidal cycle. I like that it is called harmonic, because that makes me think of music, and the harmony of all the different instruments and voices working together to produce one cohesive piece of music.

Here are two cosine curves with different magnitudes and frequencies.

Here I have marked them up to show how you can add them together. At any value on the x axis, you come up with a new y value that is the sum of the y values of the two separate curves. At certain points along the x axis, the effects of the two curves will reinforce each other, while at other points, they will counteract each other.

All you need to do is connect the dots and you have found the sum!

Here the sum of the two blue curves is shown superimposed in orange. You can see that in some places, the two original curves worked together to produce larger peaks, while in other places, they offset each other and resulted in a more moderate value.

The various cosine curves we add together each represent one component of the moon’s or sun’s influence on the tides, that when combined, will either reinforce one another and add up to bigger tides, or will cancel or counteract each other and neutralize the curve to result in smaller tides. If you visit the NOAA tidal prediction page, you can download a set of 37 harmonic constituents for each of a whole bunch of different geographic locations where we might care about the tides, and then generate the tide tables for that area. My professor had us do this with just 11 of the harmonic constituents, of course he chose 11 of the ones that play the largest role in formulating the tides. First, we plotted 11 different cosine curve time series as separate functions. Then we added them up.

Tidal predictions will not always equal tidal observations in real time, because the predictions are based only on the gravitational forces acting on the tides, while other factors such as onshore winds and storm surges can play an unpredictable role as well.

OK! Let’s do the same fun exercise for right here on the Oregon coast!

For South Beach I found the harmonic constituents, starting with M2:  amplitude = 2.91, phase = 359.3, speed = 28.984104

For each constituent, we need to graph the function:

h(t) = R cos (at-φ)

Substituting in amplitude for R, speed for a, and phase for φ (that’s lowercase phi for the Greek fans in the live studio audience).

For our first constituent in South Beach, M2, we plug in our values and graph this equation:

h(t) = 2.91 cos (28.984104t-359.3)

And it looks like this:

M2 is the Principal lunar semidiurnal constituent, one of the many semidiurnal factors acting on the tides, semidiurnal meaning twice a day. Some constituents do their thing once a day, and others with more frequent (terdiurnal like meals!) or less frequent (fortnightly like fried chicken cravings! Annual like birthdays!)

Here is K1, the Lunar diurnal constituent. Compared to the twice a day constituent, you can see the difference in the wavelength, even if you don’t know the Greek symbol for that. This one does its thing just once a day.

Wait till you see the next one! Hold onto your teacup!

Looking at the same time frame for the SA Solar annual constituent, it looks like it’s not a repeating function at all… because we’re only looking at one day! It will take a whole year for this one to repeat itself.

See it now? I changed the scale of the x axis to show a whole year of the solar annual constituent, instead of just one day.

A whole bunch of constituents graphed as separate equations on the same grid

You can see how much each variable of the constituent matters as you graph each one, and what they do to the graph as they change. Large amplitudes will add more height to the tide… They will add it at greater frequency based on the speed, so that a new peak happens, say, every 27.3 days instead of every 365 days. The amount the whole curve is shifted along the x axis away from the origin is determined by the phase.

You can see how each of the constituents doing their own thing is a pretty graph, but not a tide table. Each curve repeats… well, repetitively, without the variation we’re used to in our tides, for example, here is what our January 2020 looks like:

We get to this by adding our separate curves together! Let’s start by adding just two components together. This is M2 + K1 or

h(t) = 2.91 cos (28.984104t-359.3)+ 1.42 cos (15.041069t-117.7)

showing this graph within the desmos interface where I made them all

Wow! It already looks more like a tide table! Each time we add in another constituent, the influences reinforce or counteract each other in such a way that the curve starts to approach what we are used to in our tide tables – now there are some higher highs and lower lows aka spring tides, and some more moderate neap tides, and they come and go in a wave of their own.

I made this!

For 730 hours (aka one month), behold an approximation of the tides in South Beach based on 8 tidal constituents namely:

M2 Principal lunar semidiurnal constituent

K1 Lunar diurnal constituent

O1 Lunar diurnal constituent (they’re fraternal twins, OK?)

S2 Principal solar semidiurnal constituent

N2 Larger lunar elliptic semidiurnal constituent

P1 Solar diurnal constituent

SA Solar annual constituent

K2 Lunisolar semidiurnal constituent


Which really looks like this in equation format:

h(t) = 2.91 cos (28.984104t-359.3) + 1.42 cos (15.041069t-117.7) + 0.86 cos (13.943035t-109.8) + 0.79 cos (30.0t-19.3) + 0.6 cos (28.43973t-339.9) + 0.44 cos (14.958931t-114.2) + 0.4 cos (0.0410686t-285.5) + 0.21 cos (30.082138t-9.9)        

My understanding is that there are hundreds of harmonic constituents if not an infinite supply beyond the 37 reported by NOAA, if one wanted to measure the way each star in the galaxy exerts a (nearly negligible) gravitational tug at one’s shoreline. But we can achieve a functional tidal prediction based on just a handful of the ones that have the greatest influence. We don’t always have to include the Lunisolar Synodic Fortnightly Constituent to be able to predict our tides reasonably well. Nor the Lunar Terdiurnal Constituent. Not even the Shallow Water Overtides of Principal Lunar Constituent (aren’t you glad these names exist though?). But you can, if you choose, or if those constituents play a larger role in determining the tides in your local area.

Back on Long Island during undergrad, our tides were also semidiurnal, and we had two highs and two lows per day, but they were much more equal in height, unlike our Pacific Northwest unequal semidiurnal tide pattern. Plugging in the harmonic constituents for Montauk, NY (I picked this station of the available ones for Long Island because of the purple sand) paints a very different wavy line on our graph!

Some constituents exert a greater influence on tides in different geographic locations! There is still a lot more to learn! Yippee!

I could keep doing this for other locations! Maybe I will! We can try the Bay of Fundy! Or an exotic island someplace! If you want to check out this fun graphing interface I used called Desmos, click on the embedded graph below. I think it could be fun for youngsters taking algebra to play with and explore their equations in a more interactive, engaging, and artful way (hint hint camp boss I’m talking about Panda). Also, isn’t it fun to know those cosines are useful for something you care about in your real life?

Ok, thanks for sticking with me through the peaks and troughs of this learning adventure! I’m off to write more of chapter two!

one year of tides; math oceanography art fun

~rainbow mondays~ rainbows on roses and whiskers on kitties

During this holiday season, none of us really knows what day of the week it is, so I figured I could sneak in a rainbow on this lovely last day of 2019, whether it is a Monday or not!



~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

joy to the world

A few days into December, I was reflecting on how beneficial the November gratitude challenge is for me – the impetus to write daily warms me up for other writing, and the topic itself is nurturing to my soul. I decided I would like to adopt a topic for December to continue the motivation to write daily, even if I only wrote a sentence and didn’t edit its grammar and shared it with no one. Immediately the topic leaped into mind: joy. For the past year or two of gratitude posts, a lot of my rambling has had to do with unpacking the concept of gratitude itself, in addition to the obvious counting of blessings. Metagratitude posts, where I’m thankful for thankfulness. I didn’t think I had quite as much of a handle on joy, so it was time to explore.

As I listed things that brought me what I thought might be joy each day, I noticed they were all the same things that I was writing about in November, all the things for which I feel gratitude – I just continued to add more popcorn and cranberries to the string. Wait, I thought, maybe I’m just not good at joy, and I’m confusing it with gratitude, since I’ve been getting better at that, with practice.

Then I got to the chapter in Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly that deals with foreboding joy as one of the obstacles to vulnerability. In that chapter, she spelled out how her research drew a very clear connection between those who experience joy, 100% of whom were those who included a gratitude practice in their life. “Gratitude, therefore, emerged from the data as the antidote to foreboding joy. In fact, every participant who spoke about the ability to stay open to joy also talked about the importance of practicing gratitude. This pattern of association was so thoroughly prevalent in the data that I made a commitment as a researcher not to talk about joy without talking about gratitude.” Then I clicked my heels together three times, because joy was already in my grasp, the gratitude I needed was with me all along.

Last night at the Christmas show at the PAC, I was feeling distinctly joyful as we sang Joy to the World along with the merry crowd. Rich and I were a little bit star-struck, after having our first conversation with Bobbie Lippmann, a woman we consider to be a local celebrity, during intermission. Rich gets the local newspaper, and whenever there is a new Bobbi’s Beat column, it can be found sitting on my chair where he leaves it for me to read after he gets done. We have both been reading her for years, mourning with her the loss of her husband Burt, and relishing her positive outlook on life and wonderful sense of humor. As she merged into the line for hot cocoa with us, Rich told her of our fandom and she shared that she and Burt would have been celebrating their 50th anniversary this month. She told us that this time of year, this year in particular, has been hard on her, and that she has considered throwing in the towel. We told her today would be our anniversary, eight years together. She looked us right in the eye and told us, “make the most of the time you have together. You just don’t know how long you have.” We assured her we planned to do just that. She seemed heartened, and asked our names, optimistic that maybe she had more to say, after all.

Today I am feeling very grateful/joyful to be making the most of my time with my love of eight years. We went on a nice breakfast date followed by a Star Wars date, and have been relaxing together beside the rainbow-lit tree all afternoon. I am grateful for the way he reached out to Bobbie (I have been wanting to tell her how much I admire her for years, but he had the nerve to greet her by name and start the conversation) and also so very grateful for her willingness to be vulnerable with us, two strangers in the hot cocoa line, and share something so personal and meaningful. Vulnerability leading to gratitude, gratitude leading to joy to the world. While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy, I’ll be here repeating the sounding gratitude.

Happy anniversary, Rich! I love you!