Summer of Clouds

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It has been a summer of tremendous clouds. There has been rainy days with monotonous greyness, days of sweltering azure (can you use that word like that?) and everything in between. It has been a perfect summer for some cloudspotting.

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From a walk with our dog, Kili. Apparently we fought of a gigantic swarm of flies, and had to overtake a half a metre long adder on the path. It was searingly hot so I sketched like a lightning.

However, form a sketcher’s point of view the summer has been problematic. If it wasn’t raining, it was so hot that watercolours dried far too quickly making it next to impossible to use wet-on-wet properly. So I was usually left with two choices: sketch real quickly or not at all.

The beginning of the August saw a change in the weather as the thunderstorms arrived. Some days were tropical (really, they said that on the TV’s forecast): humid, warm nights were followed by sultry mornings and afternoon thunder showers. The monotonous rain clouds changed into towering thunderclouds.

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A thunder front advancing from the east.

That made sketching clouds a lot easier. Especially as I could see approaching showers well before they hit and look for shelter. Often the clouds rolled past in rows making the landscape seem even vaster and boundless. Pohjanmaa region is clearly the Finnish version of the Big Sky Country. Except for the mountains.

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Then the weather changed again and the clouds with it. The clearly shaped cumuli lost their firmness – a certain sign that the autumn is suddenly just around the corner. Those partly dissolved clouds presented a new sketching challenge, but it was a delight to sit in the open and follow the clouds go by.

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Sometimes they had the feel of gigantic, monumental beasts floating unhurriedly across the landscape, being massive and insubstantial all at once.

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A big sky behemoth.

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The winter is coming – as it always does – and these clouds a the first promise of snow.

Then last Monday I saw clouds that made my summer. We were driving towards the West on our way to the town of Kokkola. It was far too early (for me at least), around 6.30 AM, and there was massif of storm clouds rising above the sea some 15 km from where I took this photo:

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A lenticular cloud above low hanging storm clouds.

The cloud massif was – phenomenal. So many different kinds of formations that I could have spend several hours watching their evolution. But the cherry on top was that lenticular cloud floating almost immobilized above the massif. We don’t often get lenticular clouds over here. I suppose it’s because the landscape is rather flat, i.e. it’s relief is shallow, and to my understanding lenticular clouds usually form above high hills, mountains and such. What a treat!

Summer Memories: The Myriad Variations of Dandelions

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VL_voikukat

Oh, dear. It has been quite a while since the last post. No excuses but procrastination.

It has been a really lousy winter up here: no snow but rain and utter darkness until last weekend practically. There was snow on Christmas Eve but by the evening of Christmas Day it was all gone again. So we managed to avoid black Christmas – that’s how we call one without snow here – even if just barely.

It get’s really dark here in Finland when there is no snow. There is only a little daylight: the sun rises and sets within hours. Wet ground and vegetation and the low-hanging clouds eat out all light but if there is even a tiny bit of snow on the ground, it reflects the light and brightens up the world. The wet and dark, melancholy conditions have also meant that I haven’t felt like drawing much at all so I don’t have any new drawings to share. Well, to be honest, I do have a few but I need find the energy to scan them first. In the mean time, here’s some less known knowledge about dandelions.

A dandelion is a dandelion, right? Nothing much to it. A common weed. A nuisance even.

Wrong.

The family Taraxacum contains innumerable species, subspecies and apomict microspecies. (Apomixis is a form of parthenogenesis in plants.) A Finnish field manual of plants lists 500 common forms of dandelions in Finland. The following are the most common ones of those 500:

crocodes, balticum, suecicum, fallicinum, fennobalticum, hjeltii, norvegicum, brachyceras, tornense, proxinum, falcatum, pseudofulvum, fulvum, isthimicola, rubicundum, marginatum, limbatum, scanium, croceum, praestans, sagittifolium, maculigerum, naevosum, kuusamoënse, cochleatum, chrysostylum, perattenuatum, galeatum, crassipes, triangulare, revalence, laceratum, pulcherrinum, biformatum, litorale, subhuelphersianum, obtusulum, pallidulum, remotijungum, ostenfeldii, canaliculatum, penicilliforme, speciosum, septentrinale, subpenicilliforme, cyanolepsis, tenebricans, sublaeticolor,  porrigens, laciniosum, alatum, ingens, ancistrolobum, pallescens, croceiflorum, piceatum, sellandii, pallipedes, expallidiforme, xanthostigma, latissinum, fasciatum, longisquameum, patens, kjellmanii, obliquilobum, involuvratum, altissimum, subcanescens, hamatum, tumentilobum, reflexilobum, pectinatiforme, retroflexum, murconatum, adiantifrons, amplum, ekmanii, hamatum, cordatum, lucescens, glossocentrum, semiglobosum, angustisquameum, multilobum, imitans, lingulatum, dahlstedii, puolannei, aequilobum and polyodon.

So there you go. The easiest way to tell apart different kinds of dandelions is by the shape of their leaves. And, interestingly, I friend of mine told that the more serrated and rugged the edges of the leaves are, the stronger and more bitter the taste. A crucial piece of information if you are collecting leaves for a salad. And you can use the flowers for mead!

You – if you live in the Northern Hemisphere – have months before summer so there is plenty of time to learn to identify different varieties of dandelions. And they will be everywhere in your neighbourhood this summer too. And an endless subject for those of us who draw.

Life on Seabed

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VP_aurinkoinenpelto

I’m a bottom crawler. I live on the bottom of the sea. Ach, well, I don’t live in the sea but on land that used to be sea some thousands of years ago. You see, we all are still living in an ice age. The Querternary glaciation, that started about 2,58 million years ago, is still on. We’re just living in a interglacial period, the time between glacial periods when the continental glaciers are at their maximum. So, ice age was not something that happened a long time ago.

The last glacial maximum ended about 11 000 years ago and that’s how long the Finnish landscape has been free of the contenental ice sheet even 3 to 4 kilometres thick. And that is the reason why I am living on an ancient sea floor. All that ice pushed the Earth’s crust down creating a kind of a dent on the crust. When the ice slowly melted away and the ice sheet retreated back towards the north pole, water filled that dent creating a sea. Once free of the weight of the ice, the crust begun to rebound. Post-glacial rebound it is called. That means that every year the land here rises from the sea a little and the actual landmass of the country increases. It’s not much, approx. 5 mm per year, but give it enough time and it will change the face of the earth around here.

So where I now live it used to be sea about 3000 years ago and you can still see it in the landscape. It’s pretty open and level up here. There are small ridges left over by the retreating ice but between them it is rather flat. If you know what to look for, you can see where the ancient beaches have been, and here and there you can see how the now gone see has arranged the sand that once was at the bottom of it into wave like dunes.

I love the openness. The sky is vast, almost limitless. Clouds are the main feature of the landscape and since we are still pretty close to the sea (a bit over 20 km) we get a great variety of clouds here. There are types that you see only during summer and those that herald snow in the late autumn. Even the slightest change in the cloud coverage changes the light, and suddenly you have a completely different mood over the landscape.

The two sketches were made of the roughly same view along our daily dog walk. Nothing much in landscape changed in between except for the sky. The white things in the picture below are huge round hay bales wrapped in white plastic to preserve them for winter feeding. We call them dinosaur eggs – not quite lovingly.

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Seaside at the Peak of the Season

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VP_Ohtakari2013

Well, not quite. The sea is still quite chilly in June up here but when the wind is right – blowing from the sea and pushing warm surface waters landward – and the sun heats up the shallow waters in the small bay in Ohtakari, it can be quite enjoyable. We didn’t swim there when I drew this. We just had an extempore picnic on the beach with our dog Kili (a white miniature Schnauzer and named after the dwarf Kili from The Hobbit since he is a dwarf Schnauzer he needed to a dwarf name, right?) for the first time. He did have a blast. Lots of sand to dig and room run about. He wasn’t that keen on swimming at first back then but these days he is happy to jump in.

The beach in Ohtakari is a proper sandy beach. It’s usually rather quiet there since most tourists go a bit further north to Kalajoki where they have the longest beach in the country. This was drawn at the south end of the beach where the bay ends with a small stony point with a birdwatching tower on it. Right behind the path leading to the tower begins the Finnish defensive forces’ artillery practice range. We live good 25 kilometres away from Ohtakari but we still can hear the pounding when they practice.

It was a perfect day, sunny and warm. Now, at the beginning of November, it’s not that warm anymore. I stumbled upon this video about a winter storm in Ohtakari two years ago. Not so warm and cozy. Our picnic beach is entirely taken over by the waves but you can see the tower in my sketch around 0:25 (‘Afternoon’).

Spring Arrived Last Tuesday Around 3 pm

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I intended to write about commonplace books on my next post – as discussed on Quinn’s blog – but ach, well. I guess I’ll do it on the next one because spring arrived last Tuesday while I was out of town. Really. I kid you not. This is what the landscape looked like on the previous Sunday:

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The photo is a bit too dark as I took on my mobile phone which doesn’t have the best of cameras, but is was a dull day: clouds hanging low and it was raining for the first time this year. There was snow all around which is a bit unusual for this time of the year. The thermal spring – you can see the definition for Finland here in English – was late this year as the temperatures during the night stayed wall below freezing until last weekend. That’s why the snow lasted for so long and why the migratory birds where nowhere to be seen.

Last Tuesday I drove the 250 km to Jyväskylä for the day. I left in the morning and returned to home around 10 pm. It was a warm and sunny day in Jyväskylä but I didn’t think much of it as the town lies in the Central Finland where the seasons follow a slightly different rhythm than here closer to the coast. And it was dark as I arrived back home so I didn’t pay much attention to the snow situation though, as an afterthought, that it was dark should have meant something.

It hit me the next morning when I went out to get the morning paper: where the heck has all the snow gone? It was practically all gone over night. Tuesday morning – late winter, Wednesday morning – spring. The same scene from our daily walk with the dog now looked like this:

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(It’s composite panorama. That’s why the perspective is a bit wonky.)

The only snow left are the wet patches left in the shaded ditches and by woods and buildings; The ditch on the right, eastern side of the road gets much more direct sun than the left, western side one. Everywhere else, gone.

And the wind is warm, even the gale that has been blowing since last night. And the birds are here: the swans, cranes, skylarks and the Northern Lapwings. It’s officially spring now.

This is not the North Pole

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Yesterday we went to see the sea ice around the wee island of Ohtakari in Lohtaja. The sea ice had broken up and the wind and the waves had pushed it landward into pack ice. On the westward shoreline of Ohtakari it felt like being on the Arctic sea ice or at the North Pole. My brother had been there a few days ago and then the pack ice had been moving, but yesterday the sea was still and quiet. Too bad. It would have been nice to hear the sound of the ice, the creaks and the wailing, how the ice moans as the ice floats press against each other. Maybe we’ll catch that next year.

But we did get to hear the sea last Saturday. Then we were at the harbour in Himanka. There the sea ice was still fast ice though not safe enough to walk on anymore. The sun had just set and the western sky was in blaze. The stars appeared on the dark blue deepness, Venus being the brightest with Jupiter closer to the horizon. Occasionally the ice moaned and creaked when it moved along the rifts that run across it. But the more interesting, more haunting, and bizarre sound was the sound the sea itself made as it moved beneath the fast ice. It sounded like a massive bowels of a monstrous beast, bubbling and squelching in a low pitch. At first we didn’t realise it was the sea, but though that the sound came from the cooling systems of the storage buildings for the fish. It took a while before we were sure it was the sea and not the machinery. What a strange soundscape it was: the deep, unseen, belching sea under the wast silence of the stars. I could have stayed there for hours just listening for the next groan.

Evan Thompson

Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

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