Wind, Waves and Time

The wind and the ocean work in concert to produce life on earth. And what a majestic symphony they perform.

There are many factors that allow for life but it’s clear that without wind and water it would be a very different earth. According to the ancient Greeks there were two other elements-earth and fire. Fire was not limited to the combustion of wood but the heat from the sun, molten rock from the core and the combustion we all have going on inside our bodies.

Big thinkers

First, as the world spins it creates the Coriolis Effect where the winds blow one direction below the equator and the opposite way above.

Helen helps

This causes ocean swells which travel across the Pacific from west to east in the in the north. The swells that end up in California have literally come all the way from China (“and she brings you tea and oranges that come all the way from China”)

Gloria Steinem says every generation discovers Nina Simon

The swell is an energetic force transferred in the water where one part of the water pushes on another part. It appears to many physicists that everything in the universe is made of waves like the ocean swells. Light is a wave for sure, ahh, well sometimes, except when it’s a particle, but wind is different. Wind is the displacement of molecules through space. It seems to me that when you pick it apart air should move in waves like water but it doesn’t. You can have all sorts of waves in the air that don’t depend on the transfer of matter, like radio waves.

Of course there are ocean currents and this is the relocation of water but currents are separate from waves. They are also generated by the Coriolis Effect and move in sympathy with, but not in alignment with the ocean swell. When a swell hits land it breaks apart and the force is spent on the shore. I have read quite a bit about this but, like trying to figure out what caused (not what started it but what ‘caused’ it) the First World War,

I just don’t get it. What is the ‘energy’ that’s transferred? It isn’t gravity, radiation, electronic, hydraulic, pneumatic or thermal. So what is it? If anyone can straighten me out on this I’d appreciate it (also on WWI). You might say it’s spent ‘potential energy’ but this still isn’t a definition.

So, surfing. I have never been a surfer. I like being under the water and being on top of it in a boat but I’m not a big fan of water at sea level on my face. This is due to the sad fact that I can’t swim. What, who can’t swim? Me. I can dog paddle and move about with fins but I never mastered the horizontally-selfpropelled-body thing.

This looks hard to do..but worth it

I have a particular admiration and even awe for surfers and wind surfers. I’m on San Francisco Bay a lot and these people are as gods. They are masters of wind and water. Seeing a human skimming along the face of a wave, big or small, seems so pure and impossibly difficult. Historically, surfing seems to have been very little practiced around the world, if at all, outside of Hawaii and Polynesia.

When you look at a particularly big wave you might think that with today’s energy crisis we would do more with them. An effort is being made but as any sailor can tell you, the sea is a harsh master. There are undersea hydraulic generators in a few places with large tidal displacements but machines made of metal, concrete and plastic are quickly disassembled by the sea. There is plenty of power in the sea but it is seems that the ocean’s prime directive is to break things into smaller and smaller pieces.

If I had to pick my favorite natural wonder on this planet I would say waves. I can’t imagine ever tiring of watching the waves break along the shore. The waves grind the rocks and sea shells into sand and the sand is poured along the shore and the ocean deeps (Melville again, deeps) and becomes the soil of the sea.

As you gaze at the waves crashing on the shore you might wonder why the whole place isn’t just ground to bits and the answer is that it is being ground to bits. Between the tidal forces, the spinning world and the shifting tectonic plates this whole joint is in constant flux. Some change is on a human time scale like the changing seasons, cyclones and the wind blowing your hair. Other time scales march at a very different pace. Tectonic plates grind along about an inch a year. A great oak tree can live 2,000 years.

Consider the mayfly. This most ancient of insects has four stages of life and the last one as a full fledged adult spans just a few hours. Just enough time to mate. Really cuts down on the small talk.

Date night

Life comes in waves. We arrive as drooling little idiots and if we can gather a little grace along the way and become grateful adults, well perhaps that’s as much as we can reasonably expect.

Today, like always, folks say, I say, that things are falling apart. But things are always falling apart. When the Huns punched through the Aurelian Wall and invaded Rome in 476 AD the Romans really felt the burn. Today, every day, we see our social, environmental and political discourse kicking us six ways to Sunday.

On another scale the Moon is actually slowing it’s revolution around the Earth and is drifting further from us at about 1.6 inches per year. It’s scheduled to disintegrate and become a ring at some point. The Sun is set to explode sometime after the final Fast and Furious installment. In galactic time this happens sooner rather than later.

One postulate is that this universe is 13.8 billion years old and has a run time into the future of a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion years. Say they’re off by a few trillion. That ratio of start to finish (not light years, Earth years) is 13,800,000,000:10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 give or take a few zeros.

It makes our time so far seem a bit special because we are here at the very beginning of the universe yet that person slowing you down with 12 items in the 8 item line at Safeway is bugging you. Hey, stop and smell the People Magazine whydoncha.

Anyway. If you can bare to look at this video and really take it in you can feel a sense of time on a whole new level.

A real big deal

Possibly an overwhelming sense of awe. Awe like I feel when I sit on a rocky beach and watch and listen to the waves bust the rocks into rounds and finally to sand, then dust and finally after the sun explodes BOOM! — stardust.

And oh, that faint grinding sound you hear. That’s the sound of the tectonic plates sliding underfoot or it could be the gentle patter of falling mayflies on a pond.


I mentioned in the last issue that I would explain a new global warming project some of us are working on. I was premature in that announcement but, rest assured, it is coming. Will it make a difference? Well, it will to me.

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  • Alden stevenson says:

    Eye captain
    That was lot. Thanx for all that
    In closing. What might I do to be included in your
    Climate change project
    Always love

  • Hello Jamis,

    I am sitting here at your restaurant in Woodside, Buck’s, next to the Apple computer memorabilia signed by Steve Wozniak. Since I’m curious, I inquired about the “museum” feel of this very colorful dining establishment. Horacio, kindly, gave me a little tour. Wow! So much Silicon Valley history! How cool!
    I asked it there was anything mentioned in the menu about the importance of this restaurant and he pointed me to this printed article which is the cover of the menu. However, the article is about surfing
    Here’s my request, can interview you during one of my KZSU 90.1 FM broadcasts? I’d love to hear about your journey at Buck’s. Help me be a real journalist and get a real job!
    Best regards,

    Carla Leininger

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