Trickle, Brook, Stream, River

Rain
Rain

When it rains water collects in little puddles and hollows in the uneven earth. Sometimes the water sinks into dirt until the dirt can hold no more and the water forms the puddle. If the rain continues to fall it forms a surface, rippled and blown by the wind. The puddle may be muddy, or it may be clear depending on whether the water is stirred enough by the wind or by an animal or maybe by a child, wrapped up for the weather and wearing rubber or plastic boots.

Some rain falls at altitude in mountains or hills and falls on rocks, trickling down into cracks and crevices. Some rain falls on plants and is absorbed or runs down to the roots and is absorbed by them. Such rain takes the shortcut back into the air as the plant pumps it to the leaves and it is expired into the air.

Rain on grass
Rain on grass

Much of the rain that falls is not seen again for a while. It trickles through the soil, through open spaces between and within rocks. Some it soaks into cracks which take it deep within the earth to aquifers which can hold the water for years, decades, or centuries. Some it soaks into soft and soluble rocks like limestone and can form caverns underground. Sometimes this water evaporates underground and creates the beautiful rock forms that we can stalactites or stalagmites.

Some of the water remains on the surface and is joined by water seeping through the soil or the rocks to form little streams. The visible part of the stream is not all there is to a stream. Most streams have rocky or pebbly beds, or gravel or sand beds and water flows through those, as well as the free-flowing visible water. Indeed, some streams are not visible at the surface with the water running under the pebbly bed. Unless the stream is in flood that is, when the water fills the channel perhaps to overflowing.

Wet rocks
Wet rocks

Up in the mountains or the hills the small trickles of water tumble over or under the rocks and gradually merge to form small streams. Water oozes from wet soil and sometimes springs from rocks where the aquifers reach the surface. Rocks stick up through the water, little waterfalls chute the water in glistening curves and air mixes with the water to produce little white water patches. Vegetation hangs over the little streams, moistened by the stream and dripping water back into. Water loving mosses abound, and trees dip their roots.

The stream is continually renewing. This is not the same steam that you saw here yesterday. That water has flowed on perhaps by now reaching the sea. This water was yesterday floating in the sky in the form of a fluffy white cloud, or a grey dense cloud, or merely as an unseen vapour, measured only by humidity. Gravity’s imperative call pulls the water down from the hill.

Moss
Moss

There may be life in the water. Small insects and similar tiny organisms survive in the tumbling water, and even smaller little animals, from single cells animalcules to tiny  multi celled beings live in it. They creep over the rocks and pebbles, feeding on debris that falls into the water or on little plants that also cling to the rocks, or each other.

As the stream progresses downhill it gathers more and more water from tributary trickles and merging flows. It deepens and flows over rocks which higher up it would have flowed around. Pools form and pools make it easier for life to exists. Maybe crustaceans and fish could now be lurking in the pools and even in the deeper less turbulent flows. Such life would also attract birds such as ducks.

Mandarin ducks
Mandarin ducks

All this life lives on a knife edge. A sudden storm upstream may swell the flow to many times the normal rate, moving rocks and boulders and even reshaping the banks of the stream. This would be a disaster for the wildlife in the stream sweeping it downstream and out of its usual environment into areas to which it is not adapted. Such storm events shape the little streams much more than the every day trickle.

A stream which I’m describing has a steep course. It may sweep past last stones and boulders and drop many metres for each dozen or so metres traversed. In many places it will reach places where the underlying geology changes and a waterfall forms or a cascade. A cascade is where the stream drops several metres in a short distance and the bed is full of boulders and rocks which may be totally or partial covered by the stream.

Cascade
Cascade

A waterfall usually drop into a pool caused by the water falling on and removing rocks and boulders. The spectacle of the drop and the pool makes it very attractive and people will sometimes hike for miles to see a waterfall.

As the stream becomes a river it becomes more placid. More life lives in it, it is broader and deeper. We can fish in it, float boats on it, and use it as a highway. We often live by rivers as they generally follow the easiest route through a sometimes tricky landscape. Large cities are more often than not found on rivers for this reason. Farmers on the banks of a big river want to trade with people up of downstream.

City of Vladimir
City of Vladimir

We tend to forget, in these days when we travel mainly by road, that rivers were once the prime highways, and indeed our principle roads frequently follow the route of a river.

As a river reaches lower altitudes it become more placid, as I have mentioned. People live next to it, and so they are in danger of flooding if a storm hits up river. A river is constrained by nature banks, but these many be breached. Consequently we have tamed many rivers, building large earthworks to constrain it to its usual course in the case of floods. However, the flooding of a river and the bursting of its banks deposits nutrients on to the soils around the river.

Floods
Floods

The ancient Egyptians knew this and worked with the annual flooding of the Nile. They developed geometry and mathematics to reinstate farm boundaries after floods. They also developed a legal system at least in part to legislate the inevitable disputes.

Nile floods
Nile floods

Seasons (again)

This is a bit of a repeat, since I almost forgot about writing this week. I decided to revisit the seasons thing.

English: Kukulkan at its finest during the Spr...
English: Kukulkan at its finest during the Spring Equinox. Chichen Itza Equinox March 2009. The famous descent of the snake at the temple. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have just begun the season of Southern Hemisphere spring. This officially starts on 1st September and runs through to 1st December. Then summer starts and runs through to 1st March, then autumn runs through until 1st June, and winter extend to 1st September and the cycle repeats.

The reason that the seasons are defined like this goes back to 1780 when an organisation called “Societas Meteorologica Palatina” defined them as above. The organisation chose those dates because the seasons pretty much aligned with those dates in terms of temperature and rainfall and so on. The coldest three months in the Northern Hemisphere tended to be December, January and February, the warmest tended to be June, July and August, and so on.

The mute Hendrick Avercamp painted almost excl...
The mute Hendrick Avercamp painted almost exclusively winter scenes of crowds seen from some distance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere, the southern cycle is as described above. We have Christmas on the beach and spend July wrapped up and close to any source of heat!

Astronomers do it differently. They divide the year into four seasons, but the seasons are not aligned climatically, but are defined relative to the Earth’s position in its orbit around the Sun.

English: Illustration shows the relative posit...
English: Illustration shows the relative positions and timing of solstice, equinox and seasons in relation to the Earth’s orbit around the sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because the Earth’s axis is tilted relative to its orbit around the sun, the axis is be tilted towards the sun at one time of the year and away from it six months later. When the axis is tilted towards the sun, the sun is at its highest in the sky and more energy is received on Earth per square metre than at any other time of the year. It’s summer and warmer. When it is tilted away, the sun is at its lowest and we receive less energy than at any other time of the year. It’s winter and colder. (But read on).

On Earth, when the sun is high it is in the sky longer than when it is lower. The day is therefore longest and the night is the shortest in the yearly cycle. When the sun is midway between its highest and its lowest, the day and the night are of equal length.

English: Midnight Sun in Tromsø, seen from the...
English: Midnight Sun in Tromsø, seen from the old port. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The time when the sun is highest or lowest in the sky is called a “solstice“, either a winter solstice, or a summer solstice. The times when it is half way are called “equinoxes“, either an autumnal equinox or a vernal equinox, and the night and day are equal in length. These are the four main signposts of the seasons, as used by astronomers.

Strictly speaking, to say “Today is the summer solstice” or “Today is the autumnal equinox” are incorrect. Since the day and night lengths are changing all the time, the solstices and equinoxes are points in time, not whole days.

English: Two equinoxes are shown as the inters...
English: Two equinoxes are shown as the intersection of the ecliptic and celestial Ecuador, and the solstice’s times of the year in which the Sun reaches its maximum southern or northern position. Español: Se muestran los dos equinoccios como la intersección del ecuador celeste y la eclíptica, y los solsticios momentos del año en los que el Sol alcanza su máxima posición meridional o boreal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are four lesser known and less important signposts of the seasons, they are Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain and Imbolc. I’ve used the Gaelic names, but they correspond, in order, to the Christian festivals of May Day, Lammas, Halloween, and St Brigid’s Day. These all fall more or less halfway between the four main seasonal signposts.

Astronomically the Winter Solstice, which occurs around 21st December in the Northern Hemisphere. Many sources identify the date of the solstice as the beginning of winter. Similarly the Summer Solstice is identified as the start of summer, and the equinoxes are identified as the start of their respective seasons.

English: Beltane Fire Festival is an annual pa...
English: Beltane Fire Festival is an annual participatory arts event and ritual drama, held on April 30 on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is odd, as the climatic seasons are usually considered to start three weeks earlier, with Northern Hemisphere winter climatically starting around the 1st December, and similarly for the other seasons. Starting the astronomical seasons on the 21st (or sometimes 22nd) of the month misses out 3 weeks or nearly a quarter of the season!

It’s also odd for another reason. The Northern Hemisphere winter solstice is when the sun is at its lowest point in its apparent position in the sky, so it is at its turning point in the cycle of the season and indeed the word “solstice” means “the point where the sun stands still”. It seems to me that this should be considered the mid point of the season, not the beginning of it.

English: Wheel of the Year with Fire Festivals...
English: Wheel of the Year with Fire Festivals and Quarter Festivals, Neopagan holidays: Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lughnasadh, Mabon, Samhain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is obviously true for the summer solstice too, and the equinoxes, being halfway between the solstices are add the mid points of the sun’s climb or descent to the solstices. They too also should be the mid points of their seasons, not the beginning points.

If the solstices and equinoxes are the middles of their seasons, where are the start end points then? Well, they would then coincide with the Gaelic or pagan festivals of Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain, and Imbolc! For example Beltane is about halfway between the Northern Hemisphere spring equinox and summer solstice on 1st May.

Original caption: Jack Frost Battles with The ...
Original caption: Jack Frost Battles with The Green Man at the Imbolc festival in 2008. Stendedge visitor center,Marsden, Huddersfield. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Beltane is a Gaelic or pagan festival and has mostly fallen out of favour, some cultures do celebrate the festival and some of the customs persist, such as the custom of dancing around a Maypole. Beltane and the other three similar festivals coincide with important agricultural events, such as sowing seeds and gathering in of harvests, so were of interest in earlier times.

However, if the astronomical seasons starts and ends were to be moved to coincide with the Gaelic festivals they would not coincide with the climatic seasons. The reason for this is that there is a seasonal shift because of the time that the seas and land take to warm up in spring and to cool down in winter. This pushes the climatic seasons back a few weeks and the start of climatic spring in the Northern Hemisphere is pushed back to about the 1st March and the same for all the other seasons.

English: Lammas growth on Quercus robur. Eglin...
English: Lammas growth on Quercus robur. Eglinton Country Park, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s why I think that the current idea of the astronomical seasons starting at the solstices and equinoxes is wrong! They should coincide with the Gaelic festivals instead, and then the astronomical and climatic seasons are related by the seasonal shift, instead of not being related properly at all.

Illumination of the earth during various seasons
Illumination of the earth during various seasons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thinking my Thoughts

Swirling thoughts
Swirling thoughts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thoughts. We pump them out like a sausage machine pushes out sausages.Some of them we even push out onto paper or a computer screen and some pass on to other people by way of speech.

Thoughts are private to us and are never visible to the outside world. Each of us has their own thoughts, unless you are all zombies and my thoughts are the only ones that exist. Most people, I would guess, have thoughts that they would rather that other people do not know about, which would embarrass them if made public.


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Descartes believed that since he thought, that he must exist. One can chip away philosophically at that belief, but there is no doubting that Descartes exists and that he thought. We all do, solipsistic philosophy aside, even if Descartes’ argument is not correct.

The difficulty comes when we look at where thoughts come from and, indeed, what thoughts are. We may think “Did I leave the gas on?” or “I must change my library books”. Thoughts seem to happen unconsciously at first, and then move into the consciousness, at some level or other.


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The type of thought that I mention above about the gas and the library books spring right to the front or top of the consciousness, sometime surprising us. Other thought don’t impact so much on the consciousness, such as the thoughts that occur during a conversation.

For instance, suppose that you were chatting to friends, someone might question how you all got onto a subject. You are having coffee and find that you are discussing Amazonian Army Ants. How did you get on to the subject? On thinking back you piece together a chain of thought, that goes back to some totally unrelated topic, like the quality of fruit in the supermarket.

To be sure, I’ve suggested a conversation between several people, but similar happens in one person’s brain, as you can verify for yourself. Just grab a passing thought and work backwards from there and you will see what I mean.

Thoughts tend to be like cetaceans or some varieties of fish that live beneath the surface but sometime broach the surface before sinking back into the depths. It appears that the actual generation of thoughts happen below the level of consciousness, and then sink back into the unconscious. Memories of past thoughts can however be retrieved.


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Although we do not perceive thoughts being created, the thoughts passing through our consciousness and things happening external to our minds play a part in creating our thoughts. If I think of the first few digits of π, it is because I am looking around for an example of prior thoughts affecting current ones – I consciously decide to think of an example, and immediately became a past thought and so I thought of the first few digits of π.

I suggested that we pop out thoughts like a sausage machine pops out sausages. Unfortunately that analogy breaks down somewhat as current sausages are not influenced by prior sausages unless you really stretch the analogy by saying that the delicious taste of past sausages leads you to create the current sausage!


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The analogy does help a little though. What comes out of the sausage machine depends on what is put into the hopper. You won’t get pork sausages by filling the hopper with bits of beef of course, and in much the same way you will only get certain thoughts coming out if you have certain inputs going in.

The type of thoughts that we have can be changed by various methods, including repetition and example. We can learn by example and it influences what thoughts we have. If we see people standing for others in the train, we think to do this on other occasions.

English: Seat on Hoist Point A very smart new ...
English: Seat on Hoist Point A very smart new seat in a dramatic position with astonishing views (see 1511570, for instance). At the risk of being thought churlish, however, I have found more comfortable seats on which to rest aching legs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A group of people will often start to think similarly, as the group forms and develops. A team that works well together may act as if they are reading one another’s minds, simply because they have learned to think in similar ways, and the team is said to have gelled.

It’s possible to force someone to think the way that you want them to think, by repetition and making things uncomfortable for them. This is called brainwashing and is for obvious reasons frowned upon. A fictional example come from the end of the book 1984 where Winston Smith is brainwashed into loving Big Brother by O’Brien.

Big Brother (David Graham) speaking to his aud...
Big Brother (David Graham) speaking to his audience of proles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When people live closely together they tend to start to think alike as in the sports team mentioned above. Another example would be the cases where hostages have come to espouse the aims and objectives of the people who have taken them captive, such as the heiress Patty Hearst who was kidnapped by a terrorist group but came to support their cause even to the point of taking part on in armed robberies.

Thoughts can be directed by a person, but only to an extent. One can concentrate one’s thoughts on study, but it is difficult to know how that happens. The experience of study (or the loosely related one of computer programming) can an in depth totally encompassing one, leading to a condition known to programmers as “being in the zone“. This can also apply in other fields of human endeavour too.

Often though, without the person being aware, the zone drifts away and the person ends up in the day dream state, thinking of things other than the topic that is supposed to be being thought about. This usually happens when the person has difficulty in concentrating on the topic as it bores them or they don’t understand it.

Some thoughts are completely below the level of the conscious, such as those that one has when one is asleep. Like all thoughts they soon fade into the depths and mostly leave no impression on the memory. Occasionally though, some dreaming thoughts survive in the memory through the process of waking, but they often seem bizarre or irrelevant to anything to do with our conscious lives. Sometimes though, they can be source of inspiration, as in the case of one of the inventors of the sewing machine, Elias Howe.

Sewing machine, type Calanda 17
Sewing machine, type Calanda 17 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Weather or not.

English: Cliffs of Moher - Inclement weather a...
English: Cliffs of Moher – Inclement weather again! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(One day late again – this is becoming annoying!)

The human race probably evolved language for the single purpose of being able to discuss the weather. It’s one of the first things that people learn about when learning a foreign language. Obviously, when language had been evolved, the human race found other uses for the facility.

Weather would have been very important for early man, as it would be next to impossible to hunt animals in a downpour as rain washes out tracks and scents and makes the task of getting from point A to point B difficult in itself. Heavy rain cuts off hunters from possible hunting grounds.

English: Forest track in spruce plantation I s...
English: Forest track in spruce plantation I suspect this would look bleak regardless of the weather, but mist and heavy rain certainly doesn’t help. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Visibility is also reduced by rain making location and tracking of prey difficult. Also, prey hunkers down in inclement weather, hiding away in inaccessible dens, or perching in inaccessible trees.

When early man developed techniques of agriculture, he would have been aware that his crops were dependant on the weather. Too much rain might cause the crops to rot in the ground or not develop properly, while too little rain (and more sun) would dry out and kill the crops and prevent them from fruiting.

English: This is a Tsuga canadensis in zone 6 ...
English: This is a Tsuga canadensis in zone 6 that may be suffering from early drought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The early farmer would have had to consider carefully where to plant his crops. It would not be a good idea to plant crops in area prone to flooding (unless the plant, like rice needs flooding, during its development). It would also not be a good idea to plant the crops too far from water, so that watering them would not be too onerous.

Being able to predict the weather would enable the early farmer to take actions to look after his crops. The ancient Egyptians, one of the first societies of whose agriculture we have some knowledge, lived in the Nile basin and took advantage of the annual floods, and developed a complex system of irrigation. This led the Egyptians to develop mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences in order to predict when the floods were likely to happen.

Arguably the need to predict the weather had a lot to do with the fact that the Egyptians developed civilisation in the first place. Arguably the rise of civilisation goes hand in hand with such developments of science and technology.

Predicting the Nile floods is prediction of the weather on a long time scale, and it is likely that the floods could be a little earlier or a little later than predictions. Such large scale weather patterns are both easier and harder to predict than smaller scale weather patterns, because the floods would come sooner or later in most years, but the extent of the floods would likely vary from year to year.


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Since the exact timing of the floods and the extent of the flooding was not predictable, it was almost inevitable that the ancient Egyptians looked for supernatural guidance, and religion became associated with agriculture, and this appears to be a general rule. In a culture, supernatural beings, gods, are associated with agriculture, often a pantheon of them.

As part of the tasks associated with agriculture, the gods were considered to be responsible for the weather both short and long term. Interestingly while the gods were supposed to be responsible for the weather, this did not stop enquiring minds looking for the mechanisms of the weather, how the gods worked, so to speak.


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We know a great deal more about the weather and how it happens, now. Science has moved on a great deal and we have discovered more and more about how the gods create and manage the weather, to the extent that we have taken the task away from them and given it to the scientists. I’m not debating religion per se, but some people think that we have taken everything away from the gods, removing their very necessity of being.

If forced into a corner and asked for my opinion, I’d probably agree, but there is something comforting to many people in the concept of gods or a God, and billions of people express a belief in a deity or deities, or some other supernatural influence. This may be something that we will leave behind as the human race matures, we can’t tell. It may be that science, with its laws, theories and predictions is just the latest in a succession of descriptions of the world, and may itself be ultimately seen as a simple rationalisation of what we see around us.

English: "The ancient Egyptians were accu...
English: “The ancient Egyptians were accustomed to appease the god of the Nile and induce him to bestow a bountiful inundation by throwing as a sacrifice into its sacred water a beautiful virgin.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It appears that the weather is getting wilder. Scorching temperatures are measured in some places, while other places are in the grip of freezing temperatures. Storms are continually being labelled the biggest in so many years. Flood protection schemes are being overwhelmed. Crippling droughts have hit many countries and ice is reportedly retreating in the Arctic and Antarctic.

This is, for good reasons, labelled global warming and the temperatures do seem to be rising all over the globe. I’m aware that controversy surrounds the whole topic, with allegations of bad science, conspiracy, and manipulation of data on both sides of the “debate”.

Temperature predictions from some climate mode...
Temperature predictions from some climate models assuming the SRES A2 emissions scenario. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The trouble with the global warming discussion is around the time scales involved and the rates of temperature rise. The period of time when we have reliable temperature measurements doesn’t go back very far, and the temperature rise is small and difficult to measure.

Those opposed to the idea of global warming point out that while measured temperatures may have risen slightly, if there is any rise it could be explained by natural changes unrelated to human activities, such as variations in the output of the sun, and that in any case, the data is insufficient to show any upward trend at all.


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Those in favour of the idea, counter that with the claim that the temperature rise is real and that the fact that it has risen in such a short time is a concern, and that action is essential.

It may never be formally decided. As we get better at predicting the weather it may turn out that the models which fit the data may solve the problem, and that one or the other side in the debate will fade away. As in the debate on evolution, the opposition to which gradually faded in favour of Darwin’s theories as time passed, I believe the same is likely to happen in the global warming debate.

English: Human evolution scheme
English: Human evolution scheme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trains, boats and planes

Refugees arrive in Travnik, central Bosnia, du...
Refugees arrive in Travnik, central Bosnia, during the Yugoslav wars, 1993. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a horrifying refugee crisis going on in Europe where floods of people from the Middle East are trying to get into the richer and stabler countries like Germany and the UK. They are fleeing wars and persecutions in their own countries, and are paying ruthless individuals to transport them mainly in overloaded boats from Asia to Europe.

Tragically, people are being killed in this process, as people are stifled in trucks and drowned falling from boats or suffering similar misfortunes. I haven’t heard of cases, but it would not surprise me to learn that unscrupulous have been killing refugees and taking whatever small possessions that they have.

Children of the United Kingdom's Children's Mi...
Children of the United Kingdom’s Children’s Migrant Programme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whether a person is a refugee or merely a migrant, they are leaving one country for another because they believe that life will be better in a new country. Such movements are older than the human race itself. It is believed that the human race evolved in Africa and relatively quickly spread though much of the then accessible world. Members of the “Homo” family of species at that time were widely spread in Eurasia as well as the home continent of Africa.

The Homo family of species spread through much of Europe and Asia probably as a result of their intelligence and their high rate of breeding. Being hunters and gatherers and increasing population would put pressure on scarce resources, forcing families and groups to travel further for food and resulting in migrations in search of food.

This is a recreated vector image in SVG. The o...
This is a recreated vector image in SVG. The original “Human_evolution_scheme.png” was made by José-Manuel Benitos. The following was stated by the original author: “Simplified scheme of human evolution, it does not try to be trustworthy, but a symbol of this process” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course there would have been many other factors, but I’ll not go into that as I don’t know much about early human migrations. One effect of the rise and spread of humanity was the decline of the other Homo species. I assume that there is a link between the two phenomenon as they happened, apparently, at about the same time.

Maybe a cleverer Homo Sapiens stole the resources that the other Homo species needed, or maybe the other Homo species succumbed to some influence that did not affect Homo Sapiens, such as a disease or a climate change. Maybe our ancestors destroyed the other species in a pre-stone age holocaust. I’ve not studied the literature on the subject, so I’m ignorant of what was the likely cause of the decline of the other Homo species.

English: Human evolution splitter view
English: Human evolution splitter view (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever happened in those early days appears to have left the human race the urge to keep moving on. This urge has prompted us to send people to the moon and to send spacecraft to all (local) parts of the universe. Of course refugees in general don’t have much choice in the matter. They need to move or they are dead.

There is probably a spectrum stretching from migrant to refugee that covers all people who change countries or even regions. At the one end you have the forced movement of people between countries, by the authorities or an invader, through people fleeing war or persecution, to those who flee unpopular regimes which won’t actually kill or persucute them, to those who choose to migrate for political, cultural, reasons, right through to those who like to experience a different living environment.


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I’ve changed countries myself, and though my migration was voluntary and for a better life, it was a huge upheaval to move countries. You have to leave friends and relatives, all the things that you have known, much of which you may miss, to pack up your life and relocate it to a new country, where the culture is different if not in type then in detail, and you do not know how you will cope.

Of course, voluntary migrants have it easy in comparison to the refugees. They often cannot bring any possession with them, and they may not like the culture (which may espouse a different religion of course) and the likelihood of them returning to their original homes is remote. As refugees they will almost certainly miss their countries more than a person further up the migrant-refugee spectrum would.

Remains of an Orthodox church in the city cent...
Remains of an Orthodox church in the city center. The church was destroyed during the war but has since been reconstructed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nevertheless, some voluntary migrants suffer at some stage from home sickness. Perhaps when an elderly relative dies and they cannot return for the funeral, or when a sibling who has remained in the “homeland” has a child. I’ve seen home sickness triggered by a simple treat brought by a visitor from the “homeland” that is unavailable in the new country.

I’ve not suffered very much from the syndrome myself, but I’ve known people who have and it is not a trivial thing. Home sickness can make a person physically ill, and if they are frail, it can even kill them. It can seriously disturb a person’s mental health, especially if they are prone to depression or similar mental illnesses. I’d say, however, that almost every single person who leaves one country for another suffers from it, except perhaps those of a persistently roving disposition.

"Homesickness Can Be Cured" - NARA -...
“Homesickness Can Be Cured” – NARA – 514527 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some voluntary migrants cannot cope with living in a new country. These are the ones that pack up and go back “home”. It may be culture, it may be relatives, it may be what you can buy in the shops, but these people make the decision to return from whence they came. I used to wonder why they did it, until I went back for a couple of years, and found that I hated it and couldn’t wait to get back to the new country. After that I had more sympathy for those returning migrants.

This contrasts strongly with refugees, who, although they see their target countries as being better than their homelands, are going to face a hugely different culture, possible religious and racial intolerance, all without the safety net of being able to return to their homelands. Even if they are able, at some time in the future, to return, it is likely that their homelands would have become strange and alien. Likely other people will be living their, with new customs and even religions.

We have a phrase which describes the process of settling in a new land, or adapting to local customs, to making friends and watching children forming bonds with others in the new country. It’s called “putting down roots”. Let’s hope that the refugees all find a place where they can join happily with the local society and put down some roots. Not to forget their homelands totally, but to rejoice in their new homeland. Those of us who are voluntary migrants should welcome these “involuntary migrants”.


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Round the Bays

Astronaut's photo of Wellington, New Zealand. ...
Astronaut’s photo of Wellington, New Zealand. North roughly at top of image. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, today I took part in the local “Round the Bays” event. Thousands of people gave up their Sundays to run or walk en mass along the roads that circle the bays of this city. Many other cities have similar events. Participants can choose to run or walk or something in between, over distances ranging from 6.5km to a half marathon (just over 21km). I chose the middle 10km option.

As I was walking by myself this year I caught the train to town and therefore arrived before the runners who chose the longer distance had been started off. The start area was filled with people stretching various muscles and sinews, some contorting themselves strangely and probably uncomfortably.

There were groups stretching in synchrony and individuals doing their own stretching exercises. I suppose that these people would be pushing their bodies pretty hard and really needed to “loosen them up”. There were others, like myself, just wandering around, having presumably decided that they would not be pushing themselves that hard and such vigorous loosening up was not necessary!

Since the race bibs were colour coded it was easy to tell which event someone was entered for. Young and old were represented and of course all ages in between. Some were probably even older than me! All frames from skinny to very much over large were represented.

As the half-marathon was about to kick off, all participants were called to the line. Well, actually, the fastest, the “elite” were called to the line, and people were asked to place themselves in order of fastest at the front, slowest at the back. To assist with this some of the organising people held notices on poles with an estimated finish time,  so that slower starters would not impede the faster, or to put it another way, the slower participants would not be trampled by the more speedy.

There was the usual “10, 9, 8,….” countdown and someone fired a maroon, and off they went, disappearing down the road. An event like this causes massive disruptions as roads are closed for obvious reasons.

English: 2007 peachtree road race crowd shot
English: 2007 peachtree road race crowd shot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Each runner or walker has attached to his or her shoe a little tag, which records the time that they cross the start and finish lines. As a consequence of this the participant can delay his or her start if the start line is too crowded. In fact, since the pack of runners and walkers extended 30 or 40 metres back from the start line, the shoe tags meant a participant could cross the start line minutes after the start and still get an accurate time for the journey.

Many people did in fact decide not to be too prompt to cross the line and there were queues for the loos right up to and after the official start. However, eventually everyone was away, though participants continued to trickle through the start for a while.

start line
start line (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A bit later they called for the 10km runners and walkers, and again, the fastest were asked to go to the front and the slower people were urged to stay at the back. Once more the maroon went off and people started passing the start line. I held back because I knew that there was always congestion at the start line, even with the shoe tags helping to spread the rush.

When I came to cross the line there was a slight slowdown, but I’d fortunately judged it quite well, and we were away. I’m always wary of starting too fast and getting tired at the end so I didn’t try to push through the throng too much, but it spread out pretty quickly.

2011 Boston Marathon finishing line pavillion ...
2011 Boston Marathon finishing line pavillion on Boylston Street. Looking west; runners would be coming from the east. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first part of the course is actually a block away from the waterfront, past Te Papa, the national museum, and only joins the waterfront after a few hundred metres. The rest of the course though follows the coast quite closely, first going out to a headland and then back into the next bay around the harbour.

Of course, with thousands of people on the road, it is closed to traffic, but people don’t seem to mind this. Most car parks were empty, both those on the side of the road and those on private properties, so locals seem to have made plans to cope with the road closures.

After a couple of kilometres I put on some pace and started passing a fair number of other walkers. Others with similar plans but fitter bodies were also passing me, I should mention!

With thousands of people thundering up the road, there were no bicycles or skateboards, but there were a few runners without race bibs who had either not heard about the event or who had decided to run along the course anyway. Along one part of the Parade there is a quite large fountain, and this was playing as we made out way past.

English: Turning for home Runners in the Leeds...
English: Turning for home Runners in the Leeds Half-Marathon 2007 turn from Hawksworth Road onto Abbey Road, the point at which they start to head back to the city centre and the finish – but there’s still 4 miles to go. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second stage of the course winds round some small bays which border much larger bay. We lost the view of the city as we looped through these bays. Quite a few of the local residents were watching from their balconies as we passed. A few had hoses out and offered cooling showers, but the day was not too hot and they had few takers.

And then we were 500m from the finish! But we had only travelled just over 5km! So we took a left and travelled around 2.5km and the same back again. This loop took us past the airport and several flights blasted off as we passed. It can be quite loud and surprising down on the road as the runway is elevated, so you can see or hear them coming until the last minute.

People running at the 2007 20 kilometer road r...
People running at the 2007 20 kilometer road race through Brussels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we went out, we were passing the half-marathoners and the faster 10km runners who were on their way back, travelling the last few kilometres to the finish. The turning point was a great relief and I knew that there was not much left to do. When I finished the out and back the course merged with the course that the 6.5km participants followed (and which we followed up to the point where we followed the loop). Many of the 6.5 participants had already reached that point.

So eventually we all, half-marathoners, 10km runners and walkers and 6.5km runners and walkers, arrived at the finish pretty much at the same time! The result was not chaos though as people were efficiently passed through the channel, given a banana and a drink, and issued into the wider park behind. Oh, and I was relieved of my shoe tag too.

Peeled, whole, and longitudinal section
Peeled, whole, and longitudinal section (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The park was crammed with participants and their “support teams” and various booths set up for participants of various teams, there was a band on stage and much going on. But for me it was simply a matter of catching the shuttle back to the station to get home, having had a great time.

The whole event was smoothly organised by Sport Wellington, sponsored by Cigna Life Insurance, and supported by Wellington City Council and Wellington busses and trains, and many others. It was a thoroughly enjoyable event.

English: Airport Express Shuttle Bus
English: Airport Express Shuttle Bus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)