Category Archives: winter

Fire and Ice-Land 3 (Dancing Lights)


Day 3 in Iceland and the weather was still occasionally sunny but mostly snow stormy.  Any hope of catching a glimpse of the fabled northern lights seemed to be all but lost as all northern light tours had been cancelled for 7 consecutive days on account of poor visibility and driving snow.

We consoled ourselves by hiring a Superjeep  tour up to Langjökull glacier to do snowmobiling and to visit a man made ice cave.  Along the way, there were stops to look at some of Iceland’s thermal pools, a rather pretty though small waterfall and a pit stop for lunch.

hraunfoss - 1
Mrs. Squirrel obscuring the view of the pretty Hraunfossar waterfall.

Along the way, there were a few cars that had got stuck in the snow and we stopped to render some assistance.  We were very glad to be in a Superjeep with huge tyres and retractable spikes which carried us steadily through the worst of the snow and weather.

And when we reached on top of the glacier, it was time to switch to the snowmobile.

snowmobile 2
Our two snow conquering chariots!
snowmobile 1
We had to bundle up in special snow suits, wear helmet, visors and get instructions.

Well, getting dressed up for the snowmobile ride was a thorough workout in itself and we were sweating from the exertion and glad to be out in the cold so that we could cool down.  There were 14 of us and we paired up to drive 7 snowmobiles.  Of the 7 drivers, only one had driven a snowmobile before.

Let me just say that it was not easy to drive.  I certainly found it hard to control, requiring a lot more strength and throwing around the body weight to get the machine to turn.  And when I managed to turn it, it would over extend in that direction and I would have to compensate in the other direction.  We were told to follow behind the guide in the lead snowmobile but we were all struggling to do that.

We were also facing driving snow and bitter cold, poor visibility and fresh loosely packed snow which made it easy to capsize the machine if we strayed too much to the edge of the packed trail.  The journey was supposed to take about 15 minutes to the cave entrance but it took us more than 30 minutes.  During that time, one snowmobile sunk about 2 feet into the soft snow and had to be dug out.  Except for two snowmobiles, the rest all had exciting moments when the machine tipped over trapping driver and passenger underneath.

It happened to me and Mrs. Squirrel.  I wandered too much to the side and the machine toppled over and slid down a small slope.  Both my wife and I were pinned down by the 350 kg machine.  From our prone position, we could see nothing at all and could only hope that the guides would notice we were missing and could here our feeble cries for help.  Eventually, they showed up and got us out of there.

Finally, we made it to the ice cave and I took out my camera from my backpack only to find that it had not fared well from the snowmobile ride.   The cold had completely caused my camera battery to be drained out.  So all the photos in this post is courtesy of my traveling companions.

We were joined by another group that had come up by monster wheeled buses.  “You mean we could have done the trip in comfort?”  One of my group tried to trade our return snowmobile ride for a spot  on the bus but there were no takers.

During the tour of the cave, we were shown the “chapel”.  The guide explained that the acoustics were particularly good here and asked for a volunteer to test it out.  The rest of the cowards nominated me to do it.  And so I found myself giving a rendition of “Amazing Grace” inside a glacier.

glacier cave chapel - 1
Singing “Amazing Grace” in the ice cave chapel.

When we got back to the base camp on the glacier to put away the snowmobiles and to get out of the snow suits, I asked my driver how I could get a refund for the northern light tour that I had previously booked with Superjeep for my first night in Iceland.  Now Superjeep and some other tours allow clients to go on a second tour at no extra charge if the first trip was cancelled or the northern lights were not seen.  However, the weather had been so bad and the forecast was for more of the same, that I had given up hope.

To my surprise, our driver, Loji, thought there was a chance that the tour would go ahead that night.  He called his office, consulted with them and then proposed to take us out that same night.  I really was skeptical given the weather conditions but decided I would regret not trying and so our whole group agreed to go northern light hunting.

Loji said that despite the snow and blustery wind, we just needed to look for breaks in the cloud cover where we can see the stars and we would have a good chance to see the northern lights.

star wars snow
This is not the Millennium Falcon jumping to light speed but the view of the driving snow from the windscreen of the jeep and the reason why I did remained skeptical of our chances of seeing any northern lights.

And so we left Reykjavik at about 8.00 pm and we drove and drove and we drove.  Around and around,  Chasing perceived clearer skies.  We made a few stops when it was not snowing as bad and strained to see stars but most of the time, the sightings were brief before the clouds and snow returned.

To warm us up and to dull the sense of disappointment, Loji gave out generous servings of hot chocolate fortified with vodka.  That certainly made us more cheerful and a little sleepy too – it had been a long day.  Then at about 12.30 in the morning, Loji delivered!

We managed to see the lights!  It appeared like a light green ribbon across the sky. It wasn’t the brightest but we enjoyed it, taking pictures and just taking in the sight.  But after maybe 10 minutes the clouds came in and the show was over.

We were reasonably satisfied and we settled down in the jeep for the long drive back to Reykjavik.  But Iceland had not finished giving us a show.  30 minutes later, we saw an even better display as we were driving back.  We pulled over and enjoyed this spectacle for about 20 minutes, thanking God for blessing us with this experience.

aurora 1

aurora 2
Hallelujah!

Next post:- Around Reykjavik.

Advertisements

Fire and Ice-Land 2 (Vik & South Coast)


We arrived after dark on the first day in Iceland and had taken the Flybus from the airport to downtown Reykjavik.  For future travelers, this is a lot cheaper than taking a taxi but there is the inconvenience of having to change from the airport bus to a smaller shuttle bus which then takes you to a bus stop near your hotel.  In our case, the bus stop was about 200 m from the hotel which would not be a problem if it weren’t for the driving snow and the slush on the roads making it unpleasant to be dragging luggage in the streets.

But bad weather is part of the nature of Iceland which one must accept. Still, it immediately spoiled our plans as the tour I had booked to go out that night to seek out the northern lights was cancelled on account of the weather.  Although disappointed by that, I immediately activated plan B which was to get a good night sleep and take off early the next morning on a long bus ride out along the southern coast as far as the small town of Vik.

Here are some highlights from Day 2;

Iceland south - 2
Icelandic Horses – these tough guys spend the winter out in the elements.  Descended from ponies brought over by Vikings in the 12th century, they are used in sheep herding and more recently for “tourist herding”.
Iceland south - 1
A short stop at the LAVA Centre and there was this interactive model of Iceland showing all the earthquakes and tremors that occurred in the last 24 hours.
Iceland south - 3
The impressive Skógafoss waterfall
Iceland south - 4
The black volcanic sand beach at Vik
Iceland south - 5
It was a wild and windy day!
Iceland south - 6
You could actually lean backwards into the wind and the wind would be able to hold you up.
Iceland south - 7
But the wind was also pelting us with tiny bits of hail which was quite painful.  The round ice spheres can be seen clearly in contrast to the black sand.
Iceland south - 8.jpg
These are the basalt columns at the famous Reynisfjara beach near Vik.  Oh, and the sun came out briefly.
Iceland south - 10
They told me that seabirds nest on these rock stacks but all I saw were @#!$%#* tourists!
Iceland south - 12
The beach can be dangerous as the waves are violent and rogue waves are known to occur which can drag you into the cold North Atlantic.  The last fatality was in 2017.  We were told not to go too near the waves and also not to turn your back to the waves.
Version 2
But, it could also be very romantic!
Iceland south - 13
The ends of the basalt columns in the cave.
Iceland south - 14
Another view.  Notice the icicle at the top?
Iceland south - 15
A good place to roost after a long day on a tour bus.
Iceland south - 18
We also visited part of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier.
Iceland south - 17
These guys were returning from hiking on the glacier.
Iceland south - 21
Another beautiful waterfall – Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.  In warmer times, it is possible to walk behind the falling water.
Iceland south - 23
Wait a while and you might get the place to yourself.
Iceland south - 24
This little excursion along the south coast gets my thumbs up!

Next installment will be about snowmobiling and an ice cave in a glacier.  See you then.

(All photos by LGS; please ask permission before using).

Annnd….we’re off!


Well, my 2018 is already galloping like a runaway horse.  In this first week, there’s been a birth, a wedding and a death – three major milestones of life crammed into the first 7 days.

First, the birth.  It involves the bride from the wedding.  No..no…no….it’s not her baby! Let me finish before you jump to all kinds of wrong impressions. Good grief.

You see, the bride’s cousin couldn’t attend the wedding cause she just gave birth to a baby girl on New Year’s Day and wasn’t feeling up to a long distance journey.  Now for those who like to follow Chinese numerology, a birth on 1/1/18 (d/m/y) is extremely auspicious because in Chinese it sounds similar to the proclamation “definitely will be prosperous”.  The fact that the baby girl entered the world 2 weeks ahead of schedule only adds to the mystique of being fated to be born on that auspicious date.  The really superstitious ones might even be tempted to buy lottery tickets.

Secondly, the wedding.  It was today and it was a great joy for me to have witnessed it.  I have known the bride for many years starting when she was a teenager.  So it was a pleasure to see her embark on this next chapter of her life and wishing her and her new husband that God grant them a long and happy life journey together.  You know how they say long distance relationships are difficult?  Well they made a 16,000 km courtship work. Amazing.

They also did a studio photography session where they get all dressed up and have soft-focus, romantic photos taken.  A very common practice in Asia.  Less common is to have a picture of the newlyweds in their finery but armed to the teeth with swords and bows and arrows, fending off a ravenous T. Rex.  Certainly an experience to remember.

Finally, there was the death of an old gentleman. I attended his wake and funeral.  More about this in a later post cause I had a few thoughts on him that I would like to elaborate.

But these three life milestones just reinforced for me the thoughts I had when the clock went past midnight and into 2018.  I was thinking how time is marching on and for all of us, time will come to an end one day.  We don’t know if that is distant or near.  All the more reason to stop wasting our lives and truly live life to the full.  Also reason to give some thought about facing eternity ; how will we face that.

And, finally, finally, a little comment about the bomb cyclone event in USA and Canada that is causing widespread extreme cold, flooding, freezing, deep, deep snowdrifts and howling winds.  Sorry that you are experiencing all that and sorry for the loss of life.  But once again, wake up to the new reality of increasingly extreme weather events due to global warming.  Here to the clock is ticking.

But finally, finally, the most final of all, I also realise that in the midst of gloom, there is still beauty to be seen.  Hope this video will bring some cheer.  May this really be a Happy New Year for you.

Winter Olympic Sports for Dummies


I haven’t been sleeping much.  This form of insomnia afflicts me once every few years, whenever the Olympic Games are on.  Currently, it is the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games which is the source of my insomnolence.    The time difference means that I need to stay awake from 2 to 4 in the morning to catch the best events live.   Events such as the USA-Canada Gold medal women’s ice hockey match earlier today which incidentally was everything you would want in a game if you were an ice hockey fan and a Canada-phile like me – less so if you were rooting for Team USA.

This was really a heartbreak for the Americans who went 2 – 0 ahead and were generally having a much better game than their rivals.   Victory was within grasp.  But even as the Americans already had one hand on the gold, the Canadians drew one back with just 3 min 36 seconds remaining in regulation time.  Still, USA just needed to keep the Canadians out for just a few minutes.  Ah, but Canada gets another goal with just 55 seconds left, sending the match into sudden death overtime where they sealed their remarkable comeback victory with a goal at the 8 minute 10 second mark.

It had thrills, excitement and drama.  It was great.  It kept me up into the wee hours of the morning and now I walk around with dark rings under my eyes – and them be Olympic sized rings too!

Have you been watching the games?  Many of the events in these Winter Games are strange to a non-skiing tropical squirrel like myself.  Perhaps they may also be strange and unfamiliar to some of you dear readers?

As a public service and after intensive and exhaustive research, the Lone Grey Squirrel presents “Winter Olympic Sports for Dummies” to provide enlightenment and better appreciation for these weird and wonderful sports.  Here I try to give simple and concise descriptions for each sport.

Ice Hockey – A smash and crash, check and deck, slash and dash fest involving a puck, fights and men (and women) with false teeth.

Curling – Stone throwing

Bobsled –  A sport where you jump into a coffin and slide down a frozen Wet n Wild ride at breakneck speed.  Don’t know who Bob is though?

Skeleton – That’s when you do the same thing but can’t afford the coffin.

Ski Jumping – “Oh, I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky” A cruel sport where spectators yell out “Jump! Jump!”

Skiing – The sport is just going downhill all the way.

Speed Skating  (Short Track) – A great sport for watching spills and multi-person pileups.

Speed Skating (Long Track) – a sport that seems to really only involve orange clad Dutchmen standing on the winners’ podium – so it really hasn’t anything to do with the rest of us.

Biathlon – Sport endorsed by the NRA.

Figure Skating  – This genteel and graceful sport involves kneecapping and death threats (see Tonya Harding video).

Well, that’s all folks.  Must try to sleep now.

 

 

 

Adapting to Living in the New Artic


I understand that our friends in North America are currently facing a second major snow storm of the winter brought about by an extreme weather formation called the polar vortex which in turn is probably an impact of climate change.

Let’s face the truth.  Climate change is already here.  It’s too late to try to avert it; now we can only look into adapting to climate change.  Us squirrels are already learning how to find our buried nuts under several feet of snow (we are experimenting with adapting avalanche beacon activity).

I know that all that endless arctic snow and cold can be a real emotional and mental strain.   So as a service to all polar vortexed readers, the Lone Grey Squirrel has scoured the icy wastelands of the world for ways to adapt to this aspect of climate change.

And we found the answer in Irkutsk, Siberia.  Ah, Irkutsk, Irkutsk.  I know it so well. (It is one of the territories on the board game Risk).

irkutskrisk

Anyway, the only way to adapt to the drudgery of cabin fever and the bitter cold is to learn to love the icy weather.  Have fun with it.  If life gives you lemons, make lemonades.  If climate change gives you ice as far as the eyes can see, then do as Ethnobeat, a group from Irkutsk, has done – make ice music!

Let’s face it.  Much of North America is going to look a lot like Siberia from now on.

Here is Ethnobeat playing on and with frozen Lake Baikal.

 

 

 

 

 

Cold, Wet, Hot


This is a composite post on three rambling thoughts which should not be confused with (although related) to my earlier post entitled “Wettest, Coldest, Hottest”.  This post is not as superlative as the previous one.

My first rambling thought was about the cold.  Have you noticed the new look of the blog with the picture of snow crystals and the aurora borealis?  It seems a number of my blogging friends are feeling the winter blahs.  That’s quite normal.  In fact last Monday is supposed to be the official Bluest Winter Day  (as in “singing the blues” and  not “the bluebird of happiness”) or so I read on someone’s seasonally affected blog.  Hence, I decided to try to bring some cheer by reminding all you good folks that winter can also be so beautiful. Feeling cabin fever?  Go out and watch the stars at night.  Enjoy a soak in a hot tub.  Run naked through your neighborhood in the cold.  (not necessarily in that order).

Ooo! Ooo! I just thought of another great idea.  Work out all your frustrations with an exciting game of ……….curling.  Why, it’s perfect.  Played with brooms and stones………..reminds me of “sticks and stones will break my bones”.     Yes, definitely an X-treme sport.

Speaking of order; it is fine when the bitter cold stays in Canada, greets Scandinavia or covers Siberia but as I said in the previous post, it is not natural for Texas to be colder than Canada.  Climate Change!!!!  The latest is that hundreds of people in North Vietnam had to be hospitalised due to a cold snap which has also killed hundreds of buffaloes.   Okay, rambling again.  To summarize this point – winter can be pretty but should stay where it belongs.

My second rambling thought is on how wet this start of the year has been.  Australia has already suffered “floods of biblical proportion” in Queensland and now the flooding has spread to Victoria and according to the newspapers, the experts anticipate even more floods to come in what is now being called the “once-in-two-hundred-years flood”.  This is already by far the costliest disaster suffered by the Australians.  And they were not alone, in the last two weeks, there were abnormal floods in Sri Lanka, Philippines, Brazil and Sweden amongst others.  The tragedy of the mudslide in Brazil which has killed at least 600 people with many more still missing was caused by a downpour that deposited one months rainfall in one hour.  Malaysia too is having floods and our neighbor Thailand had serious flood last month.  It’s been a very wet period.  Again, water brings life as long as it stays where it belongs.

Now you might think that my third rambling thought would be also about the weather.  But you would be wrong cause I am a squirrel and I have eaten one too many bad nuts.  So, this last thought is about fire – to warm all you frigid northerners and about the supernatural – to send chills down your spine. Mwahahaha (<- evil mad scientist laugh).

There is a story coming from a house in a village in the north of West Malaysia, very close to the border with Thailand.  The owner of the house is a 73 year old woman who lives there with her family including two grandchildren.  The house is built on land belonging to the Islamic Affairs Department and she has lived there for more than 30 years.  However, starting just before the new year, the occupants have been plagued by unexplained mini fires that appear to break out spontaneously all around the house.   The fires have burned clothing, prayer mats, furniture and even set the gas cooker on fire.    Reporters from one of the national dailies went to interview the family and while they were there, they witnessed five such fires.  There have been as many as twenty such incidents in a day.

Fourteen Islamic priests came to exorcise the fire-starting spirit.  They performed prayers, chants and rituals.  The leader of the group noted that the owner had a collection of ancient daggers and he believed that the spirit or spirits were attracted to these ancient artifacts.  However, despite their efforts, the fires resumed the next day.

The home owner has even now resorted to invite a well known Chinese kung fu master to carry out an exorcism.  This will be the next stage in the story.  As you can imagine, the whole family is in a terrible state.  How can you rest or sleep when you are expecting another unexplained fire?  These things are alive and well in Malaysia.  This tale has been brought to you by Spooky Squirrel.  Any theories my skeptical friends?

Innocent or …….?

Unburied Nuts from 23rd December 2007: “Not a Creature was Stirring”


Squirrels love to bury their precious nuts so as to uncover them later to enjoy at leisure. In the same way, this blog, from time to time, brings an old post back for another short period in the sun. This one happens to be one of my earliest post.

What Creature Stirred and Left These Mysterious Trails….



photocredits: Deep river

“Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse……..”

(Excerpt from poem by Clement Clarke Moore; 1822)

Snow had fallen thickly during the night and the wind had blown fiercely with its own melancholic howling through the trees. I was glad to have been tucked in bed that night safe and snug. Christmas was a couple of days away and when I drifted off to sleep, I was soon in a dream world filled with the visions of the expected wonders of warm fellowship and the joys of the season.

I awoke the early the next day while the morning light was still dim, feeling fully rested and fresh. I excitedly went to my small basement window and as expected the night’s storm had dusted everything with an inch or two of snow, creating a wonderland. The distant streetlamps were still able to cast sufficient light on the newly fallen snow that everything seemed to sparkle like diamonds.

It was then I realized that someone had already been up and about before my eyes had opened to the new day. Just in front of the window was a wooden walkway and a small bush. Both were coated in snow but clearly visible all around them were tiny tracks.  Spikey had already come by.

Grey Squirrels do not hibernate. They remain active during winter and are most active during the daytime when it is warmer. I had continued to feed Spikey during winter with nuts. Initially, I left them in a pile on the wooden walkway. However, I soon realized this exposed the poor creature to the blowing wind. I eventually found a large rock that was suitable as a feeding table because it had a shallow hollow on its top surface which was ideal for placing the nuts. I placed it next to a small bush.

I had chosen the bush because its network of leaves and branches created a scaffold for the snow to layer upon creating a snow igloo of sorts with the interior spacious and ice-free.  Spikey was able to enter and shelter under the snow-covered bush and feed while reasonably protected by the elements. The bush was also within easy view of my window which enabled me to observe squirrel behavior throughout the winter.

At the Feeding Station

photocredit: drroz2


Drawing from Anonymous. Animal Tracks, Stackpole Co., 1954.

The tracks of the grey squirrel in the snow is fairly easy to recognize and has been described as the double exclamation marks, “!!”. This pattern stems from the gait of the squirrel who first plants its two small front paws in the snow and pushes himself forward before his hind legs land in the snow, just ahead of where the front paws first was planted. The long strokes of the double exclamation mark is made by the relatively long hind paws while the front paws provide the periods for the exclamation mark.

For me, seeing a trail of “!!” was a real heart warmer on a cold winter’s morning.