The Long View

I was out on my first run of 2019. It was the second day of the year, not the first. The first was foggy, grey, dim and dark. No views to be had, no motivation to get out and find some. Day 2 was a different story.

The same mountains that were there behind the fog and drizzle of New Years Day suddenly revealed themselves. Of course they’d been there all along. I always know they are there, right there in front of me, but there are times I just can’t use that knowledge to envision them on the far side of Lake Geneva.

It takes discipline and determination to see the positives when it comes to climate and the environment. But they are there. It may sound strange, but the mountains ahead need us to see them as much as we need to see them. When it comes to taking action, having a picture of the mountain on the other side of the clouds might be the only way to see it. At least for now.

I didn’t make any resolutions for 2019, but I am going to make a serious effort, both here on ChampagneWhisky and elsewhere, to always see the best views – regardless of the low-hanging clouds that might be blocking my line of sight.

Mont Blanc, France. Photo: PKR


Dawn or Dusk

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which it is, dawn or dusk. Getting brighter for a sunny day, or darker for a long night?

How to tell the difference? Obviously, it all depends on the direction you’re facing.

In this case, I was facing east. It was a dawn that was coming up all soft pinks and blues, stenciling the Alps beyond like a cut-out horizon.

Slightly smudgy photo of a crystalline morning of colors and clouds.
Photo: PKR

Root Migration

What do a rare high-altitude Alpine snow flower and a sturdy South African cousin of the daisy have in common? They aren’t related, they look nothing like one another, and they are natives to completely different habitats in different parts of the world.

But over the past few years, they have both been on the move.

Rockfoil – Saxifraga androsacea
Source: Wikimedia

The saxifrage species, also known as rockfoil, is a tenacious ground plant with that waits all winter under snow cover before bursting forth with a graceful stalk and small blossoms. It’s a plant of extremes – extreme cold, extreme altitude, it thrives in rocky soil where little else grows. But the temperatures for which it is adapted are becoming more seldom, and with them, so is the plant.

Meanwhile, the South African ragwort (Senecio inaequidens), a tall herbaceous plant with bright sunny blossoms, is happy to take up the space. Able to survive higher temperatures and unfussy about altitudes, it is adapting well to Alpine heights. The ragwort’s seeds arrived in exports of South African wool, and are proving very comfortable in a number of regions across Europe and the rest of the world.

South African ragwort – Senecio inaequidens
Source: ResearchGate

According to a long-term study of one Italian region, Alpine winters are rapidly becoming warmer, up to 1.2°C (2.16°F) over the past 20 years, with tourism and skiing heading ever higher in search of winter sports, impacting the environment. And while both tourists and ragwort are happy at a variety of altitudes, saxifrage is running out of places to go.

What the two plants share mobility, but are separated by the extent of their comfort zones. With climate change, the ragworts will settle in, the saxifrages will be unsettled. Whatever other plants or animal life that relied on an ecosystem that includes this little saxifrage species will change along with its disappearance.

It’s a sign of profound transition that a plant native to South Africa is growing on Alpine rock faces. What we know of this ancient landscape as it has always been will have to be altered.

For the moment, the plants have movement and terrain in common. Their destinations, however, won’t be the same. One will likely adapt and move onwards, the other will likely move into memory.

Photo: Florasilvestre

New Arrivals

The first snow of winter, marching towards us across the Jura.

Different perspectives on the approaching snowstorm on the French Jura. All photos: PKR

Different perspectives on the approaching snowstorm on the French Jura.
All mountain photos: PKR

The sun was shining in a final burst before a major storm that was due to hit overnight, and I had to go for a final autumn run in the last bits of warmth, even as I could see winter’s 1-6

No images here of the white carpet that greeted us the following morning, it all started melting soon after sun-up.

But in celebration of winter’s greeting card, we tried the Suntory produced Hibiki Japanese Harmony Master’s Select blended whisky I mentioned in a recent post, a foray into mostly unexplored territory for single malt fans such as ourselves.

According to Master of Malt, “Hibiki Japanese Harmony is made with malt whiskies from the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, as well as grain whisky from the Chita distillery. The whiskies are drawn from 5 different types of cask, including American white oak casks, Sherry casks and Mizunara oak casks.” The blend includes ten different malt and grain whiskies.

photo 4-3

For me, this is limited edition blend is a curious mixture of tart, oaky acidity with round apple sweetness and not much in between, a double-edged sword that I’m not sure I love, but which I definitely enjoy. It’s like one of those candies which you might not like at first taste, but which you can’t seem to stop yourself from eating.

The Hibiki bottle and stopper.

The Hibiki bottle and stopper.

I do, however, think the bottle, with its 24 facets and matching stopper, is very lovely. The 24 facets are meant to represent the two dozen Japanese seasons, and I’ll be the first to admit that although I lived in Japan, I didn’t realize just how many seasons I was experiencing over the course of a year.

Alps across Lake Geneva, before their winter coat.

Alps across Lake Geneva, before their winter coat.

What I do know is that a new season is upon us. It’s cold outside.

Yes, winter is not only coming – it is already here.

That doesn’t have to be all bad.

Cloud Spelunking

Back when global exploration meant finding a place, discovery was fairly straightforward. A given group of people could send some intrepid souls in a direction where none of them had ever been before, be it a valley, a sea, an island or a continent, and then that new place was ‘discovered’. There were gaps between the discovered places, but after a while, most of the gaps were closed and we now have a pretty good idea of where most places are on the surface of our planet.

Exploration has gotten a bit more slippery since then, and filling the gaps can be an elusive undertaking.

Alps in morning cloud, New Year's Day 2014 Photo: PK Read

Alps in morning cloud, New Year’s Day 2014
Photo: PK Read

In the investigation of ongoing climate change, unexplored territory remains. At the American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual fall meeting in December, three scientists who contributed to the most recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I report (released in September 2013) outlined three areas that need more intrepid spelunking if the climate change process and its impacts are to be understood.

One misty area is the full functionality of the carbon cycle, or how carbon makes its way between the soils, the plants, water bodies and the air.

Another is how the oceans themselves work at deeper levels. Specifically, how they absorb the increasing heat of the atmosphere.

But, as a card-carrying member of the Cloud Appreciation Society, I am particularly keen to follow the research on the role played by clouds when it comes to climate change. How do airborne particles affect clouds? Also, apparently low level cloud cover is migrating to the north and south. What overall effect this will have is currently a foggy area on the map of knowledge.

Mont Blanc, New Year's Day 2014. Photo: PK REad

Mont Blanc, New Year’s Day 2014.
The Jet d’Eau in Lake Geneva is visible in the lower right corner.
Photo: PK Read

In my corner of the planet, ephemeral clouds and solid mountains share the skyline. Just because the clouds obscure parts of the jagged outline on some days doesn’t mean the mountain has moved or shifted shape. And, contrary to what climate change deniers might insist, just because we can’t see all the gears and workings of climate change yet doesn’t mean we never will.

It’s commendable that these scientists are exposing gaps in knowledge so that we can send forth more explorers, and reveal the general location of the obscured territories in our understanding of climate change.


Sea of Sun

Sea of fog, Geneva basin Image via Monts Jura live web cam (Crozet)

Sea of fog, Geneva basin
Image via Monts Jura live web cam (Crozet)

Yesterday I posted images of atmospheric life at our altitude, all fog and frost.

Today, this is the view from several hundred meters above our heads, taken from a ski station web cam that’s twenty minutes from our place. The view is out over Lake Geneva, with the Alps in the distance. All of the Pays-de-Gex and Geneva, including our village, is beneath that white sea.

It’s comforting to know the sun is right there, if we feel the need to go visit.

Bubbly Surprise

It’s been an icy couple weeks here in the foothills of the Jura, with a strong bise wind blowing down from the Alps, funneling down through the Lake Geneva basin and wearing itself out to points south of here. It’s dry, it’s cold, and it can be unrelenting for as long as it lasts, usually a few days.

A bise is the word used for the traditional French kiss-on-the-cheek greeting (three kisses in our region), but the bise wind feels more like a sharp slap.

In the heart of winter, a strong bise can whip the waters of Lake Geneva into a frenzy, leaving behind well-known images like the one below. We aren’t there yet, although we did get some snow and ice.

Lakeside at Evian-les-Bains, Lake Geneva, during a 2012 bise. Photo: thedarkpond

Lakeside at Evian-les-Bains, Lake Geneva, during a 2012 bise.
Photo: thedarkpond

Not only did the bise finally come to an end this weekend, but I found some other good news.

In spite of a cold winter, a wet spring, a hot summer punctuated by extreme storms and hail, and the latest grape harvest in years, the Champagne region managed to increase its harvest results over those of 2012, and had the best harvest of the past five years.

Not bad, all things considered.

Other wine-producing regions haven’t been as lucky, especially the Alsace and Bordeaux areas, which were badly affected by hailstorms.

This is unfortunate, but as a Champagne drinker, I stay focused on the positive:

Photo via DestinationsPerfected

Photo via DestinationsPerfected

According to the Confédération des coopératives vinicoles de France (CCVF), the French collective of wine-producer cooperatives, there are hopes that this vintage may turn out to be exceptional in quality, as well.

The first tastings of the vin clair, the still wine that precedes the production of champagne, will give some indication in early 2014. The first bottles of this year will be sold in 2016.

No more bise and a promising Champagne vintage after a challenging year? I feel my mood lifting already.

Now here’s some divine bubbly stuff that comes, appropriately, from a movie called Stormy Weather.

Skyward Run

The day started like this.

Sunrise over the Alps & Lake Geneva Photo: PK Read

Sunrise over the Alps & Lake Geneva
Photo: PK Read

By evening, the clouds had cleared, so at one point the run looked like this in one direction.

Sunset over the Jura range. Photo: PK Read

Sunset over the Jura range.
Photo: PK Read

Like this in the other.

Sunset and Mont Blanc. Photo: PK Read

Sunset and Mont Blanc.
Photo: PK Read

And like this straight ahead.

Sunset and the Jura/Rhône Valley Photo: PK Read

Sunset and the Jura/Rhône Valley
Photo: PK Read

Then I looked over my shoulder, and this fine fellow popped up over a cloud.

Moonrise over a cloud. Photo: PK Read

Moonrise over a cloud.
Photo: PK Read

It was a pretty good day, sky-wise.