Atmosphere

Okanagan Falls in Shadow and Starlight

Here’s the bank and flat of the old lakebed high above Okanagan Falls, and the shore the first people here would have walked along in the back, some, what, 12,000 years ago.

Stuff has changed, as you can see. The cut where the draining waters of the lake sliced through its bed over a couple days have now been covered in grass and a few ponderosa pines, while the old shore in the back is thickly draped with Interior Douglas-firs. On this October morning, shadows are long. One might think that soil type or elevation creates the conditions for grass instead of trees. That’s certainly true, yet it’s not the whole story. Three factors tell this story here: elevation, heat and water. Just as the sun catches this solitary pines and casts long shadows, so do the Coast Mountains far to the west cast long shadows of air pressure. In this case, it’s in reverse to the sun-shadows. The shadows of the Coast Mountains are the brightly-lit dry grass. The slopes protected from their drying effects are the forests in behind. In other words, the Sun and the Coast Mountains are working in unison to create this grassy slope. In effect, when you walk on this grassland, you are walking in the place where the sun and the mountains meet. You are, in effect, inside the mountains, projected here across hundreds of kilometres by the Sun’s energy in the open Pacific. And isn’t that what the old post-glacial lake here was doing as well? Wasn’t this the place where these dark hills caught the water the sun had melted from the glaciers created in the Coast Mountains far to the West? We look at it today and think, oh, yeah, you know, hill. Really, though, it’s energy transfer on a planetary scale. This is your Earth, and pine trees, among the stars. This is what that’s like.

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