llow me to begin by asking you this question: do you worry about the stock market? About the growing eccentricity of the weather? About new plagues like AIDS? 

You have come to the right place. Relax your mind of these unbearable tensions and follow what I say. I shall begin by transporting your hearts and minds to a certain wood in the north of fabled California, to a particular creek called San Francisquito, running like a green ribbon through the town of Palo Alto, a place where we may shed the clothing of our public selves, finding there tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, and good in everything.[1]

This San Francisquito Creek, (so called by forty six year old Gaspar de Portola when his miserable party of soldiers first came upon it in November, 1769), rises in a bank of white clouds that hangs like a giant unbroken wave of surf, its base pierced by pointed firs and stately redwood groves that cover the mountainous spine of the San Francisco Peninsula between the valley of Santa Clara and the Pacific Ocean. Watered with some 40 inches of rainfall each winter, these modest mountains are like a little piece of Oregon, discharging springs of waters that flow across the floor of the Santa Clara Valley below:

For mountains and high places act like a thick sponge overhanging the earth and make the water drip through and run together in small quantities in many places[2]

And yet of late this creek has shown an erratic and nervous side, discharging, on February 3 of last year, a record seven thousand cubic feet per second of water, leaping from its banks and inundating much of that most learned of towns, Palo Alto. 

Is this simply a manifestation of normal variability? Consider the variability of rainfall, depicted here in for Los Angeles. Here it is clear that the wobbly regime of the mid 19th century, which I will discuss later in connection with my book Ragnorak, is returning inexorably; the halycon days of your twentieth century are dwindling in more ways than one.

And there are those who would claim that this, along with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and infested fruit (both literal and metaphoric, in the case of California and San Francisco), are part of an increasing trend of natural punishment, an impending collapse of the old order, the rumblings of an angry god.

What too of the increasing instability in other spheres of your lives? Consider for example the recent behavior of the stock market, with a price-earnings ratio soaring to dizzy and arguably unsustainable heights of speculation? Who can doubt that we in the United States are not subject to the same laws of financial gravity?


[1] Wm. Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing.
[2]. Aristotle, Meteorologica I, xiii, 10 
[3] Photograph taken in a neighborhood in Palo Alto the day after the record flood of February 3, 1998. The previous damaging flood had been in 1955. See this site for many links to the 1998 flood. 
[4] Mr Donnelly favors the work on speculative markets by Professor  Robert Shiller of MIT and Yale, from which these data for the S&P500 are drawn.
[5] Donnelly misremembers the 19th century period of instability; it was actually in the last half of the nineteenth century as shown on the graph and discussed by him in his comments on Krakatoa. The basic argument here is that the growing instability of California climate had a precedent in the late 19th century.