Refraction is the change in direction of a wave due to a change in its transmission medium.
Storm in Western Oklahoma
We set off from Milwaukee, Wisconsin last Saturday on a cross-country trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the Wilderness 50 Conference. As we got to western Kansas, we noticed clouds gathering to the west and north. It’s difficult to judge distances across such a huge, flat landscape. I thought maybe the storm was in Colorado. We cut south through the Oklahoma panhandle, and tumbleweeds flew across the highway. Steve thought this would be a great place to get out of the car and take a picture. Unfortunately, I missed the lightning flashes on the horizon (I wish I’d brought a tripod to take a timed exposure!). The winds were crossing in all directions, curling plumes of rainfall came down from the clouds in mixed directions, as if forming quotation marks across the sky. What are the winds trying to say? We camped that night in the Kiowa National Grassland, at the Mills Canyon Rim campground (elevation 5900 ft.). The rain barely wet the high desert ground, but the WIND was fierce! Eventually, it blew the clouds away, revealing a waning gibbous moon and a host of stars undimmed by human lights anywhere in the area. In the morning, the winds were so strong that I had to put our camp stove underneath the picnic table and bank it with coolers in order to keep the flame from blowing out. By the afternoon, the wind was gone, the skies completely clear. When the sun set, the air got very cold, very fast. And a blanket of stars swept over the sky, banded by the Milky Way.
Waves of wind, changing direction, crossing different mediums (clouds and stars) are an example of refraction and one of the pleasures of wild space. We are here at the Wilderness conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Preservation Act into law and to find our direction in the call to protect and respect Earth. When the conference concludes, we will venture back into wild lands in New Mexico for more adventures. Stay tuned!