Exploiting Chaos

My article, ‘Exploiting Chaos’, which provides an awenydd’s perspective on our exploitation of the chaotic spirits of gas and its consequences has been published on Gods & Radicals.


“I picture an awenydd seated beside a gas flare prophesying chaos…”

From Lorna Smithers


Gas’ – ‘invented by J. B. van Helmont (1577–1644), Belgian chemist, to denote an occult principle which he believed to exist in all matter; suggested by Greek khaos ‘chaos’, with Dutch g representing Greek kh.’
Oxford English Dictionary

Chaomancy exhibits its signs by the stars of the air and the wind… Necromicae fall down from the upper air, and frequently voices and answers are heard. Trees are plucked up from the earth by their roots, and houses thrown down. Lemurs, Penates, Undines, and Sylvans are seen.’

I. Gas Flare

It’s 1999. I’m the designated driver. On summer nights we park up at a landfill site, light up with snazzy Zippos, inhale, sit back, drift away to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. Through the steamy windscreen I glimpse a flame, a lonely solitary…

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Modern Monasticism: a revolutionary vision

I strongly relate to this…

Call of the Syren

Modern Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism: a revolutionary vision

There are a growing number of people interested in a polytheistic monastic lifestyle, or at least growing awareness of it as a possibility. Many of these modern-day monastics lead a life in which devotion is present in every daily activity, service to others is considered service to the divine, and hours are spent in study, devotion, and contemplation rather than excessive socializing or other external activities.

I consider myself among those interested in creating this way of life and working toward building awareness and acceptance of it within western polytheism and modern culture. This lifestyle is a powerful resistance to American society; indeed, it goes against almost everything this culture values. I see four main areas of resistance in which a monastic lifestyle serves:

Resistance to the exploitation of time and labor
Our time is one of the most precious gifts that…

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“You Can’t Go Straight To Annwn”

I’m gifted the Annuvian Awen. The next step on my path looks clear. Our lack of lore about the Brythonic Otherworld – place-names, god-names, records of wonders and terrors, maps, has long saddened my heart. Unlike other traditions we have no cosmology, no Book of the Dead. It’s my task to map Annwn, return with its cartography like an odyssean heroine!

Of course it’s not that simple. They don’t tell you that in beginner’s books on shamanism, in classes, on courses, which teach that you just need to find a tree or a hole to go through and an animal guide, to remember the way you came and follow it back and you’ll be perfectly safe.

That’s just a little white lie to get you started. Like when a parent tells their child they’ll make it through school, college, uni, into a bright shiny career, when what really happens is you get undone, torn apart, every one of your dreams gets shot down like a butterfly (and those are the lucky one who learnt to fly before they were strangled in their chrysalises) before you really get somewhere, see something that makes you tremble with awe, turns the universe inside out.

If those teachers told the truth rather than promising healing and shiny-browed wisdom who would sign up?


Leaning Yew February 2018

I set out for Annwn, down the yew root, past the cavern where the water-dragon no longer is, end up…

Knee deep in a swamp gazing up at huge scaly trees, gigantic ferns, horsetails. I’m swept off my feet by a dragonfly to be shown this great forest falling, decaying, sinking, becoming coal.

Then by some metaphoric shift I’m in a helicopter as the pilot weeps whilst he sprays toxins over a withering jungle then plunges down to his death in the hell he’s created.

On another day I’m splashing through the shallows with the bi-valves who will become the shale we’re planning to frack and on another in the molten heart of folding mountains in the midst of the origenies pushing forth veins of copper, silver, gold, to the beat of Gofannon’s hammer as he summons into being the materials that he and our smiths will forge for good and ill.


“Why am I stuck in the past?” I demand of Gwyn, Lord of Annwn, my forever patron.

We are standing beside a pool of sleeping butterflies which would seem a strange location for such a terrible Annuvian god if I did not know who and what they were.

He smiles that half smile. “You can’t go straight to Annwn.”

His words make sudden sense like falling meteors.

It’s already written in the lore that there are no straight paths that stay the same after being walked. Try to get to the fortress on the hilltop straight away and it will get more distant the harder you ride. On the road that is not a road but a stumble and a fall there are many deaths and even the dead do not have straight journey for the route through death is just as complex as life.

I return his half-smile with a full smile.

A butterfly stirs.


You show me the ruins of a city
where a billion bodies slumber.

The ricochet of gun shots goes on and on
like a stuck and broken recording in a picture hall.

A butterfly crawls from the mouth of a dead man –
darting antennae then hesitant legs,
unfolds its wings,
deepest red
with astonishingly dark eyes

startling away to join your cloak of butterflies.

When surrounded by their colours you almost look like Summer
yet I hear the fateful beating of their wings,
the approaching storm

as I close a dead man’s mouth
and clamp my hand over mine.

I’ve been recording sightings
of butterflies crawling from the mouths
of dead men for quite some time.

It seems to happen once or twice in every war –
something escapes into winged kaleidoscopic beauty.

I’ve tried to pin them down and question them
but they fly away to a place beyond
my interrogations.

They won’t say what they are or who you are.

We’re running out of time to answer these ancient questions.

I used to keep a log of butterflies seen in fields and meadows:
orange tips, tortoiseshells, meadow browns,
speckled woods, marble whites…

I’ve seen their decline and more and more
crawling from the mouths
of the dead:

tiger swallowtails, Niobe fritillaries, Illioneus giant owls…

sometimes shifting into other vaster creatures
before joining your processions
in the night air.

When the butterflies fly away
and I see the bare bones of your constellation
I want to scream but fear something might escape.

Finally I realise I have a soul and it belongs to you.


The Defwy – A Brythonic River of the Dead

In the sixth verse of ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ Taliesin berates ‘pathetic men’ (monks) for their lack of knowledge of the answers to riddles which in his day must have been well known. He says they do not know ‘who made the one who didn’t go to the meadows of Defwy’.

The meadows of Defwy are clearly in Annwn. Marged Haycock notes it has been suggested Defwy is a river-name from def-/dyf- ‘black’ ‘as in Dyfi’ and may be ‘a river between this world and the next’. Taliesin also sings of this river in a list of fine things in ‘The Spoils of Taliesin’: ‘Fine it is on the banks of the Dyfwy / when the waters flow’.

Rivers dividing Thisworld and the Otherworld, the realms of the living and the dead, are found in many world cultures. In Greek mythology the Styx ‘Hatred’ divides Thisworld and Hades, the dead must cross the Acheron ‘Woe’ to reach their destination, and surrender their memories to the Lethe ‘forgetfulness’ to be reborn. There are another two rivers: Cocytus ‘Lamentation’ and Phlegyton ‘fire’. All originate from Oceanus ‘Ocean’. Each is a deity. Each flows through both worlds: the Styx is a stream in Arcadia, the Acheron and Cocytus flow through Thesprotia, the Lethe through Boetia, and the Phlegethon near to Avernus.

In Norse mythology eleven rivers called Elvigar ‘Ice Waves’ arise from Hvergelmir ‘Boiling Bubbling Spring’ in Niflheim ‘Mist-World’. Amongst them is Gjǫll, which flows past Hel’s Gate and separates the living from the dead. There are forty-two rivers in total. Some flow into the ‘fields of the gods’. Others ‘go among men’ before falling into Hel. Midgard, Thisworld, is encircled by an impassable ocean where Jörmungandr, the world-serpent, lives.

Unfortunately in Brythonic tradition we possess far less lore about the cartography of Annwn. Whether it was simply lost or actively erased by Christian scribes is impossible to know. Much of what we have is obscured by Taliesin’s riddling. In ‘The Hostile Confederacy’ he speaks of:

‘the connected river which flows (around the world)
I know its might,
I know how it ebbs,
I know how it flows,
I know how it courses,
I know how it retreats.
I know how many creatures
are under the sea’

It seems the Britons shared with the Greeks and the Norse a concept of a river/ocean encircling the world. To me this speaks of an intuitive knowledge of the oceanic currents of our ‘global conveyor belt’ which flow through the world’s oceans maintaining its ecosystems.

Another riddle suggests we once possessed knowledge of many rivers thisworldly and otherworldy:

‘how many winds, how many waters,
how many waters, how many winds,
how many coursing rivers,
how many rivers they are’

It’s my intuition that, like the Greek and Norse rivers, the rivers of Annwn flow through Thisworld and the Otherworld too. In ‘The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’, Gwyn, a ruler of Annwn and gatherer of souls, says he is:

‘Hurrying to battles in Tawe and Nedd.

Not the Tawe here in this land
But the one far away in a distant land
Where the tide ebbs fiercely on the shore.’

The Tawe is a river in Thisworld that flows through ‘a distant land’ – Annwn – too. It seems likely the Defwy, which might be identified with the Dyfi, appears in both worlds.

Afon Dyfi – the Defwy here in this land?

It is notable that Gwyn speaks to Gwyddno of his ‘sorrow’ at seeing ‘battle at Caer Vandwy’, ‘Shields shattered, spears broken / Violence inflicted by the honoured and fair’. Caer Vandwy ‘The Fortress of God’s Peak’ is mentioned in the same verse as ‘the meadows of Defwy’ with the legendary Ych Brych ‘Brindled Ox’.

Gwyn is speaking of a devastating battle between his people ‘the honoured and fair’ (the dead) and Arthur and his men who Taliesin accompanied on their raid on Annwn to plunder its spoils, which included the Brindled Ox and cauldron of Pen Annwn ‘Head of the Otherworld’ (Gwyn).

Even the impervious Taliesin describes this part of the raid of a ‘sad journey’ and says ‘save seven none returned from Caer Vandwy’. Arthur set out with ‘three loads full of Prydwen’ (his ship).

It seems Gwyn is sorrowful because the dead, who should be free of sorrow, were forced to fight and die again and he had again to gather their souls – a task he performs at battles in both worlds.

On a journey to the Defwy with Gwyn I saw people approaching the river, some to kneel and pray, some to cry, some to pour into it great jugs of tears. He told me that the Defwy is the place where the dead discard their sorrowful memories so they can move on to the lands of joy.

He also said the living can come here to do the same, but discarding one’s sorrows is a dangerous process, a form of death, and that they can never be regained because they flow away into the ocean to be reborn in new shapes walking abroad in forms unrecognisable to us.

In ‘The Hostile Confederacy’ Taliesin says in Annwn ‘There is one that knows / what sadness is / better than joy’. I believe this is Gwyn, who knows too well the sorrow of the dead who leave their memories at the Defwy in order to travel onward into his joyful realm.

Taliesin is, of course, ‘the one who didn’t go to the meadows of Defwy’, the one who continues to evade death, who claims to know all, remember all, yet in spite of this feels little sorrow, little guilt, for the catastrophes that he has witnessed and played a role in.

Knowing neither sorrow nor death will this mysterious glib-tongued entity, who was created by the magician-gods from fruit, blossoms and flowers, earth and water, ever truly know life or joy?


Naming the Beast

I. The Polar Vortex

And so it begins….
circling in the polar night
pulling its coldness into itself
building its turning lair in the sky
an icy serpent howling around it
where the sun never shines.

II. Breakdown

Hot waves rise
from the warming Arctic
confusing the serpent who flies
like a stream of jet through the polar night.
She pauses, reverses her motion.
The castle falls from the sky.

III. The East Wind

Falling falling southward
this broken abode of a beast so cold
shaking out and flexing uncountable limbs.
When it meets the blast of the east wind
that long-haired traveller revels in
his chance to beat the west wind.

IV. The Beast from the East

So many eyes of snow
so many teeth that bite and rend
so many claws that rattle under doors
to bring the chill of the poles biting in.
The beast is born. The beast is born.
The beast is born again.


A few days ago I was out running in a T-shirt. On ‘the last day of winter’ (in meterological terms) I’m back to my winter woollens. Yesterday I woke up to the rare sight of my home town of Penwortham, which is a low-lying suburb near the Ribble estuary, blanketed in snow.

Suburban Penwortham

Greencroft Valley snow

The north west of England has not been hit as badly as places in the east where schools have been closed and transport has been disrupted. Everybody’s talking about the Hollywood-esquely named ‘Beast from the East’ and I don’t think I’m the only one trying to get my head around the polar vortex, the polar night jet, polar vortex weakening, polar vortex breakdown, and the recent phenomenon of the polar vortex splitting due to sudden stratospheric warming.

The science behind it is fascinating, awe-inspiring, and troubling. Before I looked into it I wasn’t aware the polar vortex existed, let alone that it’s strongest in the dead of winter when the North Pole is utterly immersed in darkness, and that it is encircled by the enigmatic polar night jet.

An area of low pressure spinning counter-clockwise over the pole(s) due to the Coriolis effect, its strength and position in the mid to upper troposphere and stratosphere are based on the transfer of heat by the polar jet stream and by oceanic currents. Every year it strengthens and grows higher in winter and breaks down between mid-March and mid-May, issuing in spring.

This year’s breakdown was particularly dramatic due to a sudden stratospheric warming. Last week temperatures in the Arctic rose rapidly by twenty degrees. Waves of warm air rising into the stratosphere caused the polar vortex to reverse, split, and move southward and downward into the troposphere to meet the easterly winds. Thus the Beast was born.

This sudden stratospheric warming has been linked to climate change. The shrinking of Arctic sea ice (which is at ‘a record low for late February at 14.1 million square kilometers’) means more water is exposed, releasing heat into the atmosphere, disrupting the polar jet stream and causing the polar vortex and its encircling polar night jet to reverse and break down. Another factor is changes in the North Atlantic Drift, which flows north from the Gulf Stream.


Thinking back, this is not the first time we’ve experienced ‘freak’ weather around this time of year. In 2013, on the 23rd of March, I recall walking through a blizzard near to Denham Hill knee-deep in snow and seeing a pair of snow men and a snow dog outside Hill Top Farm.

My guess is this was probably caused by a breakdown of the polar vortex too. Perhaps also the cold snap in February 2009 when I was working at Red Lion Farm in Sarratt as a groom and we had to water the horses from the sink in our mobile home because all the taps were frozen.

Danny, Red Lion Farm, Sarratt 2009

For the past few years I’ve been aware the seeming arrival of spring is often followed by bitter winds, hail, snow, frost. In this I’ve seen signs of the battle of our Brythonic seasonal gods, Gwyn (Winter) and Gwythyr (Summer), for Creiddylad (a fertility goddess).

Gwythyr defeats Gwyn on May Day when the polar vortex breaks or has already broken down. The ancient Britons saw Calan Mai (1st May) as the beginning of summer and Calan Gaeaf (1st November) as the beginning of winter. Would such weather have surprised them?

What would they have made of the naming of the beast?

The naming of storms is a new phenomenon designed to identify and remember them and to alert people to their dangers. Give something a name, an identity, acknowledge its personhood and immediately it is treated with respect. This is rooted in the old magic of naming.

Our earliest storytellers knew this when they gave names and forms to the forces of nature. Only when they named the gods and the monsters they were not following a catalogue of pre-given names, but responding to revelatory visions whose source was these deities themselves.

In ‘Reading Harvey’s Dark Ecology’ Finnchuill notes that ‘monster’ comes from the Latin word monstrum, ‘a showing of divine portent’. Our Brythonic texts are packed with monsters with hundreds of heads, shimmering scales, and the wind itself is invoked as: ‘a strong creature / with no flesh or bone, / no veins, no blood, / no head, no feet.’

‘The Beast from the East’, unlike the pre-chosen alphabetical names ‘Aileen, Brian, Caroline, Dylan’… (for 2017/2018) at least has a poetic ring to it even if it smacks of ‘Hollywood makeover’. It won’t be forgotten and in coming years I wouldn’t be surprised to see further headlines such as ‘The Return of the Beast’ or ‘The Beast Bites Back Again’.

What does the name reveal about its nature? How might we read its appearance as a portent? In the past people might have seen such a monster as originating from Annwn, the Otherworld. Now instead we follow its tracks from the east to its lair in the dark, cold, abyssal place in the stratosphere from which, with the polar vortex, it has departed and to which it will return. This location, like Annwn, might also be associated with Gwyn, Winter’s King.

In the warming of the Arctic ocean we find man-driven climate change lending strength to Gwythyr. Gwyn strikes back by releasing the beast. Our ‘wacky’ (from WACC – warm Arctic cool continent) weather reflects the balancing measures taken by the seasonal gods which may be less a boyish battle for a maiden than an attempt to save her life on order of the goddess of the earth.

As we continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere and the oceans continue to warm we can expect to see earlier and fiercer appearances of the Beast. With eyes of snow and icy claws and rending teeth it will return again from the East.


Alister Doyle, ‘Wacky weather makes Arctic warmer than parts of Europe’, Reuters
Duncan Middleton, ‘Beast from the East: How the weather got a Hollywood makeover’, BBC News
Finncuill, ‘Reading Harvey’s Dark Ecology’, Pagan Bloggers
Jesse Zhang, ‘Understanding Climate Change: Polar Vortex Weakening’, TedxMileHigh
Marged Haycock, Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, (CMCS, 2007)
Polar Vortex’, Wikipedia
Why do hurricanes have names?’, BBC News

Nodens and the Weather Shapers

I. The Mural Crown

At Lydney overlooking the Severn stands a Romano-British temple dedicated to Nodens. From it was recovered a mural crown. It depicts him riding from the waves on a chariot pulled by four water-horses. Flanking him are wind-spirits and water-spirits.

Plate XIII Bathurst


I had used this image on my altar to Nodens for several months before thinking to pose the question of who these mysterious spirits are. Out walking in my locality in the voices of the winds I received the answers: ‘weather-shapers’ and ‘shapers of dream’.

My meditations have led me to the intuition that the spear-bearing wind spirit on the right is the piercing east wind. The spirit on the left with the spiralling rag is the west wind who brings both the warm moist air that keeps our climate temperature and storms and hurricanes.

Both water-spirits have the bodies of men, the frontlegs of horses, and the tails of serpents. The spirit on the right carries two pick axes and the spirit on the left a hammer and chisel. They are the shapers of the cloud formations that arise from evaporating waters approaching from the east (across the Continent and North Sea) and the west (the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea).

One of the translations of ‘Nodens’ is ‘the Cloud Maker’ from the Proto-Celtic stem *snoudo ‘mist, clouds’. He is later known as Nudd ‘Mist’. He and his spirits are the shapers of Britain’s weather.

II. The Cry of the West Wind

Whereas the east wind came across as quick-witted, clear-minded and bold, the west wind struck me as inconsistent and troubled, like a misunderstood youth: smiling, enthusiastic, and eager to please, but also moody, prone to fits of violence, brooding on some kind of trauma.

This reminded me of the words of Nimue Brown in her evocative essay ‘Watching for the winds’. Nimue lives ‘Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn / And the Severn seeks the sea’. She witnessed the tryst of the east and west winds last March on Swift’s Hill and noted their parting was ‘hesitant and regretful’ as if ‘they might not meet again’ or feared the circumstances of their next meeting. After the east wind departed the west wind remained, uneasy, not knowing what to do with himself, and shared ‘a warning, perhaps, or a cry for help.’

To interpret this cry I had to look beyond Britain to the direction from which the west wind blows: across the Irish Ocean (the domain of the sea-god Manawydan) to the Atlantic Ocean (associated with the sea-goddess Iwerydd and her consort the sea-god Llyr – Manawydan’s parents).

III. The North Atlantic Gyre

The warmth of the west wind is connected with the complex system of the North Atlantic Gyre, one of four gyres that form the ‘global conveyor belt’ of oceanic currents that determine the earth’s climate. It begins near the equator off the west coast of Africa where warm water driven by the easterly trade winds becomes the North Atlantic Current.

In the Gulf of Mexico it becomes the Gulf Stream. Joining the Antilles Current in the Straits of Florida it gains strength before the westerly anti-trade winds drive it toward Europe bringing 300,000,000 kWh/s of warm air – equivalent to the heat of a million nuclear power stations.

It then splits into the Irminger Current, which heads toward Greenland, and the North Atlantic Drift, which continues to Europe. The interactions of the west wind and the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift raise Britain’s temperatures 5 – 10 degrees Celsius higher than other continents at the same latitude and play a large role in shaping our mild, wet weather.

When these currents have lost their heat the cold water sinks (in the Denmark Strait it drops dramatically 11,500 feet as the world’s biggest waterfall) and returns as the Labrador Current beneath the Gulf Stream and the Canary Current past Africa.

Lines_of_sargassum_Sargasso_Sea - Copy_By Unknown - Ocean ExplorerNOAA, Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid1175629

In the centre of the gyre lies the calm deep blue Sargasso Sea, which is named after its unique sargassum seaweed. The bounding currents deposit the refuse they carry in its midst disturbingly creating the ever-growing North Atlantic Garbage Patch.

IV. The Re-Shaping of the Weather

It’s well known that anthropogenic global warming is having a drastic effect on our climate, which has been relatively stable since the last Ice Age. The rise in sea temperature has led to storms and hurricanes forming further north buffeting Britain’s coast and to more rain and flooding.

Some scientists claim that the melting of the ice caps will lead to the water around Greenland cooling and becoming less saline. Salinity is one of the factors that causes cold currents to sink. If their circulation stops this will shut down the North Atlantic Gyre issuing in a new Ice Age.

Even the gods and spirits are in trouble. The west wind, impelled to bring storms, his nature threatened by the cessation of the warm currents cries out for help, but his voice falls on deaf ears.

Centuries of Christianity and reliance on the predictions of science have cut us off from the weather-shapers. The arguments of our modern aeromancers, ‘weather-diviners’: the meteorologists and climate scientists who strike up a conversation of sorts with the gods through their instruments have not been listened to and now it’s too late to turn back the clock.

V. The Last Salmon? The Last Eel?


On the mural crown beneath Nodens and the weather-shapers is an enigmatic figure with a short tail hooking an enormous salmon. Salmon also appear on the mosaic in the centre of the temple.

The Severn was once renowned for its migrations of salmon leaping upriver to their spawning grounds. Atlantic salmon are now in decline due to the lethal combination of weirs preventing them returning and spawning, damage to habitat, industrial fishing, and global warming.

Changes in the currents of the North Atlantic Gyre due to rising sea temperatures have affected Atlantic salmon who use them to swim to and from their feeding grounds in Greenland.


Eels, who spend part of their life in the Severn, use the cold currents of the gyre to swim to their breeding grounds in the Sargasso sea. Their larvae utilise the warm currents.

Could the snake-like creature wrapped around Nodens’ arm be an eel?

Both these creatures, sacred to Nodens, whose lives have been intrinsically connected with the Severn for thousands of years, are currently in decline. New fish passes have been placed in the weirs. This might help, but the changes in the North Atlantic Gyre lie beyond human repair.

V. The Broken Crown

The image of Nodens and the weather-shapers provides us with a picture of the ‘beauty and integrity’ of Britain’s climate and the fecundity of its rivers during the Romano-British period.

If the mural crown was crafted again today its vision of wholeness would be broken by the agony of the west wind torn between two fates – stormbringer and bringer of a New Ice Age. The water-spirit in the west would be the crafter of ominous storm or snow-clouds. The salmon would be in distress, the eel wriggling nervously, both on the brink of disappearance. Nodens, ‘the Cloud-Maker’, would be a troubled god, riding far less victoriously on his chariot.

This crown was once worn by a priest of Nodens who had the task of interpreting pilgrims’ dreams. Who would wear it today? Who would interpret the dreams shaped by the beings shaping Britain’s weather – hurricanes of garbage, seas rising over coastal towns, salmon lost in sealanes, stranded elvers wrapped in sargassum? Who could bear the cries of distress?


David Righton, ‘Empirical observations of the spawning migration of European eels’, Science Advances, Vol 2, No. 10, (2016)
D. Freidland, ‘Oceanic changes in the Sargasso sea and declines in recruitment of the European eel’, ICES Journal of Marine Science, Volume 64, Issue 3, (2007)
J. Dadswell, ‘The North Atlantic subpolar gyre and the marine migration of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar: the ‘Merry-Go-Round’ hypothesis’, Journal of Fish Biology, 77, (2010)
Nimue Brown, ‘Watching for the winds’, A Beautiful Resistance, (Gods & Radicals, 2016)
Renee Cho, ‘Could Climate Change Shut Down The Gulf Stream?’, State of the Planet, (2016)
Nodens’, Wikipedia
Scheme to re-open Severn to fish wins almost £20m in funding’, The Guardian
The North Atlantic Gyre’, Eduspace,
The Gulf Stream Explained’, In a Nutshell