A Short History of Light

The Inflatable Hippies just released their newest album, A Short History of Light. Mellow electronica. I’ve belonged to the Inflatable Hippies for years. Can’t remember exactly how long.

I recommend belonging to a band if you don’t already. It’s kind of the musical equivalent of carrying snow chains in your car. Better to have them than not. You never know when it is going to snow.

Please encourage your friends, your Aunt Marge, other relatives, family-members, neighbors, bridge club, former associates in the mafia you once worked for, the local chapter of the Audubon Society, etc., to have a listen. Available on Amazon, Apple, Spotify, Pandora, etc.

The Inflatable Hippies are already hard at work on their next album, which is tentatively titled A Short History of Shadow. Point, counter-point, of course.

The album after that one will be largely inspired by Tolkien in order to counteract the pernicious effects of Amazon’s bizarrely deficient Rings of Power series. A whole lot of deprogramming will need to happen because of that series. Feel free to start that brave effort by handing out copies of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, Ursula K. LeGuin’s Wizard of Earthsea stories, Robin McKinley’s Blue Sword, Jim Butcher’s Aeronaut’s Windlass, George MacDonald’s Princess and the Goblin stories, and, of course, three humble little books: The Hawk and His Boy, The Shadow at the Gate, and The Wicked Day.

All of these stories fit into the history of light. In different configurations, angles, points of view, sub-categories, spectra. Just as do certain music, sculptures, paintings, architecture, the oak tree, giraffes, lemurs, Neptune, dahlias, gophers (sadly so), sunrises and sunsets. And a whole lot of other stuff, plus all the grains of sand on the every seashore on every landmass on planet Earth.

Skunks in the Garden

We have skunks in the garden. A mama skunk and several baby skunks. So far, they haven’t sprayed anyone or anything. Thankfully.

From what I’ve read, skunks tend to hang around if there’s a food source. We’ve inadvertently provided them two: cat food, if we forget to take it inside in the evening, and fruit that has fallen to the ground from our various fruit trees–apples, pluots and apricots.

I’m not sure how to trap a skunk. I’m not sure I want to trap a skunk. At any rate, the skunk family is officially now my first line of home defense. Skunks are nocturnal. If a home intruder comes creeping around at 2 in the morning, I trust he will enjoy his encounter with skunks as they pursue their regular activities of chasing bugs and trundling about the garden.

One of my fondest memories from high school involves a skunk.

In junior year biology class, each student was required to produce an animal skeleton. This was the big project of the year. We all had to find a dead animal, remove all the soft material (fur, skin, musculature, etc) and then mount the skeleton on a stand. You know, just like the big dinosaur skeleton installations you see in the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Except much smaller and without the vast crowds of people streaming by.

Some of the students in my class applied a very generous interpretation to the verb find. One boy found a neighborhood cat, whacked it on the head, and then stuck it in his family’s freezer chest. Another student found a goat (procured, bought?–I’m a little hazy on where the goat actually came from) and then helped it meet its Maker.

Reflecting on the class assignment, I now realize that our biology teacher, Mr. W, probably hadn’t thought through the implications of just blithely instructing us to “find” an animal. He probably should have given us some parameters. Such as: find an animal that is already dead and that you didn’t kill. I do remember that he said no fish. That would’ve been to easy. We could’ve simply gone to the fish department at the grocery store.

“One rainbow trout, please. I’ll debone it at home, thanks.”

As for myself, I didn’t want to do something as boring and mundane as a cat or a dog. I wanted something more exotic. Dinosaurs, of course, were out of the question for several reasons. Driving home with my dad one afternoon, I spied some roadkill on the side of the asphalt. It looked in very good condition. Probably assassinated by a gentle, glancing blow from a small, electric-powered vehicle driven by an animal-hating elderly lady with bad eyesight.

A skunk.

Obviously, this skunk had wandered far from his garden. Inspiration bloomed like the proverbial light bulb and I asked my dad to pull over. He agreed. His agreement points to yet another example of an adult not thinking through implications (adults, parents in particular, aren’t as infallible as you might assume).

However, he did point out that the roadkill was a skunk and skunks smell. But, he had a great solution. Being a farmer, he had a lot of random stuff in the car trunk. Including one of those opaque, plastic five gallon buckets. Complete with a gasket-lined lid that snaps securely closed. He said that would contain the smell.

After about one mile further down the road, we realized the plastic bucket, even with the efficient gasket, did very little to contain the smell. And what a smell it was.

I placed the bucket far away from our house that evening. We lived on a farm, of course, so there was plenty of space. The next morning, the bucket didn’t seem to smell at all. Dissipation had magically occurred. Reassured, I brought the bucket with me on the bus to school. Our bus was always sparsely populated, even by the end of its route, so I put the bucket in a front seat and then sat in the back.

Again, another interesting example of adults not bothering to think through implications. The bus driver neglected to wonder why this kid had a five gallon bucket and why he sat as far from the bucket as he could.

At the next stop, a seventh grader named Gary got on. He sat in a seat either behind or in front of the bucket seat. I can’t remember that detail exactly, but he was quite close. Several minutes later, he threw up. By this time, the skunk odor in the bus had gotten quite strong. Magical dissipation, contrary to my assumption, had not occurred.

The bus driver hurriedly stopped the bus and put the bucket in the outside storage compartment. One of those side flaps that tilt up between the two wheels. And then, off we went to school.

When we arrived at school, I headed straight to the biology classroom with my five gallon bucket and the prize inside. It wasn’t biology period yet, but I had to get rid of the bucket. What happened next was probably the most fascinating example in this entire sequence events of an adult not thinking through implications.

Mr. W, our biology teacher, had been taking all of the different animals we students brought in and placing them on trays on the flat roof of the school building. His idea was that then flies would lay eggs in the corpses, the eggs would hatch into maggots, which would then eat the corpses clean. Voila, clean skeletons.

His idea wasn’t bad. It was the execution, no pun intended, that faltered.

Mr. W placed my skunk on a tray and put it up on the roof. This roof, mind you, was of a fairly large building that contained many classrooms: biology, maths, chemistry, as well as the school library. Mr W, possibly moving too quickly due to the odor and not wanting to throw up, put my skunk tray right next to one of the main air intake vents for the building’s ventilation system.

After about ten minutes, doors flew open everywhere as classes hurriedly exited the building. Even from beyond the grave, the skunk was punching above its weight.

In case you’re interested, I did see the project through to completion. The skeleton was in excellent condition. I was able to reassemble it into a standing pose. Mr. W gave me an A.

I think I very much deserved that A.

Other people also deserved good grades. The bus driver for not getting mad at me. A lot of my fellow students and teachers for not getting mad at me for the smell in the building. My dad for putting up with his car smelling like skunk for months afterwards.

Anyway, I view the current skunks in our garden with nostalgia. As long as they don’t get hydrophobia. Then they’re out of here. With extreme measures.

Kindness of Strangers

Schools Or strange kindness? Perhaps both.

Living on a farm has its upsides and downsides. One of the downsides is a harvest crew firing up at 2:30 in the morning. Which happened last night. I groggily awoke to the sound of backup beeping and engines revving up their rpms. Put on jeans and boots, jacket, went outside and grumpily surveyed a a crew prepping trailers and tractors for a romaine field.

Despite the positive effect on my character (theoretically), I don’t enjoy waking up at odd hours of the night. I couldn’t get mad at the crew. They’re just doing what they’re told. The backup beeping was from a forklift loading empty crates on the trailers. The tractors were warming their engines and arranging various trailers into position. Three hours more to go before the actual harvesters arrived, but there’s always a lot of prep that has to be done first.

Aargh.

Another downside of living out in the fields, in the larger context of a law-disdaining state such as California, is dumping. Strangers will often pull over and kindly dump their garbage on the side of the road. Sometimes they’ll drive deeper into a ranch and deposit a whole pile of bags, appliances, old tires, you name it. Parents, schools, entertainment mind-molders, etc do not teach private property these days.

Free, to a good home

Anyway, here are some nice box springs that someone generously donated to the ranch next to my house a few days ago. Feel free to stop by and get them if you need a moldy box spring for your bed.

The noisy harvest crew is an unavoidable part of living on a farm. This place is like a big, open-air factory. It just is what it is. Nothing bad about it–just peskalicious. However, dumping garbage on other people’s property is different. That hobby is a very small stone in the mosaic called “The Center Cannot Hold.” Yeats describes the process much more eloquently, but I think a lot of people are getting suspicious about that these days.

Covid Survey David Bowie Style

NO, I AM NOT DAVID BOWIE

Whilst perusing the boundless, skunk-infested garbage dump that is the internet, gas mask firmly strapped on and idly recollecting David Bowie’s career, I encountered a page urging me to participate in a covid survey. Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University. Aside: I have never had the pleasure of purchasing a carnegie melon at the grocery store, but I imagine they’re delicious.

POSSESSED BY THE MODERN SPIRIT

Yes, I clicked on the survey. And, in the modern spirit of being all that you can be, self-identifying, grooving with your internal flow, floating on the subjective breeze of self, I decided to live my life out as a person of Finnish-Urdu extraction, housed with a large extended family of nine in a yurt. Unemployed, but possessing a doctorate in environmental studies, and the beneficiary of considerable monies from the public pocket of Uncle Sam. Also, I identified as being vaccinated four times, boosted twice, and currently suffering from more medical problems than the collective patient population of Mayo Clinic Rochester.

Needless to say, this made the survey much more enjoyable. I do appreciate sharing intimate medical issues with anonymous grad students from Carnegie Mellon. Doubtless, some might take umbrage with me and point out that I’ve skewed the statistics. The statistics? That, somewhere, are part and parcel of our national health defense?

BALDERDASH

The American health statistics, numbers, data, and whatnot available for covid-related matters are paltry and hopscotch. They’re laughable. Particularly in comparison to other countries. You can find rather comprehensive data sets from places like the UK, various Scandinavian countries, Israel, etc.

If you’re skeptical of that, do some research.

GUILTY?

So, no, I don’t feel guilty. After all, I write fantasy. I could’ve claimed I was an elf. Though I imagine there are plenty of people these days claiming such a reality in all earnestness. Blue-haired elves, possessed of many cats.

One of the more intriguing parts of the survey was toward the end. Several questions about whether I thought the pandemic was being secretly orchestrated by a small group of individuals (screenshots included here). What an intriguing question. It made me recollect the scene from So I Married An Axe Murderer. You know, the one where Mike and others are discussing the secret society that the Queen and Colonel Sanders belong to.

This is the stuff that prompts story-writing, furtive conversations and, ultimately, throwing chests of tea in the harbor. I have always disliked tea.

 

Farming in the Dark

One of the advantages of living on a farm (and in this context I’m defining advantage as curse) is that farming often happens in the dark. Such as 4 in the morning, when the harvest prep crew fires up their machines about two hundred feet away from my bedroom window. Which is what happened last night.

EAT MORE BROCCOLI

A field of broccoli is thriving away on the south side of the house. Green, sturdy, healthy–just waiting to be cut, boxed, cooled and shipped off to a Costco near you. But that means time for harvest. And I’m not always at my cheeriest when woken up at 4 in the morning, startled awake by the rumble of a John Deere. At least, this time, the crew considerately did not turn on their ranchito music as well.

I threw on a jacket, glasses and boots, went outside to have a terse word with the crew, but then thought better of it. Perhaps I was calmed by the beauty of the night sky. And it certainly was beautiful, with the moon low down over our roof. I stopped to marvel and take a photo. Of both the moon and the machines. I said nothing to the crew. They probably would’ve been bewildered by me. Everyone on a farm gets up early, they would’ve been thinking. 4 am really isn’t that early.

Just think of all the work you could get done if you got up at 4am every day.

COMPETENCE

A long time ago, I spent some time working in Thailand. One of my housemates was a Thai fellow who got by on three or four hours every night. He told me he’d lived like that for years. Very cheerful, energetic fellow. Seemed to be in good health, as far as I could tell. His eyes didn’t twitch. No tremors. Not that I’m a doctor, but I can usually detect when someone is criminally insane, has broken limbs, or has a sucking chest wound,  so I’m somewhat competent medically.

24-4 is 20. 20 hours of productivity. Think of all the broccoli I could pick in 20 hours. Think of all the broccoli you could pick in 20 hours.

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