In my 20's, having successfully survived my scholarship-funded undergraduate career and embarked on my first couple of real jobs, I was excited to start giving back to the world.
I picked a couple of charitable operations that I thought would make an actual difference –– right away.
The Nature Conservancy got the nod –– partly because of the romance of it: a bunch of business people taking a scientific approach to saving wild land and wild life –– and partly because I saw its work close to home.
The Chaumont Barrens, an eerie bit of landscape from my childhood, is currently stewarded and championed by The Nature Conservancy.
We used to picnic there, little knowing that the weird rocks and odd plants were remnants from the time of the last ice age.
How the years do click by...My contributions aren't exactly princely, but I continue to fund the organizations I like. The Nature Conservancy rewards its donors with a newsletter, and I remember reading about the effort in 1989 to preserve a large tract of undeveloped tallgrass prairie in the middle of the country.
It was a huge project, involving local ranchers and a whole consortium of foundations and philanthropists.
The idea caught my imagination. I sent my modest donation and felt a sense of ownership when they bought the 29,000-acre Barnard Ranch, which has since become the 40,000-acre Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.
Restoration biologists searched high and low for some of the nearly-extinct plant species, finding some forgotten in the unmowed corners of old country cemeteries. Locating a few patches of those 6-foot-tall grasses that used to stretch across 142 million square acres of the Great Plains. The mind boggles.
I imagined the scientists gathering handfuls of seed heads and nursing them to germination with that single-minded fervor known to any gardener.
I kept sending my modest checks, noting with pleasure in 1993 when the first bison were reintroduced to the prairie. 300 of the large beasties were donated by a local rancher.
Imagine that –– bison roaming nearly free!
It was almost as if we didn't have to pave ALL of paradise and put up a parking lot.
The herd has grown to around 2400 head of bison. Careful use of prescribed burns and herd management has meant that the prairie has continued to rebound, sheltering prairie chickens and bunches of the usual mammals in solid numbers.
So when Captain Winnebago and I realized that we were able to make The Big Park Trip, I put Pawhuska, Oklahoma (home to The Pioneer Woman's Mercantile. Go figure.) on the list.
It's not the vast stretches of unspoiled wilderness that our pioneer forbearers found, but after three and a half hours of driving through the property –– it's a reminder of how great the Great Plains were.
And if anyone doubts that truth, go on and continue driving north to the Badlands.
I spent my first years as an adult in Manhattan. This meant putting aside my hayseed discomfort with seething masses of humanity and suppressing a powerful native impulse to avoid conflict.
And –– the more important bit of immigrating to the Big City –– transforming my near-constant uneasiness (oh, call it fear!) into bravado and a solid grasp of the island's geography. The zeal of the new convert in action gave me a passionate opinion about Katz's deli, the Old Town vs. the Cedar Taverns, street dogs, knishes, the best route to the softball fields at the East River, and every other New York City thing.
I was a broke young creature with a super-cool job, and I knew that NYC was probably the best metropolis in the universe. I mean -- Korean salad bars open at 3 am? The Met? Central Park? Subways and monasteries and amazing retail?
But then I went a little farther afield. Bella Roma!
At seven in the morning, at least on this day, the Fountain of Trevi gets cleaned. City of Rome workers sporting the ubiquitous Romulus-and-Remus-suckling-from-a-wolf logo drain the water, sweep the coins into buckets. (It goes to charity), and scrub away the algae. The square is empty, the gelatarias shuttered, just the one tourist in attendance.
New York has a sewer museum. New York has Broadway and a eye-popping number of celebrities-per-square yard of sidewalk.
But it lacks enormous classical statuary being scrubbed –– with typical Roman aplomb and nonchalance (Tota va bene!) –– by a team of rubber-booted workers on a regular basis.
Boom! Advantage Rome.
Pariediolia is the name for the native human tendency to construct faces out of random patterns. Like Arcimaboldo's work, but by chance rather than art.
The word comes from the Greek for something like "wrong image." Spotting the face of St. Lucia on your flatbread pizza –– mental illness notwithstanding –– is bonus in our evolutionary heritage of pattern recognition.
It's related to the way that when confronted with a paper plate decorated with bull's eyes, a wee bitty baby serves up the same charming goo-goo eyes for the plate as he gives to actual human faces. Survival of the most charming.
Which tells me that the point of imagination is to actually and genuinely save your life.
But what's it called when you spot horses everywhere?
Ah, mackerel season. Say you are a sailor. Naturally, you are sailing on a Thursday evening, enjoying a beverage as the sun sinks below the skyline of Tampa.
A meaty torpedo of fishiness flies out of the water. Then another! And another!
It seems impossible that no one is brained by the piscatorial hailstorm.
It seems impossible that the near victims often don't even notice it. (Ah, the power of enjoyable beverages and picturesque sunsets on a Thursday evening on Tampa Bay!)
The Spanish mackerel, scientific name Scomberomorus maculates, which does –– seriously –– translate as "silly spotted mackerel," is back in town. Sharply pointed and oily, iridescently dotted and foolish enough to sometimes bite the hand (or toe) that tries to unhook it.
I don't even need to write fiction.
I looked up the word "simulacrum" a while back for a story I was writing, and I keep wanting to put it into wider circulation. It's defined as a copy or an imperfect image of a thing. Likewise the word "brace" means a pair. I'd thought it was more, as in "a brace of partridge," which seems like a small bag for a day's work.
Anyhow, for your viewing pleasure, a brace of angular angler simulacra.
A long winter, a late spring.
The shape of the land shows like the ribs of a hungry animal this early in the spring.
Waiting for the arrival of spring, Mr. Linton and I blazed a couple of new trails. It's easier to make a way without having to part that modesty-drape of leaves and grass.
Naming the trails is surprisingly difficult, for what we end up calling them.
Anyway, a few days and a few yellow blazes later, we now we have Dead Possum Trail (named for the skeleton we found, natch) and what I first thought would be Trillium Trail.
Then we noticed this:
So, Broken Wagon Trail it is.
Okay, yes, it's not technically a wagon. Neither is it precisely broken. But Abandoned Hay Rake Trail doesn't have the same ring, does it? Plus Mr. Linton named it, and what he says, goes. Sometimes. This time.
Back to the narrative.
Late spring this year: even the old oaks seemed to be having a hard time waking up.
My Daddo was petrified of snakes. A traumatic childhood canoe mishap rendered him and his sister and his mother all terribly snake-averse.
In later years, he referred to them as "serpents" in a mostly ineffectual effort to keep from getting the willies* when talking about them.
Mumsie was seriously afraid of spiders but pretty much loved any other living creature in the world. She said, "Oh, for pity's sake. Put them down before they warm up and start biting you."
Lo these decades later, the vaccination still works. A little corn-snake lurking among some line doesn't bother me one bit.
I wonder if he imagined he was invisible. He didn't have much of a grip on how complementary colors work on the color wheel. It's a like scene from a Michael Bay film.
*Ooh, yeah, that Flickr site: so there's someone who re-creates Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons using Legos.
I may have reached the end of the interwebs.
Speculative fiction (what some longtime readers might think of as "SciFi") can be described as the fiction of ideas.
Even more than other fiction, SF often examines the consequences of one idea across a whole society. For instance, what if robots became so beautifully built that they could pass for human? What if you could outsource your own memories? What if Hitler had won the war?*
*Fans of the genre will recognize that these three "ideas" are at the core of stories by the late, great (but bat-crap paranoid) Philip K. Dick. The guy that dreamed up the stories behind The Man in the High Castle, Blade Runner, and Total Recall (we like the version with Arnold) and a bunch more.
So with SF on my mind, today's writing warm-up exercise:
The eclipse was less dramatic than she'd expected. Not that she was in the cone of totality, but still, she'd never witnessed a solar eclipse before. Never mind a double.
Still, she'd taken the afternoon off, and though the cheap protective glasses had broken –– she'd forgotten them in the seat of her vehicle and then sat on the damn things when she'd slid into the seat in the cool darkness of the parking bay.
Still there it was: her first double-lunar eclipse. She watched two penumbral cones shaving the sun into a puny lozenge of light. An unseasonable breeze sprang up. She shivered and wished there was someone next to her. She hadn't considered herself in any way sentimental, but she longed now for something communal, a human companion.
The sight of the sun, even as small and cold as it was from this distance, turning just that much smaller and colder –– well, she felt for a moment that she understood primitive superstition.
And then, as quick as the remembered snap of a plastic tiddley-wink, the moons parted and the sun shone round and bright again.
He kept watch on the mirror-calm surface of the water, barely breathing.
He was comfortable –– or anyway about as as comfortable as anyone zipped into a breather suit and strapped bodily against the pot-bellied ventral surface of a drone hopper could expect to be. He refused to consider the blurring of the features of shore, blocked out thoughts of the hopper's speed (only a quarter-sonic, almost survivable without the suit), kept his attention on the glassy reflection of the sky.
The handful of beta-blockers he'd swallowed at the start of his shift was working to keep his blood-pressure low. He shrugged his shoulders against the petal-soft lining of the suit. He stretched the webbing between first his left and then his right hand.
Eyes open, he told himself. He was going to need to be very quick and very lucky or he was going to end up very dead. And he wouldn't be the only one.
So there's a tumbledown house at the Would-Be Farm –– a modest wooden structure that's slowly collapsing into its foundation after being abandoned sometime in the 1980's.
It sports an outhouse that has been, up until now, frankly, too horrifying for me to examine.
Mr. Linton, however, is a made of sterner stuff. And thus his courage was rewarded:
The photo begs a caption. Or something.
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