Wednesday, January 13, 2021

News and Reading

The news cycle continues to be disturbing.  Somewhere between the revelations about January 6th's insurrection, someone contrasted and compared Trump, the Proud Boys, and the D.C. Insurrection to Mao Zedong, the Red Guards, and the Cultural Revolution -- which resonated with me in a horrible way.  

At least Trump has been impeached twice now.  I can only hope that the Senate will convict him so that he is unable to hold office ever again.  

I keep thinking that once the inauguration is concluded, things will settle down... but I fear the damage to our social structures will take a long time to fix -- if only "The Scouring of the Shire" were so easy. 

I am finding that I need to step away from electronic devices after nine PM, or my sleep suffers.

On the more fun side:  

I finished "Beowulf."   I know that I should appreciate it more, but I don't.  I should contrast and compare it to "The Epic of Gilgamesh," because they both have that weepy royal bromance feel to them that isn't speaking to me.   I imagined asking my Old-English and Medieval Scholar friends, "Am I a bad person for not liking something in the cannon?" (and "Am I an elitist for not being in raptures about this latest translation?")  but I couldn't imagine what their responses might be other than "This is a literary example of how one should lead a virtuous/good life" (and is the earliest existing example of literature with a fire-breathing, gold hoarding dragon in it).   Beowulf worked better for me when I read it in small snatches that would allow me to admire some of the more clever phrasing and word choice.  (Coincidentally, I had re-read the part of The Hobbit where Bilbo brings out a cup from Smaug's horde, and I noticed the parallels.)   I wanted to like the modern idioms, but ultimately the use of "bro," "fuck," "shit," "my main man," and "daddy" were too jarring and distracting to me.  

I've paused in "The Ancient Egyptian Netherworld Books."  It's kind of fun--the spells and addresses spark all sorts of writing ideas--and kind of exhausting (we're blasting Apep, the Snake of Chaos again?).  I keep wanting to read the source materials, and it looks like I have to do some kind of Inter-library Loan to do so.

I've been reading "This Is How You Lose The Time War," by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, and I've been enjoying it so much that it took me a while to realize that it's got a strong epistolary element, which doesn't usually work for me.  Part of the reason is that the formats of the letters--feathers, tree-rings, lava, seals--are intriguing; part of it is that the authors are having lots of fun with language.   I'm about half-way through.

I just got a hard-bound edition of "Reynard the Fox," by Anne Louise Avery, and, while I've only read the introduction and first chapter, the binding (with a purple ribbon sewn into it!), the dingbats, the footnotes, and the feel of the paper hits all the aesthetic points of owning a physical book.  I've been following Ms. Avery's Old Fox micro-fiction on Twitter, and I'm hoping the printed Reynard will equally please.



Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Harmonic Oscillation Pancakes



It's occurred to me that I haven't posted here about my attempt on the Third Day of Christmas to make Harmonic Oscillation Pancakes! 




I've seen pancakes where the batter is dropped onto a griddle to make letters or the Eiffel Tower or a smiley face.  What I wanted to do was load pancake batter into a pendulum, set it swinging over a hot griddle, and have math-artsy pancakes with harmonic curves on them.  






I was aiming for a family-friendly of mad-science-cookery, something that the entire family could eat and appreciate.  So it needed to be gluten-free.  After a failed attempt at making batter from an American Test Kitchen cookbook, I went out and got a gluten-free pre-mix.  




My first thought was that I could have a dual spout pendulum by using two plastic bags like frosting bags, hung far enough on a stick so that there would be two lines of batter spiraling around a common pivot point, which itself would be swinging back and forth over the griddle.  

The pendulum apparatus ended up looking like a found art installation from a beach-side hospital.  I hadn't really put the thickness of the batter into my calculations, so instead of a steady stream of batter coming out in a line, it was more like a dribble of Jackson Pollock-esque micro-pancakes. 

Part of the difficulty was that the batter was adhering to the sides of the bags and not really coming out.  I abandoned the plastic bags for a yogurt container with a hole drilled through it.  I had to drill the hole several times to widen it, and I ended up adding some more milk to the batter to try to thin it.  The end result was closer to what I was aiming for, but still didn't deliver pancake batter as quickly as I would have liked.  

By this time several hours had elapsed from initial pendulum setup to final yogurt container swing, and I could tell the mad-science cookery was getting on my family's nerves.   

The batter that did come out spread on the griddle more than I expected; so I didn't get a narrow, brown, and overlapping curve.  Instead, I got a twisted ring of batter that was fairly featureless.

I think if I'd turned up the heat on the griddle a little more, the batter might have cooked and browned more quickly.   I'll have to try with a larger hole in the pendulum, too -- or possibly a pendulum with two off-set holes that will allow me to have more interesting compound curves.   Or maybe a balloon or air pump to provide pressure that would expel the batter out more quickly....

I can neither confirm nor deny that I might have eaten all the results myself.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Return to Delta Ponds


 

Over the weekend, I took a break from Doom-Scrolling and went with Mark to Delta Ponds.  Although the evenings and nights have been overcast and rainy, we've been having clearish mornings.  It's been months since I've been.


 

Mostly, we saw coots, geese, cormorants, ducks, and heron.  We even managed to spy a hummingbird.  Off in the distance,  a bald eagle perched -- probably over the Willamette in hopes of catching a fish.  We saw no beavers, although Mark saw a nutria through his binoculars.


Because it was only about ninety minutes after sunrise when we got there, and because most of the leaves are off of the trees, the structure of branches struck me several times and I wished I had a loom or the graphic design ability to create a screen from the repeating patterns.

Later in the afternoon, before the sky became completely overcast, I got up on roof and took down the holiday star.  

 

Unfortunately, I did much too much Doom-Scrolling Sunday.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Doom Scrolling

The last few days have been filled with DoomScrolling the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.  

As I write this (Saturday) there's a small Pro-Trump rally at the Wayne Morris courthouse in downtown Eugene. 

I think everyone who stormed the capitol should be arrested and tried for insurrection, sedition, and murder.  I think Donald Trump and his enablers should be tried (at least) as well.

I'm attempting to draw parallels between the events of the last few days and the Crusades, based on my very sketchy reading of those events and the German darkwave version of the song "Palästinalied."  The song was written during the Crusades, and ends with the singer claiming that God meant the holy land should grant the land for Christians, and not for Jews or Muslims.   I have to wonder if the insurrectionists see themselves as crusaders.

I think the majority of them are are unmoored fools who wanted to feel special in their victim-hood.  I can't decide if their perceived victim-hood made it easier for them to believe the lies and conspiracies told to them, or if they know the untruths are untrue and are repeating them as an excuse.  They mostly seem disappointed that their white privilege didn't deliver on their expectations of worldly goods, position, fame, or respect.  And I have to wonder how many professional saboteurs and terrorists used the Flying Monkeys  as a cover for espionage or more lethal operations.  

Could the Flying Monkeys have made a different choice?  How could changing the offerings of our society changed their circumstances?  What could be done to deflect them from the ranks of -ismers?  Better education?  More showing of "South Pacific" and "The King and I?"  More Ethics and Civics classes?    Better job opportunities?   ... and then I think of comfortable, educated folks I know who I could imagine being in D.C. last week, who voted for Trump in the first election because they thought he would be good for the economy, and who were white and well off enough to look the other way at his promised domestic policies... and I don't have an answer for how can we make people less selfish.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Nothing New After 3000 Years

I spent much of the long New Year's Weekend reading "The Ancient Egyptian Netherworld Books," by Darnell and Darnell.  I've gotten through "The Book of Adoring Re in the West," and "The Book of the Hidden Chamber."  I'm about to start "The Book of Gates."  

So far this is a scholarly read.  It's not a book for a discussion of hieroglyphics because -- aside from the black and white line drawings of registers -- the various books are presented in their already-translated form, with occasional references written in linguist's pronunciation marks (so no ankhs here, just something like n).  There's interesting parts in the translations of spells, hymns, and litanies... and I wish I had copies of the author's previous works, and the works of Eric Hornung and Theodor Abt because the footnotes keep referencing discussions between the texts of these authors in passing, and it's apparent that that's where the work of translation is being shown.  (It's like reading an X-men comic, and every other panel has an editor's note from Stan Lee saying, "see New Mutants #43" or "As in Secret Wars #4", which gives one a sense that there's much more context that one is missing from the provided dialog.)

Technically, the tri-part book of translations that I'd hoped for in my previous posting would be difficult to do:  finding complete versions on tomb walls or on the insides of sarcophagi is rare, and, in addition, there are different versions of the same texts.  (Pause to imagine a lost copy of the books going up in flames at Alexandria, except, even then the books would have been a thousand years old...)  So one would have to cobble together an "original version" from multiple sites and sources.  

One insight I have is that there are lots of passages about bound enemies, foreigners, and other conspirators with Apep, the serpent trying to oppose the solar regeneration.  There's tons of decapitations, and disintegrations, and flinging into lakes of fire, and general smiting and punishment; it's enough to make one wonder how sadistic and xenophobic the ancient Egyptians were.  On the other hand, it's part of Western ceremonial magic to consciously call up and neutralize the negative and chaotic aspects in one's spells in order to insure the efficacy of the operation -- these are usually visualized as gods, angels, or some other spirits, though, and not groups of people (pause to reflect on some of the more phobic writings of Dion Fortune...).  

As I was reading later, I came across a statement in one of the litanies:  "there is no part of my body that is not inhabited by a god!"  (This was after shocking the family by reading aloud how such-and-such a goddess was within the phallus of the spell-reciter.)  Later, in an introduction, the authors spoke about how the reciter and the god Re were consubstantial, which had a parallel existence of "Flesh," the mummified earthly body of a god, and the celestial Re going through the stations of the netherworld.   The first reminded me of all those Wiccan books from the eighties and nineties saying, "for a vision of the Goddess, turn to the woman next to you." The second reminded me of the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  

When I shared with Mark that since 1450 BCE there's been nothing new in magico-religious thought, he just smiled and nodded.  

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Reading Ancient Texts

I'm having a quiet Sunday morning, the sun has just now broken free of the clouds rimming the horizon, and the day has gone from grey to golden; the felt swaddling of yesterday's rainfall has become gilded netting over the trees and grass.   The house is mostly quiet; Mark is uncharacteristically lounging in bed, The Child is sleeping in after a Very Late Night of Video Gaming, and the cats are happily going in and out of the garage after their breakfast.  Aoife has been mostly resting, curled up against me on the couch as I surf social media and listen to the Sunday Baroque radio program, and has only just now gotten up to bark at some intruder perceived through the drawn window shade.  

This has been a weekend of reading.  I've been alternating between Maria Dahvana Headley's translation of "Beowulf," and John Coleman Darnell and Colleen Manassa Darnell's "The Ancient Egyptian Netherworld Books."   I'm about a third of the way through "Beowulf;" Beowulf has just pulled Grendel's arm off.   I'm mostly liking it, it's very accessible, and the language choice and tone are putting me in mind of the musical, "Hamilton."  I am at times put off by the choice to use "fuck" and some other modern idioms, but this is more a reflection of my taste and not Headley's craft. 

I had extremely high -- and unreasonable -- expectations for "The Ancient Egyptian Netherworld Books." Despite some forewarnings that there would be no images of the original texts, I was hoping for a lavishly oversized tome with panels of hieroglyphic text, underneath which would be phonetic translations of the words, underneath that which would be translations into English, and underneath that a transliteration.  In color.  Bound in the Coptic Style.   And footnotes with footnotes.   And a few more timelines and maps.  The book in reality is a textbook reference volume in the series (titled with the ubiquitous "I'm-a-book-about-ancient-stuff" Papyrus typeface), "Writings from the Ancient World," and is summary of a large body of separate works --  I'm wishing I had access to the publications in the lengthy bibliography, because that appears to be where the technical analysis is being done.  That said, the summary is interesting and the line drawings extensive.

 I've seen John C Darnell on YouTube demonstrate how cryptographic or ambiguous hieroglyphic writing's meaning is echoed in the accompanying imagery of certain passages, but so far I haven't seen that in the book.  Cryptographic hieroglyphs are kind of puzzle texts, where normally used hieroglyphs are swapped out for ones that look the same, or have a similar sound, or are puns; sort of like writing "B-leaf in trees" or "eye wood dye 4 U."    I'm not quite sure how they differ from biliteral -- like "djah" -- or triliteral   signs, and it may be that they are mostly a case of not using determinative signs.  It appears they were used to hide religious mysteries.   I'm only just through the general introduction -- which has an interesting survey of New Kingdom tomb architecture -- and am going through the introduction for "The Book of Adoring Re in the West."  I still have five more ancient netherworld books to go through, and my understanding is that the last two make more use of cryptographic hieroglyphs, so there may be more on them later.

I'm hoping there will be more contrast-and-comparison with the texts in "The Pyramid Texts," started (probably) in The Old Kingdom, and developed into the later "Coffin Texts," and still later "The Book of Going Forth By Day."  The Netherworld Texts seem to be an 18th Dynasty development, and between Thutmose III, Hatshepsut, and Tutankhamen there is a lot of variation in texts used in funerary architecture.

Friday, January 01, 2021

First Dream of 2021

I was in a large room, possibly a cafeteria or gym.  The room was dimly lit, and there was a large group of people dancing in a kind of mosh with lots of jumping up and down and churning of the crowd in general.   Apparently, this dream was physics-based, because there was a man providing off-stage narration. I had a small battery-operated race car in my hands.  

"Let's say you're at a dance," the narrator said, "and you drop your car battery."  

The small, silver battery dropped to the floor and rolled under the roiling feet of the dancers.  The battery appeared to be smashed into the floor.  Sometimes it seemed like it broke through the tiles, other times it seemed like it phased through.  I made some protest, and managed to find the battery, a little dusty, on the ground where some dancers has passed.  

As I picked it up, the narrator asked, "How do you know that's the same battery?"  The implication was that this was an illustration of how an electron's quantum state is probable after an exchange between atoms / ?the quantum foam?  

"Well," I said, the battery did look a little worn, and I wondered if it still had a charge, "presumably, there's only one loose battery on the floor, and I've just found it."  (In waking life I'm thinking of all sorts of problems with this assumption and my imagination is filled with Newton's cradles made of electrons...)

There's a break in the narrative.

I was in a lounge or living room.  The lighting was very dim, but there was a sense of a series of red, vertical, permeable planes sectioning off the room at regular intervals.  The planes gave off a ruddy glow, and cast a dull glow on objects or people between them at certain angles.  I was aware that the X, Y, and Z axes of the room were adjacent dimensions, and if one looked in the right direction, one was looking in the direction of time.

The narrator, a 50-ish man with short salt-and-pepper hair and beard, was explaining something (he had a science-hip, sexy-dad air of a TED talk presenter).  There was another man in the room, I think he was clean-shaven and in his thirties; he was more a shadow than anything.  The narrator had a small red ball.  I have an image of the ruddy ball moving between two red-tinged and transparent planes.  If he walked a certain direction, the ball turned white.   My sense is that when the ball was red, it was moving though space, but not moving on its timeline.  

The three of us walked through the room along different directions, and our paths crossed.  The Narrator tossed me the ball, which turned white.  I caught it, and tossed it to the shadowy man; the ball stayed white, but seemed to be floating in the air with no one holding it.  The shadowy man lobbed the ball from behind his back and the Narrator caught it.   The path of the ball between the three of us described a loop, and I understood that it had looped back to its starting point in time.

The Narrator finished speaking and turned to me.

"All I want to know," I said, "is what is time and what force is it that draws us through it?"  (In waking life, I wonder if forces like gravity and electromagnetism can propel objects through physical dimensions, could there be a force pulling us through an axis of time?  Are we living in a time-well analogous to a gravity-well?)  

This seemed to be the correct response, because the Narrator and the shadowy man both grinned like maniacs, and an influx of sound and light woke me.  

I swear, I fully expected a dream about Ancient Egyptian things, because I went to bed reading about the Coffin Texts, The Book of Going Forth by Day, The Book of Gates, the Book of Caverns, and the development of ancient pharaonic tomb architecture as a physical map to the rituals involved in those texts.   Perhaps rumination on the cyclical re-birth of the sun somehow turned into a dream meditation on the nature of time? 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Post Holiday Rendering

 

I took the quiet time today to work on a medieval style armillary sphere in Blender.  In an earlier version, I had difficulties punching the glyph for Gemini out of the band because Blender got a little confused by the negative space and couldn't perform a boolean difference, and instead performed a boolean addition.  

Today's agenda includes cleaning, resting, dusting, laundry, crafting some thank you notes (which I really should send out instead of looking at a stack of completed notes needing postage) and waiting for the books I ordered three weeks ago to arrive.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Raptor Tuesday

Tuesday was a partially sunny day, with some rain mixed in between parts where the clouds opened up enough to emit the sun.  This morning (Wednesday) is very foggy and grey, which, I suppose, will make it a good writing morning--epecially since Mark had to go into work instead of telecommuting and The Child was up very, very late and probably wont emerge from his bedroom until Noon. 

Yesterday, I went to the Cascades Raptor Center and got there just as they were opening.  I haven't been in a while, and the weather was mostly sunny,  although there was a ten minute sprinkle early on.  Some of the residents' aviaries have moved:  Amazon the Golden Eagle is closer to the parking lot and Uriel the Red-tailed Hawk.   

I chatted with some of the handlers throughout my visit (I know C. from a previous life).  Various residents were fed and weighed during my visit and I got to see Archemedies the Snowly Owl transform from his usual bowling-pin pose into a hungry raptor; Bohdi the Barred Owl hopped down for her food--she's usually parked up in a corner perch; Padawan the Barn Owl came out of his box to gulp a bit of rabbit fur; Parker hovered for extra treats and even caught the last one in mid-air; Jake the new Peregrine Falcon was active even before feeding time.  I visited my favorites, Atticus the Bald Eagle, Banjo the Eastern Red-Tailed Hawk, Lethe the Turkey Vulture, and Dante the Golden Eagle.   I was lucky enough to photograph Banjo and Guapo the Swainson's Hawk when they were brought out of their aviaries.  

I was speaking to C. about the possibility of shadowing handlers in order to photograph the resident birds more clearly inside their aviaries -- which it turns out would not be a Good Idea -- and it struck me how I've gotten so used to visiting the raptors (and photographing the ones that can come out to meet the public), that I was considering them somewhere between domestic pets or Lipizzan Stallions  and  stopped thinking of them as trained-but-still-wild animals being cared for because of developmental or physical injuries.   Even after Guapo gulped down a dead baby chick whole, or Padawan ripped off gobbets of meat from rabbit bones.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Post Grand Conjunction

Tuesday night, after a rainy and grey afternoon, the clouds broke up enough so I could see the one-day-old Grand Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.  They were already moving apart, and if I'd really really wanted to see the conjunction on Monday night, I would have hopped into the car and gone some place like Crater Lake.   Tuesday night was clear enough to also show the Half Moon inching closer to Mars near the meridian.  

Around five, I set up the tripod and camera across the street and snapped a few photographs.  Since it was shining on our rooftop anyway, with a little repositioning I was able to compose a shot of our Holiday Star and the planets.  Spencer's Humans were coming out of their house, and I called them over to see the conjunction and briefly commiserate about Monday's cloud cover.  

Later Mark and I went walking a little after six to the top of the hill and managed to catch the pair before they sunk behind the south hills (and it turned out there were some clouds coming in from the west).  Saturn was very clearly a dimmer companion to Jupiter, and we wondered how someone might confuse it with The Star of the East without throwing Venus into the mix.  

We found a spot on the hill near the place where I photographed comet NEOWISE last Summer (which seems like an eon ago) and gazed at the conjunction.  Mark seemed surprised that a planetary viewing could lead to smooching; I think he suspected supposed astrological romantic influence.  "They're just rocks, and they're actually really far apart," he said before I kissed him again.






Monday, December 21, 2020

Winter Solstice Spiral

Winter Solstice morning.  The sun is actually shining through the clouds.  I've managed to take a beeswax candle, match, and really big magnifying glass and light the candle.  Granted, 9:30 AM is probably the earliest I've focused the flame of the Solstice Sun, but here in the Pacific Northwest, you grab your clear skies when you can.  Already as I write this, a grey blanket of clouds is passing in front of the sun and softening the definitions of shadows.   Luckily, I've got the flames ensconced in some fireplace candles and under a samovar filled with rooibos tea.

It's possible there might be a window of clear sky tonight between 5 PM and 7 PM which will allow for viewing of the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, but I'm not getting my hopes too far up.

Last night's Spiral Walk at the local UU church went well.  It was raining off and on, but the storms paused long enough for me to draw out a chalk spiral.  Wow, wet pavement eats through chalk quickly; I went through four sticks before I was through -- during Saturday's practice on dryer pavement, I only used one.

Once the spiral was laid out, an army of volunteers laid down the greens.  My old landfolks procured a prodigious amount of pine and fir boughs, and everyone was so into the spiral that they laid out extra lengths of the arms.  I thought we were going to use LEDs, but blank, white Saints' candles in tall glasses appeared, and I placed them along the spiral in eight spokes -- the placement started out improvised along the north-south axis, which suggested the east-west axis and the cross-quarter axes as well.  

In consideration of COVID, we didn't want folks to congregate in large groups, so the spiral had an exit and and entrance; since it was outside, we forewent with altars at the cardinal directions.  The idea was the folks could appear, walk the spiral, and leave; so there was no formal ritual planned as there had been the last two years.

A little before 5 PM and it got dark, I made a circuit of the spiral and lit the candles, invoking the directions in my head.  Somehow, the spokes of flame running through the spiral worked as directional altars.  The landfolks had brought their old firepit -- there was a blast from the past -- and had a small fire going near the eaves of the church.

Folks appeared and walked through the spiral.  I sat a little apart and watched shadowy forms walk through the greens and candlelight.  Out of the east came the distant hinking and honking of geese.  The sound grew and several V's of geese flew overhead, like souls of the Wild Host, traveling, traveling, traveling across the dark sky while we were earth-bound shadows traveling through a spiral of light -- and I was put into mind of mist-covered ferry rides, and transformations,  and questers, and cohorts.  

A moment later, the fey mood was broken by the recollection of Mark sarcastically referring to the more unlovely honks geese make as "God's angels, singing," and a social media post about the supposed yearly ritual Canadians perform in February, where they go out at midnights and breathe all of their nastiness into sleeping flocks of geese.  My laughter rang out across the spiral.  

The experience seemed to be a positive one for folks, and people found the change of direction at the spiral's center meaningful.  In the past, the entrance and exit had been the same, and folks would light a votive candle from a central flame in the spiral's center.   The rain and COVID and having the event outside reduced the participants' number from about a hundred to maybe thirty.

I sipped some black tea from a thermos.  I missed seeing C.N., who has health issues this year, but has in the past done a titanic amount of behind-the-scenes-work to make spirals happen.  I wondered if I should have brought my harp and played it.  Later on, Saro, one of my former landfolk, asked, "What happens if I go through the spiral backwards?"


"Demons," I said, and we laughed.  "Actually, the way the spiral's built, even if you entered from the South, the direction of fire, you'd be going widdershins, symbolically banishing or releasing fire, until you reached the center, where you'd go deosil, symbolically summoning or gathering the energy of Earth.   Entering from the North, the direction of Earth (and midnight and Winter), the idea is to symbolically mirror what the sun's doing in the sky: banishing a decrease of the light, and turning toward an increase.  So South to North is sort of a statement of the moment right now, whereas North to South is more a continuation."

The rain started to fall harder and doused the candles.  Saro and I tried to relight them, but as more rain fell it got into the melted wax and the wicks and the candles sputtered out.  I wasn't wearing a waterproof jacket, and started to get cold.  This was near the 7PM end-time of the event, so we started to break things down.  I silently opened the circle as volunteers gathered rained-out candles.  The boughs were swept into a corner of the parking lot. 

When I got home, there was candle wax on my pants, my sweater was soaked, I had pitch on my hands, and my hair smelled like a campfire.  My eyebrows were not singed, but I'm pretty sure the spiral walk counts as a Real Ritual. 

And now there's a fine, silver mist falling out of a pewter and turquoise sky, which is casting a rainbow over the houses across the street.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Rainy Solstice Eve

It's raining.  Hard.  The back patio is flooded, which probably means water isn't flowing through the French drain as it should.  Neighborhood pines, firs, and oaks sway in the occasional squalls. 

It's also dark.  The morning sun is behind the clouds, and a wan, grey light comes through the back sliding glass door.  It reaches about a third of the way into the front living room, and the only light in this room comes from the steady glow of the colored lights on the Christmas tree, the small lights from a porcelain winter village, and the blue-white glare of a laptop screen.  The front window blind is broken and down -- Mark and I will fix it presently, which should admit more daylight into the room.

Next to me on the couch, the dog dreams:  paws curl and legs flex; her breath like the pull of oars deep into a strong current.  Ears, nose, and jowls twitch.  Barks, faint, seep from the dream realm into the dim room.  

I've agreed to help construct a double-spiral for a meditative walk at the local UU Church.  The last two years, I've facilitated a labyrinth spiral walk and Wicca-flavored ritual.  Inside.  This year, in consideration of COVID, the spiral will be a double-spiral, with an entrance and exit -- which technically makes it not a labyrinth --  and outside.   Without a ritual.  The plan is to have folks walking in and walking out with as little clustering as possible.  There's probably not going to be enough sunlight for Solstice Fire, and in any case, LED candles for outside use have been purchased.  

Yesterday I made a wooden anchor so I can draw circles and arcs with a length of string and some chalk.  I tested it out in the nearby intersection and the process worked surprisingly well.  And then the rains came. You could still see the chalk spiral yesterday evening, but I'm not sure how much of it remains after a night of pouring.   The plan at the UU Church is to lay out greens on top of the chalk spiral, only in the parking lot.  

With any luck, it won't be pouring buckets on us as we lay things out.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Moon and Grand Conjunction

We were lucky enough with the weather that around 4:30 or so, it looked like there would be a break in the clouds.  I didn't think it would happen; last night it rained so hard that water seeped under our back garage door, and although this morning I could see Venus, by mid-morning it was back to felt grey skies spitting rain down on us. 

However, when I glanced out the back window around four, I caught sight of the sickle moon and readied my tripod and camera.  Thick strands of cloud stretched from the west as they passed overhead.  When I went out a little before five, I could only see the moon (and the rose-tinted clouds).

I set the tripod up at the entrance to our driveway and took a few shots of the solitary moon.  Shortly, Jupiter blazed out from behind the clouds; Saturn was still hidden.  I took a few more photos, and realized that I needed to move across the street.  I was slightly disappointed that the night before hadn't cleared up, because the Moon would have been about half the distance it currently was from the planetary pair... but, a thirteen degree separation between a crescent moon and the two wouldn't be impossible to work with.

When Mark and The Child came out of the house a few moments later to retrieve the dog from doggy-daycare, there was a little grumbling that it was dark and hard to see the porch steps (I had turned off the porch light and unplugged the decorations).  

"I'll be done and turn the lights back on soon," I said.

"Ha!" Mark said.  They drove off.


By now the clouds appeared to be thinning.  I fiddled around with f-stops and exposure times (always bracket your shots).  When clouds veiled the planets, I took some artistic shots of the moon.  Before I knew it, the sky had cleared considerably, and I was able to get some clear shots of the three luminaries.

I used the camera's extreme zoom capabilities to frame just Saturn and Jupiter.  The lens is strong enough to show Jupiter's Galilean moons, but not strong enough to resolve Saturn's rings -- so Saturn looks like an almond.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I zoomed in just as one of the Galilean moons was coming out from behind Jupiter, and as I reviewed photos later, I saw it draw farther away.  

Mark, The Child, and Aoife came back.  (And the lights were still off.)  Aoife thought I was a Monster (or something) and barked like she was going to eat me when she first saw me.  Then when I spoke, after which she pulled and yammered until Mark brought her over.  

"Oh my God," Mark said.  "Why are you in the street?  You're in [the neighbor]'s parking space.  I thought you were on the sidewalk.  No one can see you, you know." 

"The view's better from here," I said.  

Mark turned to The Child, "Artists!  They don't think about safety. This is why so many people got hurt making Spider-Man, the Musical." They retreated to the house for dog-feeding.

I snapped a few more photos, then stopped to appreciate the display.  

Fingers crossed Jupiter and Saturn will be visible the night of the 21st. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Star Of Wonder...

We're gearing up for the holidays at our house.  Mark has been stringing lights along the front, and the other day he and The Child set up the ceramic Christmas village.

I managed to charge up the solar batteries on the holiday star (there's always a question if they system will work after 48 weeks in storage) over the weekend, which was relatively sunny.

The star is made of painted lathe strips wrapped in light strings.  

I had fun putting it up.  I was on the roof when a neighbor came out to his truck, so I hailed him.  He wasn't sure where my voice was coming from.  I did shout, "I'm up here!" but I guess he didn't hear me clearly, because he looked around, pulled out his cell phone, and then checked it.  I know it was wicked, but I did have to laugh a little (behind my hands, while muttering "Oh, I shouldn't laugh...").  A minute later, I successfully hailed his wife.

"Oh, I love that star," she said, much to my relief -- I always worry that the star is a little too much Country Cute Meets DIY.  

While I was wiring the star in place, it struck me that the pitch of the northern side of our roof is nearly the angle of the the winter sun in its meridian.  

Then we all trundled off to the local-ish U-cut tree farm and murdered a small tree to decorate for the holidays.  The weather was sunny and bright, and the temperature was in the 50's, which was a pleasant change from the times we've been slogging through acres of firs, pines, and spruce in the middle of a drizzle that threatened to turn into a snow storm.  

The new twist was that this was the first time we've transported a tree with the car Mark commutes to work with, and the top rack was so aerodynamically designed that there were no real corners to anchor the tree to.  It took a little trial-and-error -- when we stopped to check the ropes in a parking lot about two miles away from the farm, I was not happy about how much slack was in the rope -- but we got the tree home in one piece without fresh lumber flying into a highway lane. 



Clouds, Mostly

Not much in the dream department, lately.  I did have one odd one the other day involving a really big blood blister on my left thumb.  I'm thinking maybe one of the cats attacked my hand in the night.  

Tuesday (last night) was writing night; I have some short story fragments I'm working on.  One started to turn into a back-story poem, and not that I'm Tolkien or anything, but I had that moment where it seems the story stops so the Elves can sing a song (in my case, it probably wasn't Elves).  It turned into a call and response poem -- which I think is called strophe and anti-strophe or something.  I suppose I should brush up on poetry parts.  It will be nice to be able to leave the house (or at least go outside) to write in the Summer.

On the working out front, I've been doing short sets of what are probably closer to Pooh's "Stoutness Exercises" than anything else -- dumbbell curls, crunches, and push-ups -- but at least they're better than nothing.  I suspect that some heavier dumbbells are in my Christmas future.  

It's been overcast the last few days, so I haven't been able to see either the morning or the evening stars.  Very occasionally I'll catch a glimpse of ruby Mars near the zenith, but not much else.  I am hoping to catch the Moon next to Jupiter and Saturn tonight (12/16), but the prospects are favoring rainy skies.  Perhaps there will be a window in the clouds.