Too Fast

In the Easy Reader book Hooray for Henry (available on Amazon for $768.57; that’s $12.60 per page), our eponymous protagonist Henry can’t win any of the events at the picnic games.  One of the refrains as he participates in the races is “faster, faster—too fast” (I may have got the punctuation wrong, but then I haven’t read the book for at least a couple of decades and I can’t afford a new one).  That story seems to have become a symbol for those of us mired in technology.  The rate of change is, as in Henry’s experience, too fast.  The other day I noticed an annoying warning on my laptop that claims I’m low on memory and that I have to close some applications.  What with all that tech requires of us these days I probably do have too many things open at once.  It pops up, however, when I have even just one application open.

A web search revealed this is probably a virus (something that used to be rare on Macs, but that was back in the day when things moved a little slower).  The steps for removing it were technical and appeared to be extremely time-consuming.  What I don’t have is time.  And it’s not just my rare time off work that’s too full.  On the job we’re constantly having to learn new software.  It doesn’t really matter what your line of work is, if it involves sitting behind a computer we’re constantly being told to learn new applications while trying to find time to do the jobs we’re paid to do.  There’s no question of which is the tail and which is the dog here.  With an economy driven largely by tech, because that’s where all the jobs are, you risk everything if you don’t upgrade (about every two weeks at present).

I’ve been writing a long time.  Decades.  Some of my earlier pieces are no longer openable because the software with which I wrote them has been upgraded to the point that it can’t read its own earlier writing.  To the prolific this presents a real problem.  I have, literally, thousands of pieces of writing.  I can’t upgrade every single one each time a new release comes out.  The older ones, it seems, are lost forever.  I used to print out every post on this blog.  Given that there are now even thousands of them, I eventually gave up.  I know that they will inevitably disappear into the fog some day.  For writers who’ve been discovered after their deaths this would be a Bradburian fate.  Or perhaps a Serlingesque twist.  The world realizes a writer had something important to say, but her or his writing can no longer be read because the tech is outdated.  Faster, faster—too fast.


Love or Saints?

One of the many oddities of life at Nashotah House was that we never celebrated St. Valentine.  I wouldn’t expect a mostly male and neurotically homophobic community to mark Valentine’s Day as for lovers (most of the faculty and many students were married, however), but the saint’s name wasn’t uttered in my years there.  Of course, commercialization of holidays does taint them somewhat.  It’s difficult to take a day seriously when you’re being told that how much you spend will be the sign of how special it will be.  With St. Valentine’s Day, however, I believe the topic was much too close to something the church had long feared—sexuality.  I’ve often pondered how this strange obsession evolved.  Judaism, from which Christianity sprung, isn’t the origin of this antipathy to being fully human.

The trouble likely starts in the Bible.  The New Testament, in particular.  No mention is made of Jesus having been married.  Paul, in his usual way, made it an issue but fell short of outright condemning it.  His words would help convince the Roman Catholic Church that mandated celibacy was a good idea.  Clearly, however, Augustine of Hippo, who lived after Valentine (depending on which one you elect to follow) saw the whole enterprise as flawed.  Making up the concept of original sin and tying it in with sexuality was a certain means of creating a problem.  Not that Christianity is the only religion that promotes celibacy, of course.  But when it came to Nashotah House there was really no concern about what other religions taught.  Even on February 14 no collects were recited mentioning the saint who must not be named.

The history of saints’ days is a fascinating one.  A few of them made it into pop culture—after Presidents’ Day there’s no national holiday until Memorial Day in May, so who can blame people for looking for reasons to celebrate while still waiting for spring?  Saint Patrick wasn’t similarly given the cold shoulder at Nashotah in my years there.  And although it moved around quite a bit, you could usually count on April for delivering Easter.  We didn’t celebrate Presidents’ Day.  Nor Martin Luther King Day—not being Catholic his canonization process was a non-starter.  The long, cold stretch between Epiphany (now Insurrection Day) and Lent was one devoid of popular holidays.  I suspect that despite the number of saints (and there are lots of them) the singling out of Valentine was considered to be asking for trouble.  That was many years ago.  Oddities, however, have a way of remaining in long-term memory.


Many Moons

Scientists, often with their base matrix bound up with the local religion, are frequently interested in  myth.  And sometimes religion too.  This is no surprise.  Many of us go into religious studies because of its influence on our lives and scientists, who measure and analyze material realities, must be curious when their results challenge some religious or mythic assumptions.  So it is that Ernest Naylor addresses mythic beliefs about the moon’s influence on animals and what scientific findings on the same show.  Although this book wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, Moonstruck: How Lunar Cycles Affect Life does address the subtitle assertion quite directly.  Naylor, a marine zoologist, knows about tides—caused by the moon—and their effects on marine organisms.  That connection is the main focus of the book, with occasional forays onto dry land.

What caught my attention right away was that when discussing myth and religious ideas, Naylor describes two stories as biblical: the woodcutter banished for gathering on the Sabbath and Judas’ banishment.  Both of these, he seems to believe, have the Bible banishing the criminals to the moon.  That was news to me.  There may well be folklore with such associations, but a simple opening of the covers of the Good Book would dispel this particular “myth.”  Neither the sabbath wood-gatherer nor Judas were banished to the moon after their deaths.  The former presumably went to Sheol and the latter presumably to Hell.  For me this illustrates yet again how many ideas professional people outside the guild suppose to be “biblical.”  The Bible says very little about the moon.  One New Testament demoniac is described as “moonstruck,” but beyond that the occasional references are mainly just to the moon qua moon.

The Bible’s a big book.  Everyone in western society knows it’s an important book but few read it.  Even fewer deeply engage with it to understand its original context and message.  We hear stuff and we’re told it’s in there, and we believe it.  I first noticed this in high school.  Classmates would tell me “the Bible says…” (you can fill in the blank with just about anything, this isn’t a quiz).  Almost always they were wrong.  By that point I’d read the Good Book many times cover-to-cover.  I owned concordances and knew when foreign matter was introduced.  The thing about the Bible is that it’s fairly simple to look it up.  Moonstruck focuses on marine animals and tells interesting connections to the moon.  It has a chapter on humans and the moon, finding little direct biological influence.  It’s an informative book, just don’t use it to verify what’s in the Bible.


Contains Cookies

In the early days of this blog I used to get regular reactions from other bloggers.  This was back before I started the long commute to New York City and when I actually had a little spare time on my hands.  I always enjoyed the interactions, but followers eventually dropped away and I now often get no responses to my posts at all.  That’s why I was thrilled when two recent posts came together with a response one of my faithful readers sent.  I’d written about keeping books neat, along with a piece related to ancient food, when a friend pointed me to the story of a cookie found in a 1529 Cambridge copy of Augustine.  According to the piece on Delish, the cookie was left in the book about half a century ago and had only now just been discovered.

Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

Now, like most readers of religious studies, I have opinions about Augustine that aren’t pristine.  Still, I respect books.  I suspect all the bakery jokes necessary have been made about this particular bookmark, but what strikes me as odd is that nobody discovered a cookie placed in a book when I was less than ten years old, until now.  Let that say what you will—Augustine still sells wildly in translation, of course.  Not too many individuals go back to the source, however, at least not reading as far as the cookie.  I don’t know about Cambridge, but Edinburgh used to have books from the seventeenth century on the open stacks in the New College library.  I’m sure the older volumes weren’t frequently consulted.  And I’m not the one to point a finger; I have no catalogue of my own books so I have to remember what I already have.

Books aren’t a great investment, financially.  I remember back when Antiques Roadshow was all the rage.  Every episode I saw where someone brought a really old book led to certain disappointment.  No matter how rare, the value was measured in hundreds of dollars rather than thousands.  Those of us who invest in books do so for different reasons.  Our money is being exchanged for knowledge, learning, and thinking.  Back when Amazon used to give out bookmarks with each purchase one had a quote from Erasmus, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”  We are kindred spirits it seems.  Buy books and you’ll grow in wisdom, but you may go hungry.  That’s the way the cookie crumbles.


Mittens and Circuses

Bernie Sanders, since we’re now making up our own facts, clearly won this election.  Or at least the inauguration.  An inescapable meme of Sanders, bundled up with his notable mittens, has made major media as well as pedantic punters on the web.  Thanks in part to an app created to allow users to place Bernie anywhere, I’ve seen him at all kinds of places from Oxford University Press to Dirty Dancing to the exhibit halls at the AAR/SBL annual meeting.  As someone who suffers from the cold I was initially concerned that he must feel laughed at by it all, but Bernie seems to be taking it in good humor.  The only reason I bring it up here is a meme (I think) that my wife pointed out to me of Bernie among the Fond du Lac Circus.  I can’t find any credit for the creator, but it appeared on the Episcopalians on Facebook group.  (I don’t know how Facebook works, checking above the fold once a day only.)

I’ve actually posted on the Fond du Lac Circus before.  The photo was extremely popular at Nashotah House when I taught there.  The diocese of Fond du Lac (in which I once preached) is just north a bit in Wisconsin.  The photo was a celebration of the installation of a bishop with ecclesiastical haberdashery at its finest on display.  In my mind, Nashotah House stands for all that’s conservative.  I’m certain a great deal of the population supported Trump.  A former dean had a shrine to George W. Bush in the deanery.  I kid you not.  So seeing the most progressive senator amid that crowd of backward-looking clergy, apart from being unspeakably funny, made me reflective.

Many years of my life were spent among the Episcopalians.  Too many of those years consisted of feeling oppressed by the interpretation of “orthodoxy” held at Nashotah House.  The hubris of “the only right teaching” has haunted me ever since.  Faith can be a good thing, but it can also be extremely dangerous.  The greatest danger is when it ceases to be reflective.  Faith must involve constant thought and assessment to be honest.  Unthinking compliance was something Jesus, for one, simply didn’t accept.  Challenging the way it’s always been done is a venerable part of the agenda for those who start new religions, Jesus included.  When that religion becomes ossified (or too obsessed with appearances) isn’t it time to start looking toward the future?  Bernie Sanders is popular with the young.  They have little patience for the selfishness that’s been on display in American culture for far too many decades.  Would that he really attended the Fond du Lac Circus!  Perhaps a grassroots movement to improve conditions for all might’ve actually emerged long ago.


Dirty Books

Dirty books annoy me.  Not that kind of dirty book, but books that arrive dirty.  If a book is expensive, particularly an academic book, I look for a used copy.  Since we’re in a pandemic, and also since the books I read tend to be outré, shall we say, getting them in the local second-hand place generally doesn’t work.  Sellers of used books online have to rate them.  Acceptable, poor, fair, good, very good—the scale is somewhat arbitrary.  I don’t like books with writing in them; I don’t want somebody else telling me what’s important.  I think I can find a topic sentence, thank you very much.  Lately I’ve gone down to the level of good with my online buying.  (Have you looked at the prices?!)  When you add that “very” to “good” sticker shock sets in.  Okay, so the books arrive well loved, I expect that.  But dirty?

I used to sell used books on Amazon.  I never sold many, but I always tried to be sure they were dusted off before putting them in the envelope.  I never put a cup of coffee on them.  Nor used them as a plate.  Some people apparently do, though.  I had one book arrive so filthy that I took the 409 to it.  Thing is, it cleaned up nicely.  Is it too much to expect that someone selling used books might go ahead and get some of the gunk off before sending it?  It’s not exactly Antiques Roadshow patina, after all.  It’s someone else’s slovenliness.  Who knows—might not a quick wipe-down improve the profitability by enhancing the condition of the book?

Library builders like yours truly want to afford the best editions that we can.  Books are more than mere objects gathering dust on the shelves—they’re individuals that we get to know.  Those that we meet but don’t really care for we pass along, hopefully to loving homes.  The way someone treats books reveals quite a bit about a person.  Accidents happen, of course.  A hazard of reading a lot may lead to the occasional spilled coffee or dropped bit of food, but treating books with respect not only increases their resale potential, it’s also an acknowledgement of the accomplishment.  Writing a book involves a considerable amount of work.  And although your property is yours to treat as you please, books are particularly vulnerable to damage by water, mice, or neglect.  Add fire, food, or extended exposure to sunlight and you get a sense of their fragility.  Acknowledging the effort a book takes to produce can go a long way towards making sure no book is dirty.  That, and a quick wipe-off before shoving it in the envelope.

Neat as a pin.


Roll out the Memories

That takes me back a bit.  It’s also a great idea.  The Epic of Gilgamesh tablet 5 rolling pin, that is.  A friend shared Farrell Monaco’s blog with me and the Gilgamesh cuneiform rolling pin took me back to a seasonal event in Edinburgh.  The Scots love to socialize.  My doctoral training involved lots of seasonal gatherings—something that we’ve missed since returning to the United States.  On one such occasion with my fellow Ugaritic students, we said we’d bring cookies.  Now the correct term for such things is “biscuits,” I know, but we had a recipe that really didn’t fit the biscuit description.  It was for chocolate cookies.  The dough was the consistency of a clay tablet.  I taught my wife enough Ugaritic so that, using toothpicks, we inscribed a good part of the Baal Cycle on the desert.  Alas, the tablets are no long extant.

Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

Of all writing materials, clay and stone are the most durable.  Our cuneiform cookies were in the days before cell phones, however, and film wasn’t cheap.  We didn’t bother to make a photographic record, and, alas, such tablets are edible.  They were a little difficult to read when baked and even more so when eaten.  The use of culinary cuneiform makes me think that its design potential has gone under-utilized.  Also back in Scotland for a while Coke was running a promotion with cuneiform on its labels.  The problem with cuneiform is that even for someone who reads it an isolated character or two, without context, is difficult to decipher.  I never did figure out what Coke was trying to say. 

The Gilgamesh rolling pin apparently exists in the real world and can be purchased by antiquarians with university-salary-level jobs (somewhat over the pay scale of the mere editor).  Tavola Mediterranea is listed as “The Home of Culinary Archaeology on the Web.”  Although publishers and others doubt there is any interest in my erstwhile area of expertise, I feel vindicated by Monaco’s website.  There is a real hunger for things ancient, but universities tend not to support that interest.  I often wonder at how great centers of learning have evolved into upscale job training centers.  Then again, I’m the kind of person who reads the Epic of Gilgamesh for fun.  I even have an illustrated children’s edition of the story.  Now I’m waiting for Ugaritic tablets to show up on cookware.  Given the slow death of the field of Ugaritology, I suspect the day of making Baal Cycle cookies is long gone, and unless a new recipe for encouraging public interest can be found, we’ll all starve for knowledge of it.


Internet Nowhere

So I wake up early.  I’ve been trying for years now to learn to sleep in a bit.  Somehow my body got to thinking the outrageous commute schedule to New York City was normal and I can’t convince it otherwise.  That means my most productive time comes before others awake.  It also seems to be the time favored by internet service providers to take their systems offline for a while.  You see, like any system the internet needs down time.  I slept in until 3:30 this morning and awoke to find internet access unavailable.  I use it during my writing, looking up answers to questions which both my fiction and non raise.  When the internet’s out there’s little I can do, but I’m already awake.  Society prefers conformists, but some of us maybe hear a different beat on our march.

The fact is we expect constant connectivity.  Many of us pay a significant monthly amount to ensure that we have it, but this is no guarantee.  Calling your local service provider at 4 a.m. on a Saturday (I’ve done this) is like dealing with IT at work: they really have no clue what’s wrong but they can talk technical to you, if that makes you feel good.  After all, it’s in the middle of the night.  So I try to decide on something else to do.  Reading works.  Books, however, often lead me to want to look something up.  But the internet’s down, at least around here.  We are utterly beholden to the tech industry that can (and does) wink out from time to time.  When the robot uprising occurs we just need to wait for the service maintenance hour.

I reboot my router.  It’s the first course of action when the internet’s out.  I think I’ll check out a personal hotspot, but to do that I need the internet.  It’s a great, constant feedback loop.  I suspect I’m not the only early riser who faces the internet dearth in the wee hours.  I know I’m overpaying because my data (whatever that is) plan on my phone always shows a monthly surplus.  When it comes to the techies, you just nod your head and pay your bill.  I do wonder what’s happening in the wider world.  Without the net you feel especially isolated in pandemic times.  It’s Saturday morning and the internet’s unavailable.  Back in my teaching days I know just what I’d be doing.  Instead I’m waiting for technology to catch up.


Anticipation

My work computer was recently upgraded.  I, for one, am quickly tiring of uppity software assuming it knows what I need it to do.  This is most evident in Microsoft products, such as Excel, which no longer shows the toolbar unless you click it every single time you want to use it (which is constantly), and Word, which hides tracked changes unless you tell it not to.  Hello?  Why do you track changes if you don’t want to see what’s been changed when you finish?  The one positive thing I’ve noticed is now that when you highlight a fine name in “File Explorer” and press the forward arrow key it actually goes the the end of the title rather than just one letter back from the start.  Another goodie is when you go to select an attachment and Outlook assumes you want to send a file you’ve just been working on—good for you!

The main concern I have, however, is that algorithms are now trying to anticipate what we want.  They already track our browsing interests (I once accidentally clicked on a well-timed pop-up ad for a device for artfully trimming certain private hairs—my aim isn’t so good any more and that would belie the usefulness of said instrument—only to find the internet supposing I preferred the shaved look.  I have an old-growth beard on my face and haven’t shaved in over three decades, and that’s not likely to change, no matter how many ads I get).  Now they’re trying to assume they know what we want.  Granted, “editor” is seldom a job listed on drop-down menus when you have to pick a title for some faceless source of money or services, but it is a job.  And lots of us do it.  Our software, however, is unaware of what editors need.  It’s not shaving.

In the grip of the pandemic, we’re relying on technology by orders of magnitude.  Even before that my current job, which used to be done with pen and paper and typewriter, was fully electronic.  One of the reasons that remote working made sense to me was that I didn’t need to go into the office to do what I do.  Other than looking up the odd physical contract I had no reason to spend three hours a day getting to and from New York.  I think of impatient authors and want to remind them that during my lifetime book publishing used to require physical manuscripts sent through civilian mail systems (as did my first book).  My first book also included some hand-drawn cuneiform because type didn’t exist for the letters at that particular publisher.  They had no way, it turns out, to anticipate what I wanted it to look like.  That, it seems, is a more honest way for work to be done.


At Sea?

Brian Fagan is a name I’ve long known.  Not exactly the consummate stylist, he is a very prolific archaeologist and anthropologist.  I’ve read a few of his books.  Recently my wife and I read his Beyond the Blue Horizon: How the Earliest Mariners Unlocked the Secrets of the Oceans (you see what I mean about style?).  Divided into different regions of the world, the book explores early boat-craft, sketching how people without our technology navigated oceans, often reaching remote locations.  What interests me is when anthropologists make statements about ancient religions, often before the advent of writing among the peoples studied.  No doubt such peoples realized the dangers of open water—open water is still dangerous with all our tech.  It is reasonable to assume their response was religious.  What exactly it was, we don’t know.

The one that really caught my attention was on the Maya.  Coastal Mayans valued the spondylus, or spiny oyster.  This particular mollusk is seasonally toxic—itself an interesting phenomenon—that becomes a hallucinogen.  Hallucinogens have frequently been associated with religion for indigenous peoples.  If archaeology is to be believed, even temples in ancient Israel burned cannabis, so who’s to judge?  Fagan writes that this practice led to shamanistic trances, and this seems likely.  He goes on to suggest that the spondylus was thus a gateway to the supernatural world.  Of course, in the biblical world shellfish were a forbidden food.

While Fagan likes to reminisce about his own past sailing, and likes to describe boats in detail, and show off his nautical language skills, I think about the religious aspect of the great waters.  We still have only a small understanding of the oceans that cover most of our planet.  We can fly over them these days, and miss the intensity of being where no land is in sight.  It can be a transcendent experience, I’m sure.  I’ve seldom been that far from land.  On a ship bound for the Orkney Islands from John O’Groats we were on the North Sea beyond the sight of shore, if I remember correctly.  Although I can’t recall how long the voyage took, I can imagine the feeling of nerves aching for a sight of coastline.  Even with minke whales off the starboard bow, I knew my feet belonged on terra firma.  It’s more comfortable to read about the gods of the ocean in books like Beyond the Blue Horizon.  And when I’m out to sea, I always pray the mariners know what they’re doing.  


Hot Breakfast

Cooking in a pre-dawn kitchen has a certain appeal as the weather cools.  Knowing that something with warmth will set you right before the nighttime cold forces the furnace on for the next six-to-nine months.  After a recent tooth extraction I was told to keep on a soft diet until the wound healed.  A fan of crispy breakfast cereals, I faced a new dilemma—what to eat before work?  Being vegan means bacon and eggs won’t do (there is passable vegan bacon available, but so far the plant-based eggs haven’t managed not to taste like mung beans).  On a recent frenzy of nostalgia I had purchased a box of (now mostly empty) farina.  Often known by its commercial name “Cream of Wheat,” farina is more like flour and milk (many vegan options available) but with a better texture than paste.  It reminded me of childhood Saturdays.  Then the box was empty and grocery day was the better part of a week away.

Grits seemed a little more challenging.  The particle size is larger and might cause problems in the healing wound.  Still, I gave it a try.  Since my father was from South Carolina I grew up eating things like grits and black-eyed peas.  This makes for a hearty breakfast as long as you keep the grits on the other side of your mouth.  When the black-eyed peas were gone, I turned to oatmeal.  Bigger pieces yet, but still soft.  Oatmeal works best with some kind of sweet accompaniment.  Brown sugar and cinnamon is a standard. Sweets bother my teeth, however, so I need to be careful there.

The problem with all of these options is that one serving of these hot cereals was too little to keep me going.  I wake early and eat breakfast early, so I need about six hours of energy from this meal.  Two servings are too much.  Ratios are beyond me.  So I turn to my religious roots.  Whenever I think of breakfast I’m reminded that our cereal-eating culture (hot or cold) was largely influenced by Seventh-Day Adventist sensibilities.  Adventists are vegetarians, and some prominent among them by the name of Kellogg launched massive, religiously motivated campaigns to have the day begin with grains, back in the day.  It stuck.  I suspect Kellogg was good with numbers.  I wish I could figure out how third-cups and quarter-cups relate to one another.  Like most things in life, it’s falling midway between that is difficult.  It’s chilly in here and I too hungry to do math.  At least the religion part I partially understand.


Fire and Ice

Most people in our modern world consider a cooking device an important part of a household.  Many of us are also over-committed.  These two elements came together last week when our kitchen stove (“range,” I’m finding out, is the correct term) burned out.  We could tell when we bought our house two years ago that the previous owners had likely not replaced any appliances.  The refrigerator died our first year.  Now, in our second, the stove—excuse me, range—went.  Given that it’s turned cooler around here, a good hot meal in the evening has been a welcome relief, but with no stove how do you cook it?  This happened on a Tuesday.  My wife and I compared calendars.  The closest evening we could both get out to look for replacements was Friday.  Of course, once you shell out the money you also have to wait for delivery and installation.  It looked like at least a week without home-cooked food.  Grocery shopping, of course, had been on Monday.

It occurred to me how utterly dependent we are on our big appliances.  The refrigerator died just before a holiday weekend in pre-covid days, so we were on our way out of town when it happened.  A lot of food had to be wasted.  It took about four days before a new one could be delivered, and we had to cut short our trip to be here in time for the installers.  Food.  Unless you’re living on granola bars and trail mix you need to keep it cold or keep it hot.  Our ranges and refrigerators do the heavy lifting for us.  Our ancestors stuck things in the cellar to keep cool and chopped wood to keep what is properly called a “stove” hot in the kitchen.  It was pretty much a full-time job just to survive.  Now nightly Zoom meetings make any interruption of online connectivity difficult.

Weekends, given the circumstances, are gems.  They are the only time we can get things done.  Days are eaten up by ever-expanding work by people desperate to keep their jobs in a tanking economy.  Supply chains, interrupted by the virus, meant that a delivery of a new range would only happen in January.  Going without food until the new year steered us toward a DIY appliance repair solution.  I never thought I’d be sticking my head in an oven, but here I was, with a new part ordered from Amazon and the confidence of the friendly people on YouTube telling me I could do it.  Taking days instead of months, we were cooking again by Sunday, and I just might’ve learned something along the way.


Scared Space

It was dark.  I often work in dim light since the computer screen backlights everything.  I’d strained my back the day before, and getting into a standing position took some time, with the first steps being necessarily ginger.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it in the shadows.  A wolf spider was on the arm of my chair, just inches away.  I could move neither fast nor fast enough.  By the time I’d hobbled to an empty peanut butter jar (we keep them for this purpose), it was gone.  But the fright remained.  It was several hours until I could think of sitting in that chair again, although the spider was last seen fleeing the site of the attack.  That got me to thinking about how spaces maintain the events that transpire in them.  It’s the early stage of haunting, I suppose.

Spiders were a childhood terror.  Just a week before the current spider incident, I was in the basement doing some repairs when a spricket jumped on my arm.  Sprickets, also known as camel crickets or cave crickets, live in damp places and they actually jump at their perceived enemies to frighten them away.  It works.  I was absolutely terrified by the thing.  It was large, and although it was on my arm only a second or two, I wanted to run screaming from the cellar and strip off my shirt and throw it in the washer.  I couldn’t go back into the basement the entire day.  It was the site of the fright, you see.  Spricket and spider were long gone, but their threat remained in the place I’d encountered them.

I often write about sacred space.  There is also such a thing as scared space.  I can see how this would’ve evolved from our primate ancestors.  Chimpanzees, for example, are frightened of large spiders.  They can climb trees right after you and they are impossibly fast.  I suspect in our encounter the spider was more frightened of me than I was of it.  I’m a giant in its multiple eyes and, were I not a believer in catch-and-release, could easily have killed it.  (Messy for the chair, but conceivable.)  Our ancient ancestors would likely remember—this is the place the spider bit Oog.  Must avoid.  So the idea remains, scarring the spaces we habitually sit.  Spiders outdoors, as long as I see them before they see me, are not such a source of fear.  But right now I think I’ll pick a new favorite chair, until my favorite becomes sacred again.


Eureka?

It’s weird to feel yourself becoming a curmudgeon.  Especially when it’s about technology.  Someone asked me the other day if I could send an audio file of something I’d recorded.  I stopped doing podcasts because I lost track of the server that had been hosting the files.  My “inbox was full” or some such nonsense—they’re just electrons, folks.  I’m already paying for the space to host this blog and one thing I know about audio files is they take up lots of space.  My laptop reminds me of that every time it wants to update.  Well, I recorded the requested audio file and wanted to send it along.  I couldn’t find it.  Now, I’m one of those people who started using Apple computers because they were intuitive.  You could easily guess, or reason out, where things were.  It’s not that way anymore.

I had to do a web search (use Ecosia!  They plant trees for your searches!) for where Macs store your audio recordings so that I could send it.  Buried deeply in a directory that has a nondescript name that you’d never possibly guess (it’s as if someone were to assign you Concluding Unscientific Postscript during a game of book-title charades), the helpful site said, you’ll find it.  It’s in your “Library.”  Well sir, Mac had decided that you no longer needed to navigate your way to your Library and that directory was hidden.  Another Ecosia search—more trees—and I learned that you could do a special preference tweaking (it only took four or five steps) so that your computer would display your own Library and you could find your renamed file that you’d created.

Back in the day (here’s the curmudgeon part) when you had to swap discs—floppies—and the computer had the memory capacity of a Republican senator, you knew which disc had your files.  To access them, you simply inserted the disc.  Later they were stored on the hard drive itself and the directory told you right where you’d find them.  Now who knows where your created content is stored—out there on a cloud somewhere, I hear.  That doesn’t help when a friend asks you to send a file.  I had no idea where it even was.  It’s job security for the tech sector, to be sure.  At least it helped me to plant some trees along the way.  Back in the day we used to say you can lose sight of the forest for the trees.  It works, it seems, the other way around as well.


A Walk in the Park

About five years ago my wife and I took a drive along the infamous Shades of Death road in Warren County, New Jersey.  Urban legend has all kinds of creepiness associated with it.  It was a pleasant enough autumn drive for us, and we didn’t see any ominous signs.  History has moved on since the road had been named and, as is typical, the origins had been lost to time.  Something I’ve noticed in moving from east to midwest back to east and a little further west again is that names tend to travel with westward expansion.  I haven’t read enough local history to gain a good sense of this, but we noticed that if New Jersey has a “Devil’s Half Acre,” so does eastern Pennsylvania.  

Yearning to get outdoors for a bit—it’s been rainy here and the pandemic limits options for seeing much of anything—we decided to visit Hickory Run State Park in Carbon County.  Not a bad drive from where we live, we decided to pick out a hiking trail before making the trip.  With over forty miles of trails, your choice of parking depends on which one you want.  We found that there was a Shades of Death trail.  The website tries to dispel the fear factor of the name, noting that early settlers referred to heavy woods and rocky terrain when they named the area.  It is some of the more challenging hiking offered in the park, with passages over small boulder fields and some slippery rocks.  It also turned out to have some wonderful scenery.  We’d arrived early enough to avoid the crowds that’ve made walks in the woods less pleasant in pandemic times.

Indeed, as we finished our hike near noon, families with kids excitedly shouting “Shades of Death” were making their way along the at times narrow path.  I couldn’t help but think how our lives have become so much easier, at least with physical challenges, than those of the original settlers who named these once treacherous places.  We find the names quaint and a little amusing.  Indeed, at the visitor center, the outdoor art emphasizes that particular trail, demonstrating its popularity.  Part of the draw of horror is, of course, reading or watching it from a safe location.  On a sunny morning with modern conveniences never far away, the name gives a little thrill even as it reminds us that a walk in the woods once held a peril difficult to imagine when you can drive right up to the trailhead for a walk in the park.