Ideal Christmas

This blog is even open on Christmas.  I’m enough of a pragmatist to realize that few read it today, but even Carl Sagan knew that launching the Pioneer plaques into the void was the smallest spark of hope.  A quark in a universe so vast that we suppose it infinite.  And even so, it makes room for us.  So, if nobody reads this on Christmas I’ll certainly understand.  If you do, and if you celebrate Christmas, a merry one to you.  Thanks for stopping by.  For some folks, I know, Christmas is a time for gathering together.  A British colleague recently remarked to me, “But Thanksgiving is the big American holiday.”  I think he meant both for family gathering and for time off work—it’s the only regular four-day weekend capitalism deigns to give to those who live between the anvil and hammer of nine and five.  But today’s Christmas, we don’t have to think about that.

For me the ideal Christmas is one hunkered down with my family and when we don’t ever have to get out of our pajamas.  A bohemian holiday when you don’t have to go outside to check the mail.  As cold as it is this year, that’s really a relief.  And it’s also a time for stories.  Most of the Christmas gifts I give require explanation.  Even if they don’t, I like to tell stories about them.  That’s the way writers roll, even us obscure ones.  Holidays are based on stories and are made up of stories.  Those we tell only to our families are the most intimate kind.  You see, the brain doesn’t stop working just because it’s a holiday.  So all the books bear witness.

Although it’s too early to tell (the sun isn’t up yet), we might just eke out a white Christmas around here.  In eastern Pennsylvania we managed to avoid the worst of the massive storm that ruined holiday plans for many.  At the tail end of the rain, and at the knife’s edge of the frigid air, come a dusting of snow.  The temperatures have kept low, so if the sun hasn’t managed to warm the still green grass enough, we may see some white today.  It seems we have Bing Crosby to blame for this particular dream.  Christmas isn’t predictably white around here, and global warming only makes it less so.  But this is a holiday, and we don’t need to think about that.  I know not many will read this post, but if you are one of the few, and if this day is special to you, celebrate it for all it’s worth.


Blooming in December

The cascading petunias are doing fine.  It’s a little odd to see them in December, given that petunias are annuals, not perennials.  (The terminology has always been confusing to me—annual could mean, as it does, that they only grow one year.  Exegeted differently, however, annual could mean that they come back yearly, but it doesn’t and they don’t.)  The Aerogarden (not a sponsor) system provides plants with a perfect mixture of light, water, and nutrition.  The only thing missing is the soil.  Hydroponic, the unit gives plants the ability to prolong their blooming life preternaturally long.  These particular petunias have been blossoming since January and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.  This is kind of what science is able to do for people too—keeping us going, even as nature is indicating, well, it’s December.

I often wonder what the flowers think about it.  We keep our house pretty cool in winter.  Partly it’s an expense thing and partly it’s an environment thing.  In the UK they talked of “overheated American houses”—how many times I Zoom with people even further north and see them wearing short sleeves indoors in December!—and we went about three years without using the heat in our Edinburgh flat.  You see those movies where Europeans are wearing vest and suit coat over their shirts (and presumably undershirt) at home?  It occurs to me that it was likely because they kept their houses fairly cold.  In any case, I suppose the low sixties aren’t too bad for plants, but they certainly aren’t summer temperatures.  Still, what must they think?

Set on a counter where the summer sun came in, at first they gravitated toward the window during May and June.  Even with their scientifically designed grow light, they knew the sun although they’d never even sprouted outdoors.  That’s the thing with science.  I’m grateful for it, don’t get me wrong, but it can’t fool plants.  We can’t replicate sunshine, although we can try to make something similar.  (Fusion’s a bit expensive to generate in one’s home.)   So it is with all our efforts to create “artificial intelligence.”  We don’t even know what natural intelligence is—it’s not all logic and rules.  We know through our senses and emotions too.  And those are, in some measure, chemical and environmental.  It’s amazing to awake every morning and find blooming petunias offering their sunny faces to the world.  As they’re approaching their first birthday I wonder about what they think about all of this.  What must it be like to be blooming in December?


Birthing Stars

Fusion.  The recent breakthrough with fusion announced so close to Christmas hardly seems a coincidence to me.  I have to admit to having been interested in fusion since high school.  One of my school term papers was on what was then called a “magnetic bottle”—a theoretical device capable of containing a fusion reaction.  The hydrogen bomb, of course, had already demonstrated that fusion was possible.  Controlling it was, at the time, the difficulty.  Now, I’m no scientist.  I’ve read quite a bit of lay science over the years and even worked on a project about the relationship of science to religion.  Still, you can’t follow everything.  I’d lost contact with fusion until the announcement this week that scientists have finally demonstrated that it’s possible to get more energy out of a controlled fusion reaction than it takes to get the reaction started.

In case you know even less about science than I do, fusion is what powers stars.  Unlike fission, it’s a “clean” nuclear reaction and one, as far as we can tell, that has made life possible on this planet.  Star power.  We’ve known for many decades that this could be the solution to humanity’s energy needs.  Of course, big petroleum has tried to slow such research down—there are personal fortunes to be lost and what is life without a fortune?  Now, with technology far beyond my comprehension, a fusion reaction was born that showed promise that we’re on the right track.

Photo credit: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

Since it’s been rather gloomy around here this December, the thought of more sunshine cheers me.  Living in the Lehigh Valley, of course, my thoughts turn toward the Bethlehem star.  It’s such a crucial element to the Christmas story that we’d hardly know what to do without it.  Stars are our guides through the dark.  Winter nights are often clear and are opportunities to see the nighttime stars, even as we light up our artificial ones here below.  Light encourages light.  In a laboratory somewhere scientists are busy making stars.  I have to believe it’s satisfying work.  Perhaps the kind of job you’re eager to get back to the day after Christmas.  Although fusion would be used for power in general, one of the functions would surely be the giving of light.  As we move toward next week’s solstice and light our Yule logs, encouraging light to return, women and men in white smocks are designing and using complex equipment to help it on its way.


Natural Wonder

I recently heard a talk about monarch butterflies that left me in awe, once again, of nature.  These remarkable insects have been in the news because of declining numbers—largely because of global warming, it seems.  We’ve only begun, however, to learn how remarkable they are, even with the head-of-a-pin-sized brains.  You might wonder why I’m discussing butterflies in November, but it’s not the first time I’ve done that.  Besides, global warming has made it relevant.  So what about monarchs?  Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that they migrate.  And to do so it takes about four generations.  This deeply embedded behavior shows an intelligence in nature that we’re reluctant to grant.  Still it’s clearly there.  I live in Pennsylvania and we have monarchs around here and they can be found as far north as southern Canada.

Photo credit: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson, via Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License

These monarchs around here aren’t the ones who left their overwintering spot in Mexico.  The earliest ones we see up here may have flown in from the Carolinas or the Midwest, where they may’ve been born.  As adults they feed on flower nectar, but to be born they require milkweed plants.  Monarchs only lay their eggs on this one plant family.  The milkweed contains a toxin that they’ve evolved to eat and that toxin gives them a really bad flavor.  That’s why birds tend not to eat monarchs.  So they reproduce in northern locations until environmental cues change the late season eggs.  These late season generation produces the butterflies that will migrate.  Instead of hanging around sipping nectar, they find south (they can tell time and they only fly on days with a south wind) and make their way to one specific area in Mexico to overwinter.  They don’t eat at that stage.

In the spring, hungry, they following blooming desert flowers north.  They follow the food supply, birthing new generations to carry on, until they reach the latitude they prefer.  So some stay around here, eating and reproducing until the cycle begins again in the autumn.  It might seem like a lot of extra work (consider what we do in the office all day and try to criticize) yet it demonstrates the remarkable intelligence of nature.  That migrating generation has to know to fly south and they have to be able to find direction.  Once there, and ready to return, their offspring’s offspring will (we suspect because of other species) know where their great-great-grandparents lived and they head there over three generations.  All of this is being endangered by global warming, however. Because one species thinks of itself alone as remarkable.


After It’s News

We live our lives by the news cycle.  It tells us what to think about and worry about, often beyond our local, daily concerns.  And sometimes we forget about yesterday’s headliners.  If you’re curious about whatever became of actual Hurricane Ian, I can tell you.  He’s been hanging around here.  Oh, he’s a mere shadow of his former self, becoming just a low-pressure system sitting off the Atlantic coast between New York and Philadelphia.  And spinning, and spinning, and spinning.  Around here we haven’t seen the sun since last Thursday.  The rain has been intermittent, but yesterday it was pretty much all day and he’s set to continue dominating the skies here at least through today.  Your typical hurricane, if there is such a thing, just keeps moving until it reaches unpopulated areas and nobody cares any more.  This one has been a long-term guest.

With the first few days of lassitudinous rain we had maybe an inch.  Rainfall spat and sputtered and sprinkled.  Yesterday it began to really come down and as I write this it’s too dark to tell but I can hear it splashing on my windows.  The toadstools popping up in the yard are impressive.  As has been the wind and below average temperatures.  I’m wearing my winter-level protection and dodging raindrops on my morning jogs.  Some days I’ve had to delay them for the water.  Not too many other people are out taking their exercise, I notice.  The Weather Channel’s taken to calling it just a low-pressure system, but we’re on a first-name basis now.  Ian is still very much a thing.  At the end of “daylight” yesterday the rain gauge read about three inches.

The thing about these “unusual” storms is they’re becoming the norm.  Global warming has been affecting us for years now, even as we deny it exists.  Our summer around here was very hot and very dry.  The dry was okay by me, but the heat prevented any outdoor work or play for a good deal of the time.  Days when you’d stay inside and try your hardest not to move.  We had maybe one or two days of transitional weather then boom, straight to November.  The leaves around here are still mostly green although they’ve been starting to change more readily now that October’s arrived with December in it’s train.  Forecasters tell us, like Annie says, the sun will come out tomorrow.  Around here we sure hope that’s right.  I wonder what else is happening hidden behind the news?

Not Ian, but you get the picture

Lost Day

There’s a continuity of life and we’re used to it with only small, regular interruptions, such as a night’s sleep.  Each day builds on the previous one with plans being fulfilled, projects attempted, and yes, work.  Then something happens to disrupt that and it’s like starting over again.  I imagine (and feel for), for instance, those who’ve lost everything to Hurricane Ian are going through it.  They are reassessing and rebuilding, even as around here we’re beginning to get some of its rain.  A break in continuity may be smaller, however, and on an individual scale.  I had, for example, my first Shingrix vaccine in January.  Never having reacted to any vaccine before I was completely caught off guard when the next day I couldn’t get out of bed.  But more than that, I knew this was a two-part vaccine, and I was going to face this again.

I kept putting it off.  I needed to have a day when continuity could be broken so that I could recover.  That’s always tricky because I’m busy all the time.  I’ve got a book manuscript under a December deadline and I have to work every weekday.  Yesterday I took a personal day and had Shingrix 2 after work on Thursday.  Yesterday was a lost day.  Although I knew this was an important vaccine, like the various Covid vaccines I’ve had, I wasn’t ready for the consequences.  With short periods of wakefulness, I slept until 1:30 in the afternoon, unable to do anything.  Feverish, I couldn’t read without falling back asleep.  Working on my book was out of the question.  Meanwhile, emails kept coming in, asking for this or that.

The lost day takes some time for recovery.  It’s not nearly so bad as those who’ve lost their homes and communities because of this massive storm that’s tapping its outer fringes on my windows right now.  Still, I have to try to remember where I left off.  Amazingly, after sleeping for some seventeen hours, I was nevertheless ready for bed at the usual time last night.  The nurse who gave me the vaccine assured me that it was better than having the actual disease.  I don’t doubt that.  Those I know who’ve had shingles warn that it’s nothing to mess with.  Still, I sit here slightly stunned this early Saturday morning, wondering where I left off before all of this began.  The continuity has been temporarily broken, and I lost a day in there.  I’d forgotten what it’s like to sit in a chilly room before sunrise with a tabula rasa before me.  But I do recall that I have a final manuscript due in a couple months.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Tuning Up

Climate change is marked by its erratic behavior.  I can relate.  Nevertheless, one of my favorite things in the whole wide world is the slow transition of summer to winter.  Autumn includes that honeymoon time between air conditioning and furnace when you have perhaps a month of reasonable utility bills.  After that hot summer we had around here, this weekend showed why we call it “fall.”  I awoke yesterday morning only to feel the indoor temperature slipping into winter range.  (Seriously.  The furnace isn’t on yet.)  It was 41 degrees outside, a full five degrees lower than projected.  There’s a subtle insidiousness to morning chills.  I tend to wake around three or four, but that’s not the coldest part of the night.  No, that comes just before sunrise.  Morning connoisseurs know that.  It’s always coldest before the dawn.

Weather forecasting is a dicey business, not for the faint of heart.  When it’s getting uncomfortably chilly, a degree or two can make a difference.  You see, I get out of bed, throw on some lounging clothes, and go into another room where I won’t disturb anybody.  That means if I underestimate how cold the house will be, I’ll spend some time shivering until those who awake on normal schedules get up.  That, or I have to wear a jacket indoors.  I’m not above that, of course, but it’s only September.  Honeymoon time.  Global warming doesn’t mean it’s going to be hot all the time.  So all of this has me thinking about winter already.  It’s only September and I’m already wearing fingerless gloves.

I’m extremely sensitive to cold.  I attribute it to a case of mild frostbite I had as a teen.  The cold didn’t bother me so much before then.  My brother and I, dutifully awaiting the school bus, stood for the required half hour or so at the bus stop.  It was bitterly cold and there was no bus shelter.  When we were finally allowed to head home the pain was incredible.  My extremities are still chilled at the slightest suggestion.  On all but the hottest days my feet can count on being cold.  The  morning skies were a beautiful blue yesterday, suggesting that the predicted cloudiness of the previous night had not performed, allowing full radiational cooling.  Yes, global warming is real and all of us alive today will be dealing with it for the remainder of our time here on earth.  That doesn’t mean it’ll always be hot outside.  It does mean the honeymoon may be over. 


Is It That Time Already?

Maybe it’s just me, but August seems to be the new October.  If any of you are experiencing the heat wave that’s (oddly enough) like global warming, my apologies.  Around here—and local is what we all are—nights are cool enough to require blankets after our very hot July.  In fact, I need long sleeves and long pants in the mornings, it’s so chilly.  By mid-afternoon I’m starting to roast, but the grass is brown and that October feeling is in the air.  Or maybe it’s just that I’m awake at odd hours and the perspective from this time of day is somehow prescient.  Who knows?  As I try to sneak a jog in before work I see the walnuts have already gone yellow.  And I wonder.

We idealize the weather of our youth.  That sense of oughtness sets in early.  This is the way the weather should go.  We’ve been pouring greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, however, for all of my life and before.  The warning signs have been around for decades but somehow liars with false hair convince us that any progress ought to be reversed.  I wonder if he’s been outside lately.  The planet is constantly changing based on the larger picture.  It has been doing this for eons, well before our species evolved.  Thinking it was created for us distorts our thinking.  The real question is whether we’ll be able to adapt.  I can’t say the prognosis is rosy, given how we’re constantly trying to kill those who live just across that mountain range, or that wide river.  We can’t seem to coexist.

I like October.  Still, I can’t help but think of all the things we didn’t get done this summer because it was too hot to be working outside.  Or we couldn’t get contractors to return our calls.  Seasons change as the atmosphere tries to adjust to all the chemicals we cough out.  October and its monsters seem to arrive earlier each year.  I’ve been feeling it for weeks already.  Seasons are really negotiations.  Around here, in this temperate zone, we spend most of the year with the furnace on, taking the edge off cold mornings and trying to keep this drafty house habitable for about six months of the year.  Everything’s constantly in flux and we simply try to adjust.  Not even the sun will last forever.  But for now I see the signs of harvest season beginning, and I feel the change in the air.  And I can sense October just around the corner. So goes August.


Dark v Light

The summer solstice was days away and the earliest sunrise had already passed.  The earliest sunrise and the latest sunset are not on the same day.  To those of us who rise before the sun, it does make a difference.  I’m a morning jogger (when my back allows it).  I prefer to go out before work because otherwise you have to interrupt your day to put on your scuzzies and then come back all sweaty, hoping you didn’t forget about a meeting just after.  The thing is, I start work early and my preferred jogging time is around 5 a.m.  Back in May it’s easy to believe that this timetable is workable.  Then in August, almost like it’s pinned to the first of the month, you realize that it will be much closer to six than five before it’s light enough to see.  So the seasons go.

Even in the midst of a heat wave, you can smell autumn coming.  Yes, I know there will be hot days and uncomfortable nights yet.  But just as surely as Back to School merchandise begins to appear in July (school had been out maybe two weeks by then), fall inexorably follows summer.  Around here it’s been drier than normal.  Stressed trees began shedding leaves in July as if to say, “Alright, we’ll give this a try again next year.”  They are much more obvious about seasonal changes than the rest of us, but we’re all impacted by the always shifting patterns of light and warming, or cooling, mercury.  Seasons remind us of what it means to be mortal beings.  Melancholy isn’t always a bad thing.

Being a morning person, at least in my case, means spending quite a bit of my creative time in the dark.  In fact, back in June it’s like it gets light too soon for me to go jogging right away—I still have things to do first.  I also know it will still be some time before it’s dark when I go to bed.  I have no trouble sleeping in the light.  Our schedules are part of our perceptions of time and light.  We all agree, more of less, that from nine to five we’ll be at our desks, whiling away the most productive hours of sunlight.  I remember commuting to work in the dark only to commute home also in the dark.  Using that time for creativity is important, but so is trying to keep healthy.  Like the great dramatic acts of the solstices and equinoxes, it’s all a matter of balance.


Conflicting Lifestyles

Sleep patterns often don’t fit with work patterns.  The reason I wake up so early is that for years I had to do it to get to Manhattan.  For work.  Since ending the commuting lifestyle four years ago, I haven’t been able to adjust back to normal, whatever that may be.  During a recent heatwave weekend, when it wasn’t really conducive to be doing yard work, I suggested to my wife that we watch The Godfather on Sunday afternoon.  Somehow I thought it was only two hours, but it is actually much closer to three.  Now this Coppola film is considered one of the greatest movies of all time and I have literally wanted to see it since 1972.  There were no VCRs in those days and life has been, well, busy since college days.

It is a powerful movie, even today.  I knew the basic plot and I started to read (I can’t recall if I finished it) the novel in the early seventies.  All I know is that I sat engrossed as the temperatures tempted 100 degrees outside.  Because I awake so early Sunday afternoons are often sleepy times for me, but I don’t nap.  Napping leads to long nights and I awake early no matter what.  The movie doesn’t allow for a lapse of interest.  One of the scenes that had the most impact is when Michael is attending the baptism of his godson and the priest asks him if he renounces Satan intercut with scenes of his hitman killing his rival family bosses.  The religious nature of the violence in the story is perhaps one of its most shocking elements, even today.

That night it was still hot, and all the water that I drank during the day made itself rather urgently felt around 2 a.m.  The trick to the late night bathroom run is to keep your mind shut off.  Although The Godfather ended nearly twelve hours earlier, it crept back into my head, keeping me awake after that.  Of course, I had a full day of work—there are no allowances for aging in this thing of ours called capitalism—ahead.  The thing is, when else do we find three consecutive hours to catch up with a cultural landmark but a Sunday afternoon?  Are you supposed to take a vacation day to do it?  I have no regrets about having watched the movie—it was like an offer I couldn’t refuse.  It’s just the rest of life that, well, simply won’t compromise.


Solstice Thoughts

At the equator, the difference is nil.  The longest day and the shortest day don’t deviate from the standard day length.  The further you move from the equator, the more dramatic the effect is.  Here in the northern hemisphere this is our longest day, the solstice.  Historically, particularly in countries to the northern edge of the northern hemisphere, this is a holiday.  Midsummer marked the days of sun and growth.  Light is abundant—too abundant to sleep well in the furthest reaches.   Being visually oriented creatures, we enjoy the surfeit of light.  Light has long been a symbol of the divine for, I suppose, just that reason.  It makes us feel secure and safe.  We can see what’s going on around us.

In Antarctica, today is the shortest day of the year.  Indeed, around now there is seldom any light at all.  On the exact same day there are literally polar opposites on this planet.  The summer here is winter there.  It’s the first day of winter in the global south.  Their understanding of this day is completely different.  Of course, once you reach the shortest day, things can only improve.  The climb to summer lasts half a year, only to have the decline immediately begin again.  The difference is as subtle as it is inexorable.  For those of us who wake before the sun, it’s already obvious that sunrise is coming later than it did last week.  The earliest sunrise was the fourteenth.  Sunset will come later and later for the next few days, to compensate for the lost morning light, but overall there will be less and less until we are the winter half of the world.

There are many lessons to learn here.  In a world where the longest and shortest days are the same day—solstices depend on where you live—we don’t fight over it.  This despite the fact that light is our most precious commodity.  We simply accept that we celebrate light when we have it, and await its coming when we don’t.  Other resources we fight over.  Potable water.  Petroleum products.  Arable land.  Silently, radiantly, light shows us the way.  There’s an inevitability here.  Through long experience on the earth we simply accept it.  The other option is to fight over what we can’t control, which is futility defined.  There are lessons to learn from the longest day.  And if it’s your shortest day, you know that all will be forgiven at the next equinox.


Heat Wave

Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future wasn’t my favorite book read the first half of this year, but reading the headlines about India’s heatwave took me back to it.  That’s precisely the way the book starts out—with an intense, deadly heat wave in India.  As a nation lacking infrastructure in relation to the size of its population, and lying near the equator, India is particularly vulnerable to global warming.  We all are.  As the planet heats up and weather becomes more erratic and extreme, food shortages will appear.  At the moment we’re concerned because Covid and Putin-War have driven inflation to incredible highs.  A trip to the grocery store or gas station is like a horror film.  Meanwhile the planet’s heating up and Republicans are pushing for four more years of Trump environmental degradation.  Can we please open a window here?

Global warming has been challenged by many because of their religious conviction that the world ought to end.  Apocalypse is probably the Bible’s most dangerous teaching.  Speaking only for myself, I didn’t know there was an Indian heatwave until headlines took a break from Putin-War and America’s mass shooting crisis.  And oh, India’s sweltering under temperatures over 110 degrees.  People are dying.  Birds are falling from the sky in mid-flight.  We had a couple days in the 90s around here before the end of May.  Those were some uncomfortable times.  Meanwhile in India it was twenty degrees hotter.

The human ability to ignore life-threatening problems we create for ourselves in service of our theology is remarkable.  Even as experts declare religion is no longer important, it’s slowing killing us.  We focus our resources on making money, as if money will do us any good when we’re the lobsters in the pot.  As a species we’re amazingly capable.  Billionaires can afford their own private spaceships—something most nations in the world can’t spare cash to buy—and we have proven ourselves endlessly inventive.  When it comes to the basics—the need to believe, for instance—we turn a blind eye and pretend it’ll just go away.  Religion scorned is a very dangerous thing.  I once heard a talk by a scientist presenting a rosy technological future.  I raised my hand and asked about religious objections and he mused, “I hadn’t even thought about religion.”  His future was progressive and optimistic.  Robinson’s is quite a bit less so, although it ends by suggesting we might manage to pull through, with only millions of deaths.  As Donovan says, “It’s time to ask yourself what you believe.”


Horror Deprivation

Is there such a thing as horror deprivation?  Life has been so busy that I haven’t been able to carve out the time to watch any horror movies for several weeks now.  That steady diet has given me blog topics and a strange kind of personal comfort in this all-too-scary world.  More than that, it is often a coping mechanism.  I sometimes think more people might read this blog if I “rebranded” it as horror-themed, but perhaps there’s a different way to go about it.  Some writers, with enough shares and likes, have their daily observations become part of the national wisdom.  The rest of us, it seems, are simply background noise.  I’ve also been told blogs are passè and that may be the case.  I have trouble keeping up.  I don’t even have time to watch horror!

As with most things in life, I keep a list of movies I need to see.  Like claws such a list continues to grow unless it’s trimmed once in a while.  A movie is a couple-hour commitment and when even weekends are programmed to the last minute it’s difficult to squeeze them in.  I always welcome the more pleasant weather of spring, but so does the yard.  I’ve always thought, like good haunted house owners, that I would let the yard go.  Here in town there are ordinances, though.  It doesn’t look tidy—right now dandelions exceed the tolerated grass length a mere day after mowing.  Like triffids they pop up and won’t go away.  I could be in, watching a movie.  My credibility’s on the line here!

The pandemic, from which horror movies will arise, led many people to having too much time.  Netflix soared.  For whatever reason, it had the opposite effect on me—is this a special effect?—I had even less time than before.  I had to cancel my Netflix account because I had no time to use it.  Horror is a coping technique.  Real horrors spill from the headlines daily.  Sometimes the antidote is in the poison itself.  The way to be less scared is to watch more horror.  We’re still in the pandemic and Putin decides to start a war.  Republicans confess that Trump tried to take over by force and then backtrack.  Global warming continues apace.  There comes a point when the only therapy is to watch something worse unfold, as long as it’s fiction.  It’s Saturday.  It’s raining.  What can one possibly do?


Free Research

I’ve lost track of how many times it’s happened, but it has been relatively few.  Someone I don’t know will approach me and ask me to post about something on my blog.  Sometimes they’ll even send me a book to highlight.  Perhaps not the most effective way to build a library, I’ll admit.  And some of the books haven’t been great.  I admire them nonetheless.  It takes great effort to write a book.  And not a small amount of faith, too.  Many books—perhaps most—never get published.  A great many are self-published.  (Those who work in publishing can be a stuck-up lot sometimes.)  Even those professionally published can use a push from time to time.  On this blog I’ve actively resisted the urge to make it about one thing.  Why?  Is life just one thing?

In a recent conversation I laid out for someone new what had been my research agenda as a young professor.  It had a direction still reflected in some of the categories you’ll find on the right column of this blog.  After writing on Asherah, I was going to give similar treatment to the other ancient goddesses attested at Ugarit.  This was perhaps ambitious for an academic waif at Nashotah House, but it was well underway.  My book on Shapshu was making good progress when the market (that dragon to every St. George) led friends to suggest turning biblical, which led to Weathering the Psalms.  A new research agenda—explore the weather terminology (the meteorotheology) of other biblical books—arose.  There were storms, after all, becalmed over lakes.  Horror entered in the jobless period and beyond.

And social justice.  I’m not a thrice-failed minister for nothing!  In fact, a recent freebie was a book on social justice.  I have a colleague as interested in monsters as me.  This particular scholar had decided to focus on the cause of the poor.  Even economists are starting to say the unequal distribution of wealth is hurting us.  While the rich fly to space on personally owned rockets, the rest of us have trouble filling up at the service station, even if we have jobs.  So it is that this blog is eclectic.  A friend told me early on that it would be more popular if I just stuck to one topic.  That’s probably true, but my mind can’t settle down like that.  And when people send me things to talk about, I’m happy to do so, if it fits somewhere in my mind.


Easter Weather

The weather doesn’t always cooperate for holidays.  Easter is, at heart, a celebration of spring—life after death.  Around here this holiday has been accompanied by fits and starts in warmer weather and instead of warmer it’s actually colder again.  Just a week ago there was snow in the air.  Life’s that way; you don’t always know what to expect.  I guess I’m still in hibernation mode.  No matter the season, there never seems to be enough time to sleep.  As a youth I always attended sunrise services on Easter.  These days I regularly rise before the sun, so as long as I’m capable it’s like every day is Easter.  But with work.  Even on what many recognize as Easter—which overlaps with Passover this year—the Orthodox feel we have it too early, what with the Julian calendar still being in effect.  It’s all a matter of how we look at time.

As much as I hate mowing, I admire the exuberance of grass.  It’s ready to welcome the longer days by stretching toward the sun.  Drinking in the plenteous rain.  The dandelions have already begun to spread, opening their yellow eyes to all and sundry passing insects.  Easter is a time to reflect on life returning after winter.  And I can’t help but think of those in the southern hemisphere for which Easter falls in the autumn.  The theology fails to match the seasons as life springs up just as winter is about to set in.  The Christian viewpoint is a northern one, keyed to our seasons.  The weather doesn’t always observe the prevailing theology.

Around here Good Friday was a fine, sunny day.  Like most of the fine, sunny days it was a work day.  Now it’s a chillier Easter, the Saturday between being a mix with some rain.  When I was young—eagerly awaking for sunrise services, which I often had a hand in designing—I marveled at how the weather often seemed to cooperate.  Now as I think back, I remember coming out of Good Friday services into the incongruous sunshine and finding many an Easter still bearing an unseasonal chill.  Weather is, of course, a local and global phenomenon.  One person’s chilly Easter is too hot for someone further away.  And for yet others the onset of autumn.  Globalism has taught us to look further, to think in terms of how others might be experiencing this world.  Easter seems an appropriate time to do just that.