Friday, May 30, 2008

Dry as a Bone

Mona, channeling Irrelephant, summons the poetic troops with the Friday word of the week: rain.

my dad and I are drinking beer
watching the storm clouds tumbling like clowns
over the sangre de cristos

between us and the mountain peaks
shimmers a thin blue quilt of rain
falling halfway down the sky and disappearing
in wisps as fragile as ghosts
above the bone white valley floor

it's called virga, he tells me
when the rain does that
evaporating on the way down
it never reaches the field

I say, too hot for rain these days
dry as dust, he agrees

the last few swallows of beer are warm
the glass already dry to the touch
the hot wind blows in our faces
the distant thunder rolls

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


The little Hux and I reread the case history for our adopted kids over the weekend. I won’t go into any details, other than to say that overall the history is less sordid than your average Lifetime movie, or any typical CNN-hyped neglectful parent morality tale. But it is a pretty disturbing document nonetheless.

It aligns well with the ideas floated often in this blog, of random objects colliding, thrown off track or into the sun by some large passing object, some previously unknown intruding force. It's cold out there. And dark. But the flip side of that idea speaks of objects falling improbably into stable orbits, forming binaries and triplets, rings and halos and clouds, arcs of bright ice stretching across the sky. It speaks of infinite possibility.

Yesterday I told the girls I’d pay them a penny for each dandelion they picked off our lawn, then watched them run across the grass, plucking at dandelions as if their spinning lives, our spinning world depended upon it. They presented their bowls of dandelions to me carefully, as if they were full of fissionable materials, Faberge eggs, blown glass. I counted out the dandelions, one by one, while they watched rapt (it says much about the state of our lawn that I shelled out over three dollars).

Then I counted my blessings.

Infinite possibility.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Beast! The Beast! The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms!

Impossible? Unbelievable? Fantastic? But I tell you it could could could happen....

Ray Harryhausen again. Everyone have a memorable Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

El Guapo

Sorry to fall off the Friday poetry train last week. I had a good excuse:

That's our sandcastle in the foreground, my kids off to the left of it. Those ethereal shapes in the distance are the Great Sand Dunes, and that very wide, very shallow expanse of water is Medano Creek. One of our favorite places ever. We go there every year. We even got married there. Walked out into the sand with a few friends (the illustrious Dancehall presided over the ceremony) and did the deed. I hear about folks who spent $20,000 on their weddings and laugh. Ours set us back a half a tank of gas.

This is a half-frozen waterfall - Zapata Falls. Neither the picture nor my words can do it justice. The waterfall itself is deep in the cleft of granite - the white thing that dominates the picture is a huge overhang of ice, forever in shadow and thus slow to melt. The noise from the falls was deafening. As I took this picture I had a kid balanced on top of my shoulders, and my feet were in ice-cold water (literally; it's run-off from the ice). The mist from the falls hung over us like...well, like mist. I can't come up with an adequate simile. I tried.

Magical place.

At night I told the kids stories about El Guapo, the giant lizard that hides in the dunes, and is responsible for the winds that blow across the rippled sand. Some may call this lying; I prefer to think of it as mythology. No doubt the girls will be telling their therapists all about it in 20 years or so, and coming to their own conclusions.

Came home to witness the Mets complete a two game sweep against those hated Yankees bastards. At Yankee Stadium, no less.

Life is good.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The YORP Effect

Since asteroids are basically just witless hunks of ice and rock, you'd think they'd live pretty boring, solitary lives. But you'd be wrong.

They pair up frequently, and become binary asteroids co-orbiting a central point. Sometimes they form threesomes. Woo-hoo! Sometimes they have tiny moons, tagging along after them. This picture is of Ida and Dactyl, an asteroid and its moon, but has always reminded me of a mother and child.

I love this picture. Dactyl is the little one.

Others hang around together in groups, often hitching rides in the LaGrangian points of planets (where the gravitational influences all balance out). i imagine them smoking cigarettes, whistling at girls, and trying to scrape up enough money for a six pack.

They also, improbably, begin to spin in the same direction, at the same speed, or specific resonances of that speed (it's called the YORP effect, named after the initials of the guys who figured it out). This has always struck me as particularly weird, that unrelated asteroids would mimic each other's orbital behavior. Apparently it has something to do with the pressure of sunlight on the surfaces of the asteroids, so that like sailboats on a lake, they'll all react similarly to the solar wind. But i like to think of it as a complex dance. It heartens me to realize that the universe rarely allows things to work alone as independent operators, whether those things be space rocks or ants or humans. I don't wanna say that randomness doesn't exist. Randomness is all. But from randomness spring unexpected patterns, complex structures, and hopelessly entangled relationships.

We are never, ever alone.

Even when we wanna be.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Day Late, a Dollar Short

The Friday Word, offered up by Gary, the anarcho-punk, post-modern potter and Mona's proxy this week, is "doggy."

I've got nothing original this time. Too busy shoveling garden soil all weekend (I shoveled 1.5 tons of soil twice, once into the wheelbarrow, then out again after I wheeled it into the backyard). On the plus side, our garden is a poem.

This is from the wildly prescient "Wag the Dog." I love this movie. It's not a war, it's a pageant!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A God of Ice and Rock

One of the cooler things about the Oort Cloud is that it may not even exist.

It is purely theoretical, and has never been directly observed. The reason for its theoretical existence is because it explains the behavior of comets. Comets seemingly come out of nowhere, and while most of the rest of the solar system stays within the plane of the solar system (except for that contrarian former planet Pluto and the odd asteroid here and there), comets come barreling in at all possible angles.

So there's that.

Also, if comets were simply orbiting elements of the solar system, zooming toward the sun every few hundred years or so, there wouldn't be any more comets. The solar system has been around a very long time, and comet orbits are by nature pretty unstable; after this long a time most comets should have collided with a planet or the sun, or been flung out of the solar system by gravity, or simply broken apart by close passes to the sun.

And the Oort Cloud explains that pretty well too.

Here's the theory: there is a great cloud of icy rocks surrounding the solar system in a sphere (as opposed to a disc), rocks left over from the birth of the solar system. The outer edge of the cloud is VERY far away, around a light year (the closest star, by comparison, is about 4 light years away). Since these iceballs are so far away, they are only tenuously connected by gravity to the sun, and thus are easily pulled out of orbit by passing stars, passing black holes, the plane of the galaxy, etc.. When something passes by, it affects the orbits of what it encounters. If that something is large enough, and passes close enough, everything in the Oort Cloud goes a little nutty. Orbits near the cosmic interloper change, and there is a cascade effect where objects with changed orbits change the orbits of other objects, which in turn affect other orbits, which in turn affect other orbits, on and on.

The result is the the solar system gets pelted with iceballs, like pellets shot out of a shotgun. Which helps explain all those craters on the various moons and planets out there. And helps explain as well why there is a mass extinction event here on Earth every several million years (tangentially related is the idea that every time we pass through the plane of the galaxy, roughly every 32 million years, the Oort Cloud gets jostled and everything dies; the fossil evidence bears this out).

It's also an explanation for those uncommonly beautiful objects occasionally gracing our skies, improbable tails arching across the sky like a bridge to a foreign land.

Comets might even explain the existence of life itself. They contain a lot of water, and are widely theorized to contain the amino acids responsible for life as well. So comets may have brought life came to Earth, and perhaps others places as well.

So. Let's recap. It might or might not exist. It had been around since the beginning of the world. It explains the physical world around us. It graces us with uncommon beauty. It is responsible for mass extinctions, and perhaps for the origin of life as well.

Might exist, might not. Timeless and beautiful. Responsible for the life and death of worlds.

Remind you of anyone?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Simile of the week

Slightly paraphrased, from Marisha Pessl's "Special Topics in Calamity Physics."

"Her perfume hung in the air like a battered pinata."

I just love that.

In other news, this can't be good.

The article states that "Britain's grey squirrel population is being overrun by mutant black squirrels say researchers from Cambridge. The mutants are more aggressive and highly territorial, but so far have not exhibited any special powers - such as the ability to walk through trees or teleport acorns. But the possibility that they are raising a clone army to wage war on the greys has not yet been completely ruled out."

And here I was, worrying about the economy.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Onion

Gotta love em.

Did Irrelepahnt's show yesterday. It was Big Fun. You should listen in. Or call in. Sundays at 5 MST. Just go to his blog (it's linked from my site) and look for the BlogTalkRadio thingie.

Friday, May 2, 2008


...will be on Irrelephant's radio show, Sunday, 5 p.m., MST. Listen to us and double the audience! writing this in response to Mona's word of the day, which is "I".

I...used to eat uncooked macaroni as a child. And loved it. Uncooked Minute Rice too.

I...used to have a pet squirrel monkey, ordered from the back pages of Boy's Life for $14.95. We had it for a summer, but it was too stinky and bit my sister and was clearly unhappy. So we gave it to a pet shop. We fed it junk food (M&Ms, Jello, popcicles) all day long, just to watch it eat. Which might have been why it was stinky and bitey and unhappy.

I...have met Richard Nixon (at an airport in Iowa), John Cusack (he bummed a cigarette from me and bought me a beer), either Penn or Teller (the big one that does all the talking; in an elevator), Joan Collins (in an elevator as well, and the scariest looking woman I've ever seen), and Mike Doughty (at a NY Press bash, and I mention it primarily because Mona has a big ol' crush on him).

I...have been in jail three times. First time in Des Moines when a couple friends and I climbed onto the roof of a bar we were all drinking at. Second time in New Orleans during Mardi Gras for throwing beads (yes, everyone does it, but it is apparently a misdemeanor, and they will put you in jail for it). Third time in Hemphill, Texas for "driving funny." Which is not a crime. But we all had long hair, which seems to be a crime in Hemphill, Texas. And, well, yeah, when they searched the car (illegally) they found a shotgun in the trunk that had been sawed off past legal limits. 3 or 4 Tums a day. Not because I have an upset stomach. But because I like the taste.

I...was almost kicked out of Disneyland as a pre-teen. My football team was there as a group, and we were on some jungle boat ride, and started splashing each other. Some guy in a captain suit gave us a stern talking to when we got off the ride.

I...almost never let my kids watch TV, but watch it myself almost every night after they go to bed. II do not feel guilty about this.

I...have dated three women in my life who were self-described witches. All were fairly nice. None of them turned me into a newt (though I did fear one might turn me into a cat).