Thursday, April 29, 2010

Shadow Biosphere

Bliss Imperfect sent me this article a few months back, thinking it would be fertile ground for fiction. In a nutshell: Mono Lake in California has built up over the millennia one of the highest natural concentrations of arsenic on Earth. Dr Wolfe-Simon believes that the microbes in the lake's mud may utilize this arsenic in it's own chemical make-up, rather than the chemically similar phosphorus that the rest of life on Earth uses. She is exploring, and a great quote is coming up, if these microbes' "biological make-up is so fundamentally different from that of any known life on Earth that it may provide proof of a shadow biosphere, a second genesis for life on this planet."

A shadow biosphere. Life springing up independently not once, but twice on Earth. Perhaps more than twice.

What brought this article to mind was one in yesterday's news, stating that water and organic compounds have been detected in asteroids, and likely supplied the early Earth, and every other large body in the solar system, with water and complex carbon molecules.

Life has been found in every conceivable niche on Earth, from underwater volcanic vents to Antarctic snowfields. Complex organic compounds have been found on asteroids, on comets, on the moons of Saturn.

We live in a prodigal universe. Endless summer.

Ripeness is all.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Mets won six of seven this last week.  Leaped from last place to second.  Lotsa luck involved in the streak, but a win is a win.

La petite huque, the little clowncars and I planted tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeno and Anaheim peppers, strawberries, carrots.  Some drought resistant grasses (stil haven't pulled the trigger on the buffalo grass).   Framed two small gardens for the girls to call their own.  They found worms while digging, and after screaming (less out of fear than the delight of screaming) put them in jars of dirt and declared them to be pets.  One is named "Wormo."  One is named "the Mets."

A new flash fiction is below. Well, mostly fiction.


He is in a McDonald’s with the twins and their brother. Sadie wants a Happy Meal with Chicken McNuggets, Madison wants two cheeseburgers and fries, and he is unable to learn what Jaden wants as Jaden is happily engaged at the condiments counter, filling an endless series of small plastic cups with ketchup from the dispenser. He is sure Jaden has ketchup on his hands, his clothes, the counter, the floor. He is too tired to look, too fearful at the unholy red mess he is certain to find.

Long minutes later, when the food is finally delivered, the kids all trudge to the white plastic table with little hands full of napkins and ketchup cups and little paper salt packets and greasy bags of food. He tags along irritably behind them, as if herding sheep, keeping them in line, on task.

He does not often let them eat at McDonald’s but they have eaten there seven or eight times this last month, too busy to cook after the visits to the hospital, the homes of various relatives, the funeral parlor.

He would like to compose some snarky irony comparing the sterility of the McDonald’s to the antiseptic nature of hospitals but cannot, it does not ring true, the McDonald’s is not sterile in the least, there are splotches of ketchup on the floor, grains of salt scattered on the tables, crushed French fries at their feet.

It is messy.

Life is messy. An unholy red mess.

To be honest, the hospital wasn’t all that antiseptic either.

The house is a pigsty. Clothes, dishes, newspapers, mail. There is so much cleaning up to do. More than anything else he wants to mourn the way people on television mourn, staring into a serene sunset, walking on a beach as waves crash and gulls coo, but Jaden is putting French fries up his nose, desperate for approving laughter, Madison needs to go to the bathroom, right now, and poor Sadie looks on the verge of tears. He needs time, needs silence and solitude, but the situation immediately at hand does not allow it, things will not fall into place, this untidy business of life just goes on and on and on.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Community, part 3

This is a comment by Land of Shimp, left on a post of mine last week about drive-ins.  Such a wonderful, self contained narrative, and such a startling final image, I just had to post it.  Thanks, Shimp.  Now it's a memory of mine.

My grandmother, long gone now, told me a story about the first drive-in she ever went to, many years previously, in the forties. She and my grandfather were in Oklahoma, as my grandfather was covering another teacher's year long leave.

There had been a terrible drought in the area, and the entire community feared for the growing season. A new drive-in opened in town, and as happens with new attractions, just about everyone for miles showed up, ready for the feature when...and you knew this was began to bucket down rain.

Everyone got out of their cars, and danced around in the rain, cheering, clapping as Joan Crawford towered overhead.

That was long before I was born, and I never even met my grandfather, but it's the strangest thing, that's my most powerful memory of a drive-in. One I wasn't even witness to.

Community reaching across time, eh? I can see it in my mind, Crawford's rather severe face, obscured by long prayed for rain.
Crawford's stern face hanging in the air like a disapproving God, as the community celebrates below.  Lovely.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dance of Ghosts

This is not a visible light image, thus the ghostly aspect.  It is an X-ray portrait (I love the 50s sci-fi sound of the term "X-ray") of the center of the Abell 400 galaxy cluster, a dance of high energy particles as two massive black holes orbit each other.  These black holes  - the two bright dots at the center - are gravitationally bound and will one day collide, in a burst of gravitational waves and cosmic waves that will be seen and felt quite literally across the universe.

The plumes shooting along the diagonal of the image are jets of super-charged particles shooting out from the poles of the things.  The swept back appearance of the jets is due to both black holes rushing through a cloud of hot gas at 1200 kilometers per second.  Think of a smoker exhaling smoke out of the open window of a speeding car.

The Chandra X-Ray Observatory took the picture.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Free Show

Glorious crescent moon, Venus, Mercury grouping in the sky tonight.  Right after sunset.  

As a bonus, Gordo sez the possibility of aurora borealis is high tonight, due to a giant solar promenance.  So turn off your TV and step outside.

Community, part two

My Dad and I made our annual trek up to Denver to watch the Mets play the Rockies yesterday.  Good game.  Extra innings.  The wrong team won, but baseball is not always about winning.  It's about the slow and steady cadence of the game, balls and strikes and outs and innings.  The cycling through of the batting orders, one through nine and back again.  It's about discussing the game with the people around you, regardless of what jersey they are wearing.  It's about the almost mystical recurrence of the number three, and multiples of three, throughout the game.  And the gravity and mystique given to other numbers, made famous by uniforms and record books and decades of fans: 7, 42, 61, 511.  60 feet, 6 inches.

And I'm pretty sure baseball is the only sport where everyone stands up and sings together in the middle of the game.  Sure, most sporting events begin with everyone taking off their hats and being led through the national anthem.  But few sing.  Almost everyone sings Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  And there's no leader.  We do it ourselves.    

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


The lil hucky and I, deciding it is obscene to waste precious water on a regular lawn out here in the high desert, decided to plow under the back yard and plant drought-resistant buffalo grass.  To that end I rented a roto-tiller and went at it.  Tiring, bone-shaking work, but fun.  The most interesting bit was ripping out the extensive root system under the soil and discovering all manner of weird looking roots.  The predatory, weed-like paradise trees trees in our area form these bulbous, misshapen nodes for new trees to grow out of.  So alien looking, but those curving, fractal lines kept reminding me of fetuses, all day long.  Odd image, I know.  In a sense, though, I guess they are fetuses.  For baby trees.  

Afterward we went to the drive in.  Longtime readers of these posts know of my abiding love for drive in movies.  Packed up the kids and the lawn chairs and the twizzlers and the sleeping bags and showed up before the gates were even open.  Played catch til the movie started.  We saw Alice In Wonderland (better than I expected, but still way too much emphasis on art direction, not enough attention on story and character and narrative coherence).  The movie is secondary.  The trippy experience of being able to watch a movie in a lawn chair with stars and clouds overhead is the thing.   The community of it all: teenagers flirting and necking, people walking back and forth from the concession stand with corn dogs and popcorn, whole families spilling out of the backs of vans and pick-ups.  People talk.  Babies cry.
The best part was that the car next to us was a gaggle of four sisters, aged 8 to 12.  They set blankets on the ground next to the car to watch the movie together.  Our eldest, who does not make friends easily, joined them, snuggling with them under the blanket as the night got colder.  Not only did she make friends, she got to hang out with Big Girls!  She came back to the car beaming.

That kind of thing doesn't happen in a regular theater, sitting in the dark and silence.

It certainly doesn't happen when you rent a movie to watch at home, doors and windows closed to your neighbors, the magic of the night sky unseen and forgotten.

It happens at the drive in.     

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Got a story published, Grace, in Tomlit this week.  It's here.  Proud of this one.

And while I'm sharing writing, this is from the novel.  Toward the end.

            Hey, Bug, she said.
            Hey, he whispered back, motionless.
            It’s Auntie.
            I know.
            Silence wrapped itself around them, not uncomfortably.  She looked out the window.  Warm, early afternoon light streamed through the glass.  She sat down on a chair next to the bed.
            I’m sorry, she said.
            I know.  Then, did she die?
            Yes.  Has no one told you?
            They say she’s gone.  They say she’s passed.  They don’t say die.
            Well, honey.  Yes.  She died.  I’m sorry.
            When they say she’s gone, I think maybe she went to the store.  Went to get food or something.  They don’t say die.
            I know.
            Why don’t they say die?
            They don’t want to upset you.
            He moved for the first time, turning his head to look at her.  But she died, right?
            She died, honey.
            I don’t know.  She slipped, I think.  She was trying to protect you, I think, and she slipped into the water.               
Is she going to be in the ground?  Are they going to bury her?
Yes, she said.  She took her time with what she said next, knowing the boy would spend hours visualizing it, agonizing over it.  There is going to be a funeral, she said.  They are going to put her in a casket.
Like a box?
No, not really.  It will have very soft fabric in it.  Like pillows.  And it will be very pretty fabric.  Like a bed.  Like a newly made bed.  And they will lay her down on it.  Soft and pretty.  And they’ll put her in a room, and people will go up to her, to look at her one last time.  You can, if you want to.  You don’t have to.  But you might want to.  You might want to see her one more time.
She’ll be dead.
Yes.  But you might want to see her.  One more time.
Yes, he said.
One more time.
They’ll say very nice things about her.  The preacher will, other people will.  I will.  I promise I will.
And then.  Then they’ll take the box outside.  To the graveyard.  They’ll carry it out to a gravestone.  Very pretty.  Made out of stone.  So it’ll last.  And they’ll lower her down.
With ropes?
Yes, I think so.  With ropes.  And they’ll cover her with earth.  With soil.  She couldn’t bring herself to say the word dirt.  She wasn’t sure why.
He asked, will it be dark down there?  In the soil?
Will she be cold?
No, honey.  She won’t be cold.  She’s past being cold, ever again.
Will she be bored?
No, honey.
Will she miss me?
Will she still love me?
Of course, honey.  Yes.  Always yes. 
He turned, looked up at the ceiling again.  His voice dropped lower, nearly monotonous.  Is she going to heaven?
She didn’t want to lie to him.  She was there to comfort, but she was unwilling to lie.  She told the best truth she knew, as simply as she could.
I hope so, honey.  I don’t know these things.  I don’t know anything anymore.
I hope so too, he said, after a time.
She cleared her throat.  She said, I’m afraid I wasn’t always very nice to your mother.  I’m sorry for that.
It’s okay.  He looked at her again.  He said, do you remember that time we prayed together?   All of us, on the floor?
Why did we do that?
To feel safe, she said.  To talk to God.  To ask for help.  But mostly to feel safe.  Close together, holding hands.  Family.  Blood.  I was hoping it would make your Mom feel safe.  Make you feel safe.  Did you?  Did you feel safe?
I don’t feel safe now.
I know, sweetie.  Me neither.  It’ll get better.  One day, it will.  You’ll see.
She stood from her chair, kissed him on the forehead, ran her hand along his cheek.  She lay down next to him, inches away, but not touching.  They lay like that, side by side, on top of the covers, as the last of the light faded from the windows, as the stars appeared and traced a lazy circle in the sky outside the walls of the room.  The darkened room filled with the rhythm of their breathing, the quiet pulse of their hearts.  After a time the boy fell asleep.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Every Changing Shape

No one knows if there is life on Mars, but the planet itself sure behaves like a living thing, displaying a startling variety of faces.  Puts me in mind of that wonderful TS Eliot line: "I must borrow every changing shape to find expression."

Maybe we need to broaden our definition of life.

This first one, reminiscent of zebra stripes, of tattoos, is from the sand dunes in the middle latitudes.

This one is from one of the poles, right after an avalanche, which evidently accounts for the variations in color.  Looks less like a landscape than a painting of a landscape.  Feels like you could dive right in to those deep blues. 

Got these at either Space Gizmo or Bad Astronomy, don't remember which; they've been in my pocket awhile.  Ultimately, of course, they are from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.