Friday, April 22, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Your Inner Fish

I love evolution. The concept elegantly explains a wide range of old observations even as new discoveries keep turning up that confirm it.

Not surprisingly, I also love books that do a good job of explaining evolution.

One of the best that I've read in recent years is Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin. It's a work by a leading scientist that's both very informative and very entertaining.

Shubin was one of the discoverers of Tiktaalik, a now-extinct fish with elementary limbs, fingers, and lungs. Shubin describes how its fossilized remains were found exactly where they should be if the theory of evolution is true - in sedimentary rock approximately 375 million years old. It's quite the story - one that merits MUCH more attention than it's received - but is responsible for no more than half of the book's appeal.

The other half rests on Shubin's somewhat detailed examination of the human body in light of his expertise in the anatomy of other species and earlier life forms. That examination quite clearly reveals us humans to be Rube Goldberg-like devices that natural forces have assembled out of highly imperfect, pre-existing elements.

In other words, it's exactly the sort of book that the nose of every creationist ought to be rubbed in.

The specific pleasures of this book for those already blessed with a scientific mindset are too numerous to list. Among my personal favorites were these:

----- All animals with limbs (or even pseudo-limbs, such as those found in Tiktaalik) exhibit the same pattern of big bone-two bones-many blobs-fingers/toes. Both our arms and legs have this pattern, but so do the appendages of bats, birds, lizards, whales, and dinosaurs. Perfect design by a common divine creator clearly had nothing to do with it (though Shubin never feels the need to make this point explicit) - descent from a common ancestor did.

----- The mechanisms that bind our cells together can be found at work in sponges and other primitive creatures. About 100 years ago H.V.P. Wilson performed a fascinating experiment in which he ran a sponge through a sieve, then watched as the disconnected cells came back together to form a new sponge. The mechanisms responsible for that aren't under the direction of angels but are quite natural and continue to work within all of us (albeit in somewhat different ways).

----- Why did cells come together in the first place? Experiments by Martin Boraas and others seem to provide one possible answer. They took a single-cell alga and watched it for over a thousand generations. Then they exposed it to a single-cell predator. The alga responded by clumping together - first in groups of hundreds of cells, than in groups as small as 8 (apparently the optimal size to avoid being eaten). Once the predator was removed, the alga continued to reproduce and form communities of 8 cells. Under the pressure of environmental conditions, a single cell organism had turned into a multi-cellular one. Again, no angels required.

----- Detailed analysis of DNA in recent years has repeatedly confirmed and extended the theories of evolutionists. And - according to Shubin - it's surprisingly easy to extract DNA in your own kitchen! Just take once-living tissue from peas or chicken (or apparently almost anything else), add salt and water, mix it all up in a blender to break the tissue down, add some dish soap to break down cell membranes, add some meat tenderizer to break down proteins, then add rubbing alcohol. The alcohol will float on top and attract DNA to it. You'll find it towards the top in the form of goopy white balls. (Shubin doesn't say whether it's best served with white or red wine, however.)

In addition to those stories the book passes along many delicious factoids as Shubin discusses the many often surprising links between our bodies and those of other, older species.

Among my favorite:

----- Only mammals have pinnas (i.e., external ear flaps).

----- Humans have been losing their sense of smell while expanding their sense of sight for a long time. About 3% of the human genome is devoted to smell. Dolphins and whales can't smell at all. Lampreys and hagfish have only one nostril. Pigeons, ducks, geese, and turkey vultures have a much better sense of smell than robins, sparrows, and cardinals. The US perfume industry took in $25 billion in 2005.

----- Many mammals experience hiccups. If yours don't stop after the first 5-10 spasms, they'll probably persist for an average of 60. The longest bout recorded in a human being lasted almost 70 years (1922-1990). Why do we experience them at all? Apparently you can blame tadpoles. They use both lungs and gills to breathe and the transition from one to the other requires a form of hiccup to be successful.

There are a lot of other fascinating facts and stories packed into this book of just over 200 pages. If you read it for yourself (and I hope you do), please come back here and tell me what some of YOUR favorites might have been.

(And if it leaves you in the mood to learn even more about our many links with earlier creatures, be sure to check out Elaine Morgan's eye-opening The Scars of Evolution: What Our Bodies Tell Us About Human Origins.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

How To Scare Your Momma

Step 1: Acquire a fan exactly like this one -

Step 2: Place fan on kitchen floor.
Step 3: Turn fan on high.
Step 4: Sit down beside fan.
Step 5: Wait for your momma to come and stand next to the fan with her back to it.
Step 6: Plunge stick deeply into wide gap at top of fan grill.
Step 7: Watch your momma jump and scream.
Step 8: Repeat as necessary.

(NOTE: I actually used a long feather instead of a stick. It made a surprising amount of noise after being ripped from my hands and getting caught in the fan blades, but I'm betting that a stick would make even more. The long handle of a pinwheel might work, too. Or a plastic fork. Feel free to use your imagination! Then come back and report the results here if you survive.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

This Week In Spring

Tulip Porn

First Frog

First Turtle

More Tulip Porn

First Red-Winged Blackbird

Claiming His Home

On A Mission

Pear Trees At Their Peak

Woodsy Sunset

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

More Things In My Yard

Back Yard Myrtle

Back Yard Grape Hyacinth

Side Yard Music CD

I can remember planting the myrtle and the grape hyacinth.

I can only guess where the CD may have come from. I've never had one pop up in my yard before.

Turns out it has 20 songs on it. A few don't sound too bad. Most would probably sound better to me if I were a horny young thug killing time until my next drug deal.

How many do you recognize?

1) I Don't Care (Apocalyptica)
2) Love Hurts (Incubus)
3) Breakdown (Seether)
4) Fuck It (Seether)
5) Calling (Taproot)
6) Figured You Out (Nickelback)
7) Fine Again (Seether)
8) Falling (Staind)
9) King Of All Excuses (Staind)
10) Control (Puddle Of Mudd)
11) Megalomaniac (Incubus)
12) She Fucking Hates Me (Puddle Of Mudd)
13) Everything (Buckcherry)
14) Crazy Bitch (Buckcherry)
15) I Love The Cocaine (Buckcherry)
16) Addicted (Saving Abel)
17) Goodbye, So Long (Saving Abel)
18) Psycho (Puddle Of Mudd)
19) Schizophrenic Conversations (Staind)
20) Fake It (Seether)

Which song do you think most likely was playing when the passenger in the car reached over, hit eject, and tossed this CD out the window?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There

In addition to the dark and the open-to-the-weather back porch and the lurking spiders there was something else that made me reluctant to seek refuge in our basement during the Palm Sunday tornadoes of 1965 that I wrote about in my last entry.

There was The Telephone Man.

I never saw The Telephone Man, but I heard about him.

He came to visit one day while I was sitting on the living room floor of the adjacent apartment. Helen B. (of Moose Lodge fame) was renting the place and occasionally tending me at the time.

It happened on a sunny afternoon - maybe just a few weeks before the Palm Sunday storm.

Helen B. had disappeared into the back part of the rather long apartment.

Suddenly - and rather frantically - she began calling my name.

It was a difficult thing to process. I knew where I was - and I assumed she did, too - so it wasn't as if I was lost and needed to be found. And whatever I was playing with I'd played with before, so it wasn't as if I was in trouble for doing something I shouldn't have been doing. And I wasn't trying to hide anything I'd done in the past, so it wasn't as if she'd just discovered a prior misdeed and was calling me for punishment.

But she wasn't calling me in the sort of tone of voice that I associated with fun and cookies, either.

Not sure what was going on, I decided to just continue sitting there playing and hope for the best.

She didn't seem very happy with me when she finally reappeared after several minutes of silence.

"There you are! Didn't you hear me? Why didn't you come?!"

I don't think I said much. Maybe I shrugged. I'm pretty sure I looked away from her, unsure of myself and more than a little embarrassed. If Helen B. were still alive today, maybe I'd email her and explain that there had been something strange in her tone - something that hinted at trouble. Continuing to sit and play seemed far preferable to me than getting up and getting involved with that.

I heard her side of the story later - probably when she was sharing it with my mother later that day.

Apparently Helen B. had opened up her back door to the back hallway that our two apartments shared and then gone out to the back porch for some reason - maybe to take her trash out.

A man was there. He shouldn't have been. The locked exterior door at the bottom of the back stairwell should have kept him out. I never found out why it didn't.

He said he was from the telephone company. Checking the lines, I think he was said to have said.

Helen B. wasn't buying it. Frightened by his lame story and suspicious manner, she began calling my name....

I'm not exactly sure what happened during the next few critical moments. I think Helen B. managed to get back into the hallway and lock the door to the porch behind her while the guy just stood there, unsure of how to proceed.

Once she had finished scolding me for not coming to her when I'd been called, she either phoned or went downstairs to the hardware store owned by our landlord and told him what had just transpired. He immediately went out back and searched for the alleged telephone man, to no avail.

A call to the phone company revealed that no workers had been dispatched to our area.

The guy had obviously been an impostor up to no good.

It was unsettling to think of the privacy of our back porch being violated in this way - of our lower back door's lock not being as secure as we had thought it was.

Just inside and to the left of that back door were the steps down to our basement. Anyone who got past that door and its lock could just as easily go down as up.

Although it's doubtful that fake telephone men would be hiding out in that basement during a tornado warning on a dark Palm Sunday night, it was obviously possible - and that possibility was one more factor that kept my sister and I from taking shelter down there when we should have.

As unsettling as all that is, however, it is more unsettling to ponder how different things might have turned out had I actually gone to Helen B. when she called me.

By not going to her, the fake phone guy was left to imagine who I might be. Maybe I was a husband. Maybe I was a huge football player boyfriend. Maybe I was a wacko gun collector.

Had I actually appeared as what I was - a very young and confused child - maybe he would have laughed with relief and killed us both.

All I know for sure is that *not* going back there when I was called ended up working out pretty well for us.

In fact, it's hard to imagine a better outcome.

Had I not been there at all, however, it's easy to imagine a far worse one....

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Scariest Night Of My Life

Do you remember the scariest night of your life?

Mine came 46 years ago this evening.

Maybe that's when yours came, too.

I bet it did for quite a few Americans who were alive back then.

It was, after all, the day that came to be known as the Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak.

Wikipedia sums things up this way:

The second Palm Sunday tornado outbreak occurred on April 11, 1965 and involved 47 tornadoes (15 significant, 17 violent, 21 killers) hitting the Midwest. It was the second biggest outbreak on record. In the Midwest, 271 people were killed and 1,500 injured (1,200 in Indiana). It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in Indiana history with 137 people killed. The outbreak also made that week the second most active week in history with 51 significant and 21 violent tornadoes....

The tornadoes occurred in a 450 miles (720 km) swath west-to-east from Clinton County, Iowa, to Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and a 200 miles (320 km) swath north-to-south from Kent County, Michigan, to Montgomery County, Indiana. The outbreak lasted 11 hours and is among the most intense outbreaks — in terms of number, strength, width, path, and length of tornadoes — ever recorded, including 4 "double/twin funnel" tornadoes.

This is the third deadliest day for tornadoes on record, trailing the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974, which killed 315, and the outbreak that included the Tri-State Tornado which killed 747. It occurred on Palm Sunday, an important day in the Christian religion, and many people were attending services at church, one possible reason why some warnings were not received. There had been a short winter that year, and as the day progressed, the temperature rose to 83 °F (28 °C) in some areas of Midwestern United States....

About 10 of those 47 tornadoes tore through Ohio.

One of them - an F4 with double funnels - came close to wiping out virtually everything of importance in my life - including me.

It remains the worst natural disaster in Toledo history.

I can't recall anything of the daylight hours. If we had record warm temperatures they weren't warm enough to leave any imprint on my memory.

The terrific winds and thunder and rain that started after dark and rattled the second floor apartment I was living in a few feet beneath a flat roof proved to be unforgettable, however.

I was home alone with my 15-year-old sister at the time. We were watching our Admiral TV in the living room, listening to the weather bulletins and the repeated order to take immediate cover in a basement when the worst of the storm hit about 9:30pm.

The prospect of going to the basement terrified me. It was dark down there. It harbored all kinds of spiders and other bugs - at least in my imagination. We would have to cross the open back porch to get to the stairwell that went down to it. As unappetizing as all that was, though, I thought it a better bet than continuing to be a sitting duck for everything the sky was throwing our way.

My sister disagreed. She refused to go down. So of course I didn't go, either.

It was a decision that could have easily cost us of lives.

I pointed this out to my sister recently. She told me that all she really remembers is the TV suddenly going out even though our power stayed on. I don't recall the TV doing anything strange at all. Which I guess just goes to show yet again how different the same event can be perceived by two closely-related people in the same room....

Somehow we survived.

Eventually, my mother made her way home. She'd been out with Bob the Marine - "at some bar" she later told me, though it's hard for me to wrap my mind around her being out at a bar at all. It wasn't the sort of thing I can recall her ever doing, let alone on a Sunday night.

Much more in character was her utter cluelessness. "We knew it was storming out, but we didn't have any idea how bad it was."

To be fair, a lot of people didn't realize how bad things had been until the next day's newspaper gave us pages and pages of details.

I still have our copy of that newspaper. It was the first in a long series that I decided was worth keeping - maybe because I wanted proof that such a terrible thing had actually happened and wasn't simply a nightmare, maybe because I hoped someday to revisit the details and finally understand how and why the world can turn into a terrible place with very little warning.

That newspaper included a sketchy little map showing the path the tornado had taken.

In an attempt to better comprehend that night, I recently used that sketch and a current online map to create the following graphic:

The white X shows were the tornado touched down and the dotted line shows the path it took to the northeast before disappearing over Lake Erie.

The first red circle shows the approximate location of the drive-in where I saw Cleopatra less than a year earlier.

The second red circle shows where my Aunt Rita and Uncle Bob lived along with their 6 kids.

The third red circle shows where I lived.

The fourth red circle shows where my maternal grandparents lived.

The tornado seems to have missed me by less than two miles. That's less than I thought before I made this graphic - and it seems like even less when I realize that the tornado was on the ground for maybe eight miles.

Had a butterfly batted its wings one extra time earlier in the year, I might not be here today....

I suppose I realized how fragile life was before April 11, 1965, but afterwards there have been very few days when I've managed to forget just how fragile it really is.

For at least a decade after this storm hit I dreaded spring. Every thunderstorm seemed like a potential assassin. Every new tornado watch that was issued seemed like a possible death sentence. Every new tornado warning (and we seem to have had at least one a year) felt like an inescapable return to the worst night of my life....

I eventually outgrew my fear of storms (I guess one can only get worked up over such things so many times without being harmed before one starts to get complacent, if not jaded) but I've never been able to begin to understand those people who continue to insist that this world must have had an intelligent designer. I just can't comprehend how they reconcile that claim with swirling black death coming down out of the night sky without any rhyme or reason beyond that which secular meteorologists can provide us with.

And of course swirling black death coming out of the night sky is merely one form of cruelty an unconscious and amoral nature is capable of inflicting upon us with little if any warning. The newspapers and other news media continue to present us with many other examples of even worse disasters on an almost daily basis.

What they rarely mention, however, is the long-term psychological impact even a brief brush with a relatively minor disaster can have on the human mind....

Perfectly designed world? HA! Even a run-of-the-mill 6-year-old could have offered the alleged designer a long list of suggestions, any one of which would have made things immeasurably better.

A ban on tornadoes is one of the simplest that comes to mind....

Friday, April 8, 2011

Things In My Yard

Front Yard Hyacinth

Back Yard Forsythia

Side Yard Litter

The first two things I've seen many times before but that third thing is unique and leaves me more than a bit perplexed.

Apparently someone stopped at a drug store at 3 AM Wednesday morning and paid over $850 in cash for two money orders.

About 36 hours later the receipt for this transaction had somehow found its way into the leaves I was raking away from the north side of my house.

The drug store is more than 10 miles away.

Why couldn't the wind have blown some of that cash my way instead?

*Going out to check my yard one more time just in case I missed something....*

Thursday, April 7, 2011

11 Things I Didn't Know A Month Ago

----- The National Weather Bureau didn't issue tornado warnings before 1950. (The Powers That Be thought that issuing warnings would induce panic.)

----- "OMG" can be traced back to a letter written by a British admiral in 1917.

----- Some 240 million 911 calls are made in the US every year.

----- William Hazlitt boasted that he never changed an opinion after he reached the ripe old age of 16.

----- Germans perfected the glass eye in about 1835.

----- Virtually all of our nerves are present in sharks. (The muscles and cranial nerves that we use to talk and swallow are used by sharks and fish to move their gills.)

----- 4.7% of Americans surveyed say that they've fallen asleep at least once while driving during the previous 30 days.

----- 122 dogs died while being transported by US airlines during a recent 5-year period (2005-2010); 31 were bulldogs. (Apparently their short muzzles make it harder for them to breathe.)

----- More than half of the people in the Middle East live in countries that do not produce oil.

----- The majority of snake bites occur in drunk males in their 20s.

----- Hitler was officially declared dead on Oct 25, 1956.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My First Mind Fuck

A few days ago I posted an entry in which I mentioned some of the silliest things I heard when I was a child.

Among the things I mentioned was my mother's "Is it just me or is the lightning getting lower every year?"

I suppose I felt a second or two of fear as I pondered the possibility that lightning WAS getting lower every year, but a bit of reflection made me realize that it was far more likely that my mother was nuts. That created its own fears, of course, but at least I could see her coming and take evasive action in ways that lightning didn't always allow me to.

Still, her comments about lightning intrigued me in the same way that many episodes of "The Twilight Zone" intrigued me.

One day, while talking with a neighborhood boy at the corner of Central and Fulton, I made a split second decision to see if the idea would intrigue him, too.

Which is to say that I decided to share the tiny bit of fear my mother had generated in me, blow on it a bit, and see if I could start a raging inferno.

"So, have you heard the news?" I began.

The boy - a bit younger than I was - stared at me. I had his full attention. Quite a surprise for me - and too bad for him.

"My mom says that the lightning is getting lower every year," I continued. "The heat lightning, I mean. Right now it's just flashing from cloud to cloud, but every year it's flashing lower. In five years or so, it's gonna reach ground level and we're all gonna be fried!"

The poor kid turned white.

I watched in amazement as he ran off down the street.


Who knew that a few silly words had such power?

I have no idea now who this kid may have been - I don't think I'd ever seen him before, and I have no clear idea now why I might have been on the other side of busy Central Avenue at the corner of Fulton - but he seems to have been something of a miniature Mickey Mantle. White. Male. Short blond hair. Trusting. Clueless. The 1965 edition of Compton's Encyclopedia that I recently inherited is full of 'em.

I felt kinda bad about scaring him shitless. But not as bad as I might have. I just couldn't believe that words had the power to do any real damage - certainly not any words uttered by me. If they'd struck a nerve regardless, well, that seemed to reveal a flaw in the nerve more than anything.

As luck would have it, I saw the boy again, either that same day or a day or two later. Same place. Same nice weather (which made talk of lightning seem much less real than it had when my mother had first raised the subject as flashes swept through the sky to our north). Same clothes.

As I stood calmly beneath the gently rustling leaves of the beautifully green trees, I heard his voice and turned.

"HEY!" he screamed, running towards me. The figure that had grown smaller as it had so recently retreated into the distance was now suddenly growing ominously larger as it neared.

In a matter of seconds a red, frowning face was right in front of me.

"You know what you told me about the lightning? Well, my mother says you're full of shit! The lightning isn't getting any lower! The lightning is the way it's always been!"

He was hot, sweaty, angry. Had I been his age or younger, I suppose he would have risked hitting me. Instead, he just stood there, staring at me, waiting to see if I'd apologize.

I suppose I could have apologized. I suppose I could have passed it all off as a joke.

Instead, I calmly stared off into the distance and waited a few moments before sadly looking him in the eyes and confidentially telling him almost in a whisper, "Well, I suppose that's exactly what your mother *would* say. We're just little kids. The adults all know what's going to happen, but... would YOU want to ruin the last few years of your kid's life on earth by telling him the awful thing that's coming? A thing nobody can do anything to stop?"

I think he turned even whiter than before as his eyes grew wide and he went running off back home twice as fast....

Part of me hated myself for saying these things even as I was saying them.

But I think a bigger part hated the kid for being so stupid and gullible.

The main thing I felt, though, seems to have been surprise.

Surprise over the fact that a few silly words could have such a profound impact on another human being.

Surprise that I could utter such silly words knowing full well that they were silly but others might not be able to see through my act.

Whatever pride I might have taken in my performance seems to have been rather quickly overshadowed by the broader implications.

Clearly I lived in a world in which words and truth had no necessary connection with one another.

Clearly I lived in a world in which it was hard to tell sincere insanity from insincere manipulation - and hard to tell both from honest mistakes and the honest truth.

It's a lesson I've learned again and again over the years as I've listened to countless preachers and politicians and commercials.

It seems that lightning of one sort or another is *always* getting lower every year and on the verge of destroying us.

And that many of the people knowingly making these false claims and spreading these wild fears feel less guilt about what they're doing than some young children do.

And that a significant proportion of the population will fall for these false claims again and again no matter how many times they've been revealed to be false in the past.


It seems we all get older but relatively few of us are capable of really growing up....

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Four Moments In Time

5:06:42 PM - Jan 2, 2011

5:35:56 PM - Feb 2, 2011

6:07:36 PM - March 2, 2011

7:42:50 PM - April 2, 2011

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Silliest Things

Bob the Marine's instructions for how to make a jigsaw puzzle ("Start at the upper left hand corner and work your way straight across, then go down to the next row and work your way straight across, and so on until you're done") struck me as being pretty silly even as the words were leaving his mouth.

Were they the silliest words I heard as a child? Probably not.

Some of the silliest things seem to have been taken all too seriously, however.

Perhaps the earliest such thing I can recall came out of the mouth of Mrs. Seymour, the elderly neighbor lady who often looked after me when no one else could be conned into it. I'm not sure how the subject came up - maybe because of something on TV - but one afternoon she told me that it was so cold where Eskimos lived, they never took their clothes off. In fact, she went on to assure me, they sewed their clothes right to their skin. Maybe she was trying to be funny, but... I don't think so. She was one of the dourest people I've ever known - someone I can't recall ever smiling. Jokes and teasing seem to have been beyond her. Maybe I misunderstood her, though - maybe she actually said something like "Eskimos make their clothes by sewing together animal skins," but... that would have left me feeling sad about the poor animals. So maybe she actually said "Eskimos make their clothes by sewing skins together." But that doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the conversation (which seems to have been heavy with anti-Eskimo prejudice). And it doesn't fit with my memories of immediately cross-examining her and her adamant restatement of her claim. That claim seems pretty silly in retrospect - but for years after I first heard it, I winced whenever I heard the word "Eskimo" and thoughts of needle-pierced skin flooded my mind....

I think it was just a year or two later that I and others first noticed that the left side of my chest was a bit larger than the right. Instead of asking a doctor for a professional medical evaluation, my mother and I went downstairs to the hardware store run by our landlord and asked him for his opinion. The guy could replace broken windows and clear clogged toilets, after all; certainly he would know what might ail a mere child. After consulting a dictionary and giving the matter much thought, he shared his learned conclusion: What I had was an ulcer. He suggested I drink more milk. When that had no discernible effect, I was left alone to worry about how long it might take my ulcer to kill me....

It fell to Helen B., the woman who replaced Mrs. Seymour as our neighbor in the adjoining apartment, to console me when I came down with the measles. "You know, if those little red bumps on your skin look like they've gone away but have actually just gone inside instead, they'll never come out again - you'll have the measles forever," she confided. "That's what happened to my niece. I think they call them 'inverted measles'...." Her hushed tone made it clear that this was NOT a very desirable outcome. I couldn't quite bring myself to ask what deserted island they'd had to ship her niece off to before she ended up infecting the entire world....

Helen B. seems to have been a fairly sharp person - much more so than Mrs. Seymour - but her measles story was just one of two that are now in the running for the title of The Silliest Thing I've Ever Heard. The other involves her terrible fear of electrical transformers - specifically, the step-down transformers that could be found on so many utility poles all over town. One of these transformers was clearly visible at the back of our lot whenever we sat on our back porch. I think that's where she and my mother and I were one evening when Helen B. first confided her fears. "I almost didn't take this apartment because of that thing," she said, motioning to the big black metal cylinder hovering ominously less than 100 feet away. "I had a friend who lived by one once. It caught fire and blew up. It's a wonder that my friend survived!" I swore to myself right then and there to keep an eye on those transformers for the rest of my life. And I vowed to start with the one right outside our kitchen window that Helen B. apparently knew nothing about....

Despite such stiff competition, I strongly suspect that it'll be something my mother said that'll end up winning the top prize. Not only does she have three things in contention but each of one of them seems to have been dipped in madness, then left to dry in the gentle breezes of peasant superstition.

My mother was never a fan of science in general or the space program in particular. As the excitement of the first moon landing approached, however, an ardent hostility emerged. Finally one day she exclaimed, "Those guys are gonna go fooling around with the moon and it's gonna fall on us!" It was a brief comment, but it left me speechless. I'm still not sure what the best response to it might have been.

On another day, when dark suspicions rather than frantic fears seem to have been dominating her thoughts, she asked me "Have you ever noticed how all those NASA and weather guys sound alike?" Her conspiratorial tone and meaningful glances led me to think that she might have concluded that they were all alien creatures merely pretending to be human. I'm not sure how old I may have been at the time but even then, with some 30 years less experience on this planet than she'd had, I knew that they all sounded alike for the same reason that everyone using an office intercom sounds alike. Since they were trained professionals with lots of knowledge and a firm control of their emotions, however, I can see why she might have easily mistook them for members of an entirely different species than the one she belonged to....

Last but not least, there was the evening we were sitting on the back porch watching heat lightning in the distance and she turned my way and said, "Is it just me or is the lightning getting lower every year?" "Ummmmm...." Once again, I wasn't quite sure how to respond. I tried to imagine the thoughts and fears swirling around in her head that might have led her to ask this. It was tough, but I guess she had heat lightning in mind rather than the sort of lightning that actually hits the ground (since it's hard to imagine any lightning getting any lower than that). And I guess the distant clouds we were watching at that moment seemed low, since they were so far away and apparently much closer to the ground of the horizon than the clouds overhead ever were. Even so... I wasn't quite sure where she was going with this. Did she think that skies full of heat lightning would continue to steadily drop over the course of the next few years until we were all incinerated? I didn't ask; she didn't say. Somehow the world has managed to survive innumerable thunderstorms down to today despite my inability to take her seriously and sound the alarm....

Friday, April 1, 2011

Two Unexpected Visitors

Neither stayed for very long.

Guess which one I hope comes back soon.

1" Snow (4:10:46 PM - March 30, 2011)

Eastern Bluebird (1:35:06 PM - April 1, 2011)

If memory serves correctly, that's only the third bluebird I've seen in my yard in the 10 years I've been here.

Despite this, my bird identification book insists on calling them fairly common.

I wonder if there's anything I can do to help increase their numbers until they're unfairly common....