Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Moonrise at the Kansas River

Looking west from bridge over the Kansas River

What is it about the full moon that draws us to its magic all the days of our lives? If you have seen one full moon you have seen them all - literally. Yet, every full moon appears as beautiful as if we have never experienced one before. The measure of scale afforded by the horizon at moonrise and moonset is my favorite. Why doesn't that illusion hold later, when the moon is overhead and seen through trees, close by buildings? It is only on the earth's horizons that the moon appears enormous. The moon seems ordinary when it is directly overhead in the night sky. I consider it is surrounded by physical infinity and I excuse it for appearing so small and far away. Everything dwarfs in comparison to infinity.

Our little planet has one moon. Jupiter's latest moon count is 79, as of July, 2018. Saturn has 62. Even the dwarf planet Pluto has five moons. Imagine if we could see dozens of moon in the sky. Imagine the myths.

Our moon is tidally locked, meaning it spins on its axis at the exact rate so that one side only ever faces the earth. Charon, the largest of the five moons, is also tidally locked with Pluto. I am sure there are natural laws governing such a thing as tidal lock but it seems like magic to me, magic that takes unimaginable time to happen.

We are tiny bits of carbon-based physical life spinning on a tiny planet with blue oceans in an endless universe where the burning stars are round, and the inert planets are round, and everything - the moons, planets, stars move in round orbits. Who designed the natural laws to make this so? What else is available if we had more senses to perceive? Quantum theory says there are 10 dimensions plus time. Some theories say 13. According to the first string theory, there are 25, and that number is the limit for the most creative minds at this time. Not bad considering we have 3 dimensional minds and have to simply make stuff up. What is the nature of consciousness that we (the royal "we") can actually imagine the possibility of 25 dimensions with our 3 dimensional brain  (4 if you include time)? That is genuine magic.

Looking east from bridge over Kansas River

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

You Are Never Too Old To Be Scared

A few years ago, my oldest and dearest friends came to stay overnight with me, four generations of women. They were on their way to visit schools offering basketball scholarships to the fourth generation young lady in that family. When bedtime came there was an inflatable mattress, a couch, and the bed on the back porch. The little basketball player was too afraid of the woods on the other side of the screens and the perceived isolation of my house. We all gently teased her, and I assured her that we were safer here than in the city. She was not buying it.  Some weeks later I told her grandmother, "Tell M. I would come to visit but I am too afraid to stay in town."

The first night my son and I spent here was uneasy. It was early spring and the prairie had not warmed up to make any noise. When we turned the lights out it was vastly silent and dark. The absence of the enormous and constant city noise was most disturbing. In the almost twenty years since there have been so few times when I had genuine reason to be afraid, all of which were revealed to be reasonable people or situations. I can confidently boast I am unafraid to live in the country.. EXCEPT when my imagination runs amok.

One of my favorite things is to wander in the middle of winter nights. Once my eyes adjust, I can see perfectly well to safely hike in the moonlight. Living in the country, as we say in Kansas, I realized that the moon is not in the night sky most of the time but even just a slice of moon is enough to see well enough to walk to the barn. On a clear, moonless night the starlight is enough to safely walk my property. Starlight can be bright enough to cast faint shadows. If I take a flashlight, I am effectively blind without it, limited to the little cone of light it produces. For anything I must do outside at night in the summer I use a flashlight because there are snakes. Otherwise, my eyes are perfectly suited to seeing in the dark, just not seeing snakes.

For the most part, being outdoors alone at night is fine. I enjoy myself immensely ... until... a scene from a horrible movie flashes into my head. If I am not disciplined with my thoughts, I will soon be sprinting for the house, dogs wondering why we are all running. Scenes of The Blair Witch Project (the little stick structures) flash into my mind's eye and suddenly the shadows are full of creeping ghouls. Sometimes the demon shouting the priest's name as he entered the house in The Exorcist rolls up in the old memory bank and I am done for - the devil now looms behind every tree and bush. This is the reason I stopped watching frightening movies long ago. Some of those scenes stay with me. They scared the bejeezus out of me then and they can scare the bejeezus out of me now, decades later.

I do not have to be outside to scare myself, either. Sometimes I will be in bed enjoying the cool breeze from the open window when my mind turns on me. Involuntary images of a shadow man just outside the screen slowly rises into view. The top of his black, featureless head appears and if I do not stop my imagination immediately he will continue to rise, a looming black menace inches away. This is not fun.

My son has the same afflicted imagination. He once lived in a house with a piano in the basement. A few times when he was home alone he heard a single loud note from the piano. Why that would be so terrifying I cannot say but he and I both find that intolerably scary. He told me he was not sure if he actually heard a sound or just the thought of a single note in the empty basement scared him. I understand because that is how the shadow man is born - I merely have a lightning thought of how damn scary that would be, and voila, shadow man rising!

I can be parked on an isolated country road alone for the sole purpose of stargazing, thoroughly enjoying life when all it takes is imagining a beam of light descending from the sky. No one would ever know what the hell happened to me. Even if they knew, nothing could be done about it, (though perhaps the new Space Force would be a resource). I could be mercilessly tortured in a horrible laboratory cage on an alien spacecraft but my kids would never know.

None of these things are anywhere nearly as frightening as growing too old and moving to the "rest" home.

(Image from Shutterstock - royalty free)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Some More Mildly Interesting Mail Box Drama

In the last episode of The Rural Mailbox Drama, the mailbox had fallen into disrepair, taking a dramatic fall into the dust along a little-known country road.

It took several days and two trips to the hardware store before the mailbox was back in service. The cordless drill's rechargeable batteries, possibly ten years old, would no longer take a charge, necessitating purchase of new batteries - to the tune of $149 at the local hardware store! (People advised simply buying a new mailbox and I should have listened.) I am sure the batteries would have been less expensive at a big box store, but I would rather spend my money locally and deal with people who value me as a customer - people who will actually walk with me to the location of the needed items in their store - people who actually say thank you. Not to mention, I divided the cost by 10 (years) and decided they were worth $15 per year to have a very good cordless drill whenever I need it.

While the USPS mail receptacle was out of commission, the address numbers needed to be replaced. It was so much work to scrape off the old letters and numbers. They were reflective letters and the adhesive was excellent. It was space age adhesive, the best adhesive the world has ever known, apparently. It withstood the extreme Kansas weather for years and never peeled, cracked or loosened. The numbers just faded away. It took two days of dedicated effort and elbow grease plus the help of a solvent to remove them. It made an enormous mess. I only replaced the house number because eventually they will need to be scraped off, too. They are vinyl and I am guessing they will not last very long. They should be much easier to remove. Indeed, they will likely peel off in a year or two on their own.

The long and short of it is that I did not get any mail for almost a week. When I finally checked for incoming mail on Sunday night, someone had left an ambiguous and rather threatening handwritten note taped to the door. I am an opinionated and passionate anti-Trump person living smack in the middle of Trump country. My first thought was "They've found me!" I called the sheriff. I did not touch the note or the mailbox.

The note read: "NO Time for Games! Obey these Omni laws signed 3/23 by POTUS or Else! @SavepR.org"

While waiting for the sheriff, I researched the omnibus law referred to by date. It is essentially a bill Trump signed to prevent a shutdown of the government last year - ironically the one thing he has done that I certainly agree with. I also looked up the @savepr.org and found a web page. If that site is what the note refers to, I think it is a sketchy scam asking for donations for Puerto Rico. As I considered this information, I decided the note was likely not aimed at me personally, though I have only been able to confirm with one neighbor so far that they did not get a similar note. I told the sheriff he did not need to come out when he finally called. Just to be safe, I put a dog leash on the mailbox door, then took cover behind my SUV when I pulled it open, in case some nut job had rigged my restored mailbox to explode - or some noxious substance billowed out once the door was opened, both things have happened more than once in our country.

Something a bit curious on the note is that the tape was apparently in place before the note was written. Who puts a piece of tape on a scrap of paper first, then writes the note? Were they stopped on the road while they were writing? Would they have left the note on my door if my mailbox had been on the ground?

The note makes no sense to me whatsoever. What is it this anonymous person wants? What is going to happen if I/we do not obey the law? How the hell can I personally obey the law? I am not in control of Trump nor the Congress. No one is! I will be as angry over a government shut down (threatened by Trump, not me!) as the mysterious author will apparently be. I firmly believe we should be helping Puerto Rico instead of building a wall, holding a military parade, or creating a Space Force, or any number of other incredibly stupid things Donald Trump has proposed. I THINK I am on the same side as the person(s) who left the note, so hopefully I will not suffer whatever consequence the "OR ELSE" refers to.

Before this, the worst thing that ever appeared anonymously around here was Jehovah's Witnesses literature. I never considered calling the sheriff, though.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mail Box Maintenance

The post holding up the mailbox fell apart this morning. This is the second time it has happened in 19 years and I must say I grow weary of the intensive maintenance required! The first time it happened, I did not have time to fix it for a couple of days. I was working, and my son was in school and playing sports, and there was simply no extra time. I left it lay where it fell for a few days. When I discovered that the faithful US Postman delivered my mail even though the box was on the ground, I laughed. I still smile when I think of finding the mail in the downed mail box.

When I moved here, the mailbox was too small. It also had a big dent in it, making it even smaller inside. I lived with that for several years until I had enough energy to fix it. I pounded out the huge dent and covered the rusting old thing with a pristine coat of white Rust-Oleum. It looked brand new. I admired it each time I came home. I took great satisfaction in a job well done. (Small minds...)

The address when I first moved here was literally RR# 2. Mail would be delivered even if there was no box number included. When the County finally assigned a real address for my house, I was supposed to put that address on the mailbox. Of course I did not get that done but it turned out to be a good thing. The company hired to assign addresses messed up all the numbering. Some folks not plagued with procrastination woes had their new addresses carved into limestone posts and set them permanently in their yards. No one was happy when the County assigned new, corrected addresses. No one. Even then I did not get the address on my box until long after the deadline had passed. I still received mail.

Eventually the pristine white paint flaked away and the bright red flag had faded to a rusty brown, both victims of the Kansas sunlight and the second law of thermodynamics. It was difficult to get to the post office in town whenever there was a package that could not be left in the mailbox. I at last decided to buy a new mailbox. I spent a lot of time trying to find a larger white mailbox. Everyone buys the large white mailboxes in the big box stores in Topeka. The size I wanted was only available in black and I did not want a black mailbox. Finally, I settled for a smaller white mailbox one day, the only white one available I had seen in almost a year of sporadic looking. (I could have ordered one but that would have required far too much effort!)

So, I was thinking my mailbox woes were settled - maybe forever - until this morning when the brace fell off into my hands! It needs to be fixed because I do not want to inconvenience the mail carrier, who may or may not still deliver mail to a box on the ground. I rarely get anything important in the mail anymore - no money and certainly no letters! No one writes letters but I still love checking the mail. I always hope someone sent a letter. I am not disappointed when there is no letter but I am so happy on those very rare occasions when I do get a card or a note from someone!

The temperature today has been about 100 degrees - far too hot to try to fix it. I do not want to take the post out of the ground so trying to repair it will require a inordinate amount of cussing. As far as repairs go, this is a professional level cussing job - an iron worker level cussing - a biker level. It needs two pairs of hands but since I only have one pair, it will require sooooo many twelve letter obscenities. I can do it. Jake will look at me from under his eyebrows and Mattie will tilt her head, one ear then the other, trying to understand what that mailbox is doing to the human.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Perfect Summer Night

We live finite lives. There are limits to everything. There will only ever be but a few nights in any given lifetime when the summer weather is perfect to view the sky from a high point on a moonless night. The absolute silent arc of the Milky Way is more beautiful than anything you can imagine. The prairie offers silence - not often, especially in the summer - but tonight is one of those times. The only sound is the quiet stirring of the grass in the gentle wind.

I sat in the car, no longer nimble enough to crawl onto the roof to lay down for an unimpeded view of the stars. The light pollution from Topeka increases every year as the entire city expands west. Mercury lights now scar the horizon, marking new homes in the neighborhood. My aging eyes can no longer see the night sky in sharp detail but I remember what it looks like through young eyes.

From long habit, I imagined the view, the very spot, as it would have looked when the Kansa were the only people here. No one now can imagine how bright the stars would have appeared. If a Kansa woman had ventured away from camp to ponder the magnificent array of stars in solitude she surely would have felt the same wonder.

The First People understood the stars, perhaps not an understanding that would translate into our current science but they would have known the fundamental truth of stars. There was no Church, no Dark Ages for the First People. They were free human beings, living wholly within the grace of nature. And just as the universe draws near to me in the silence, it would have drawn near to the prairie woman of long ago.

From the web site: Astronomy Picture of the Day