Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sandy Hook School

I had thought to write a blog entry about the season, the celebration of light in darkness.  Or maybe about the Geminid meteor shower.  I actually saw some!  But then I heard about the killings in Sandy Hook.

When I heard about another school shooting I thought, oh no, here we go again.  Then I heard who the victims were, just little children.  Could it get any worse?  We have seen mass shootings all too often in America but seeing these little children - well, it broke my heart.

Some of my friends said that these shootings are all due to the prevalence of assault weapons in America and that strict gun control is necessary.  Others said that a crazy man will always find a way, laws or not, to get a gun and kill.  Another said that there is too little access to mental health for people who need it.  Several blogged or posted that violence in the media is responsible.  A good friend wrote that children are not being taught coping skills for dealing with their problems, a very good point.  All of them are partially right. 

I decided to look into the history of school shootings in the US.  I was startled to see that they go back to before the nation's founding, although they have become more numerous recently.  In every case but one the shooter has been male. 

I am not the first person to notice this.  The demands made on American men (to be emotional rocks, tough guys, always number one) are hard enough on the ordinary guy, let alone someone with serious emotional problems and no coping skills. Men are supposed to be capable of violence, although only in a good cause, as a last resort.  Easy access to firearms can make this a deadly mix but the problems are far more deeply rooted.

It's easy to see how our society hurts women.  I get that.  I'm a woman. What is not so easy to see is how that same society hurts men.  And that hurts all of us.  We need to  think about this, to do something, to change our demands, as a society, on boys and men.  Maybe then we will read about mass shootings in history books, and only there.

Writing about the season of light will have to wait.  My heart breaks for those little murdered children and their families.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day Again

Veterans Day again, Remembrance Day in Canada.  I am remembering, or at least attempting to imagine, some of those wars.  I am also thinking of the photos of the Earth, taken from space, and the sense of wonder and unity those astronauts had when they took those pictures.  As I did last year, as I do every year, I am wishing for peace, for all of us on this beautiful planet.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A River Ran Through It

"A river ran through it."  That's what NASA said when they saw the pictures and the evidence.  It's what I thought when I heard the news.  And we knew it, didn't we.  We knew it.  There was running water on Mars, free running water, a river that ran for maybe thousands of years, maybe more. The smooth, rounded gravel in the old river bed could have been made only by water.  Wow.  

I'm betting Curiosity finds evidence of life.  We know that, too, don't we.  Wow.

This photo is courtesy of NASA.  They needed to label which riverbed came from which planet.  Yes, seriously.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Farewell to a Spider

She's gone.  My beautiful spider has vanished.  We had torrential rains last night but my Argiope had come through the remains of hurricane Isaac intact, without even any damage to her web that I could see.  But now she is gone.  All that remains are a few silky strands of her web.  I have looked around, of course, but I can't find her.  I know the world of a spider is full of dangers, so I should not be surprised.  I'm not, actually, but I am sad.  She was such a beautiful creature.  I would like to think that she has simply moved to a more protected spot, but I will probably never know.  I was privileged to admire her, even for a short time.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bright Lady in the Garden

I met her by accident.  I was pushing through a tangle of flowers and ornamental plants at the edge of my garden, wondering what needed trimming: perhaps the golden tansy? The tansy is as tall as I am, or almost.  When I looked at it more closely, there she was: the gorgeous lady.

If she had been in the house I might have been afraid of her.  She is rather large, after all, and I was mere inches away from her.  But outside, face to face and eye to, well, eyes (eight of them on her side of the equation, two on mine), it was different story.  I was in awe.  She is black and golden, stunning.  Her home is a lovely, complicated web.  But who is she?  What is her name and her story?

Google knew.  She is Argiope Aurantia.  That's pronounced Are-Guy'-Oh-Pee Oar-An'-Chee-Ah.  Argiope means "Bright Face" and aurantia means "overlaid with gold".  When I speak to her it seems proper to be more formal and to use her genus name.  So I call her Argiope.  

Yes, she's a girl.  The males and females of her species are very different. Females are big and beautiful; my Argiope's body is maybe an inch long, not including her gold striped legs.  Males are skinny, with very long legs. The females make lovely big webs with reinforcing in the center to make it comfy, and they like to hang out there, head down.  Eventually, at summer's end, a male should come along.  He will build a smaller web on the fringes of hers, an arachnid version of a man cave, perhaps.  He courts her by thrumming on her web, making lovely spider music.  Eventually, if she likes him, they mate.

I have started watching to see if she has a boyfriend.  Not yet.  I read more about her and discovered the tragedy to come.  Directly after mating, the male Argiope dies, presumably of ecstasy, leaving the female an expectant single mother.  Eventually, the female lays her eggs.  She wraps them in layer upon layer of spider silk, seeking to protect them from the winter to come and also from other insects, like some wasps, which parasitize the eggs.  Then she dies.

I was devastated.  This wasn't the first I had heard of a spider's short life span.  
As a child I did read "Charlotte's Web", after all.  But this is personal.  I know this spider.  I like her.  The Arachnid Way is hard, very hard.

Or is it?  What would Argiope think of the Mammalian Way?  Would she consider it hard, to live so much longer than one year, to see your children grow, to make friends, but also to see so much hardship and heartbreak? Would she pity me? We are so very different.  I wonder what heaven would be like for her.  Is it an eternal summer afternoon, neither too hot nor too cool, with a very gentle breeze ruffling the tall flowers?  On such an afternoon a well-fed Argiope could dream, comfortable in her woven hammock.  Are we in fact so very different?

No, I haven't trimmed my tansy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cat poetry!

I have a new book of poetry out, "Meow, Cat Poems".  Is this a book of poems about cats or by cats or both?  I'll let the reader decide. The poems range from the serious to the humorous, including a limerick about the cat from Nantucket, which I wrote on a dare.  (It's clean; that was the dare.)  The book is available in e-formats only, from either Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  Both stores give away free apps for reading on devices other than kindle or nook. (Yes, I know some of you read books on your phones.  Some day you can tell me just how you do that.) I especially love the cover, a photograph of two of my former cats in a playful confrontation.  Their spirits still inspire me.

By the way; my Maine Coon-esque cat Cal claims that he is the true author of this book, at least by virtue of having shed enough fur on my keyboard.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Curiosity has arrived safely on Mars.  I still feel like jumping up and down.  I have always been in love with the Red Planet, ever since sneaking Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars books into class in middle school. 

I know there are no civilizations on Mars, lost or extant.  I believe, all the same, that there was life there.  It is even possible that life may still be there.  After all, Mars is the most Earth-like of the planets, our sister planet. There was water on Mars.  If there is life on Mars, presumably in microbial form, I hope nothing from Earth contaminates it.

Curiosity is well named.  Humans, members of our genus, have been pushing the boundaries of exploration for hundreds of thousands of years.  Despite its drawbacks, the curiosity of the human race has served us well.  May Curiosity serve us well on the Red Planet.  And I can't wait for all the pictures!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Snakes alive

Snakes.  Yes, snakes.  I was complaining to someone that I never had anything to write about for a blog and then I was reminded of the snakes.  

I rather like snakes, the non-poisonous, non-constrictor types.  I especially like them if they don't live in my house, but more on that later.  Most of the snakes I have here are garden snakes.  They eat mosquitoes in the garden and more power to 'em.  I see them fairly frequently and sometimes they leave their shed skins around.  I have collected a few of these to admire.  I even left out a small, old, plastic tarp that they very much like to live under.  Well, okay, I left it out by mistake, and then discovered that the garden snakes liked it, so it became officially theirs.

Those are the garden snakes.  Then there are the snakes in the house.  Well, as I said before, I really don't like them in the house.  I know they have sometimes been in the attic.  How do I know this?  I've had several experiences.  One of them came one evening as I was in the kitchen.  I heard something overhead and looked up.  There was a small hole in the ceiling and there was an inquisitive visitor looking down from the attic. (This is an old farmhouse that dates back maybe 175 years.  There are always things that need fixing.)

"Honey," I said to my husband, "there's a little hole in the ceiling in the kitchen.  It seriously needs fixing.  Right now.  There's a big problem here."

"I'll look at it later," he responded.  "It can't be that urgent."

"Yes, it is.  There's a big snake hanging out of the hole."

It was, I later found out, a milk snake, a nonpoisonous native snake that eats insects and rodents.  They can live into their early 20s and can become accustomed to and friendly with people.  Would it eat my cats?  Probably not but we are not going to find that out.   This was the same snake, or one like it,  that I found in the closet one very hot day a few years ago.  It had wrapped itself around the closet bar, somehow weaving itself through the hanger hooks.  It had gone in there to escape the heat.  

I took one look at this snake.  "Yikes!"  I said.

The snake looked at me and probably said the same thing because the next second it was gone.  We hired a contractor to fix the holes in the attic and anywhere else to try to keep the wildlife out.  Will it work?  I don't know, but we had to do something, for goodness snakes.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Leopards on the grass alas

I have a new book out, "Hurricane Warning".  It's poetry.  Some people have been bugging me for more fiction and trust me, it's coming, but poetry has always held a distinct attraction for me.  

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a poet when I grew up.  No one warned me that you can't make a living as a poet; I had to find that out for myself.  I found out that it was even difficult to get your stuff published in magazines.  Some magazines were happy to publish your poetry but they didn't want to pay for it, except in copies.  All the same I kept writing poetry . 

I am more than a little convinced that poetry is part of the original language form of our species.  Poetry ties our thoughts and experiences together.  Imagine a scene on the African plain two hundred thousand years ago.  A small band of early humans is foraging peacefully.  Then there is a ripple in the tall grass.

"Look out; a leopard!" one of them cries.

All of the band jump up and scream and shriek.  The leopard, upset by the commotion and shaking its head over the weirdness of humanity, runs away.  Later, another of this band of early humans tries to recapture the experience.

"Leopards on the grass alas!" she says.

Well, okay, maybe not.  But it could have happened. No one was there to publish it.  Anyway, you can imagine how I am delighted to have another book of poetry published.  The title is "Hurricane Warning".  There's a leopard in there somewhere.  Look out!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day

It's Earth Day again, April 22, a day when many people stop to think , however briefly, about our environment and our planet.  My experience with Earth Day goes all the way back to the first one.  In fact, it goes back even farther.  

I grew up in the times before the modern environmental movement.  That didn't mean that I lacked the interest and impetus of an environmentalist, though; I just didn't know that's what it was. I had no support.  I remember complaining to my parents that people were destroying woods and fields and "where the animals need to live" for houses and factories.  My parents laughed and told me not to worry.  I remember when the town trucks drove by, spraying a fog of DDT to kill mosquitoes.  Kids would run out to play hide-and-seek in the fog.  I did, too, but even then I wondered if it was really safe,

And then Rachel Carson published "Silent Spring".  I read the book as soon as it came out.  It took my breath away.  I wrote a letter to the local newspaper on the topic and I was annoyingly persistent in trying to get my teachers and friends to read the book and talk about it.  My feelings and thoughts were vindicated by an adult, a scientist.  I knew what I was: an environmentalist.

It's decades later and it's Earth Day again.  Usually I would go down the road picking up trash.  Today it's pouring rain.  I'm not collecting trash today.  It doesn't matter.  I pick up roadside trash a lot and then sort it for recycling.  Every day is Earth Day, after all.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The First Flower of Spring

I live in a part of the country, southern New England, where this was The Winter That Wasn't.  We had two storms that gave us any snow to speak of, and only one of those storms required any serious shoveling.  I hate shoveling, so I was grateful.  Mostly.  But I worried about the environment in general and in particular, about the wood patches and marshes near me.  Would the warm winter destroy the spring? I went looking for spring.

There were signs of deer everywhere in the woods, signs which I almost stepped in more than once. Ticks were everywhere, too, all species of them.  The winter never got harsh enough to send them into hibernation or whatever it is those vile creatures do when it gets cold.  It takes a lot to stun a tick, I guess, and this winter just didn't have what it takes.  The ticks are back now stronger than ever, but I don't consider them a sign of spring.  

In February the daffodil shoots appeared.  They came toward the end of the month, pushing up through the leaves back in the secret places in the woods.  The ones beside my driveway were more courageous, or at least the recipients of more warmth, reflected from the driveway.  They are almost ready to bloom now, while the ones in the woods are still gathering strength.  I love daffodils and narcissus; they always mean spring.  But there is another plant means spring just as much as the daffodil.  I'm referring to the skunk cabbage.

Yes, I did just write "skunk cabbage".  The eastern skunk cabbage in particular,  that wonderful, smelly harbinger of spring.  Actually, they only smell if you hurt a leaf, and it's not *that* bad.  Skunk cabbage can create its own little warm mini-climate through thermogenesis, raising its temperature above that of the air.  It's a chemical process, of course, but to me it seems like magic.  And skunk cabbage is beautiful, pushing through the soil in mottled purple before the leaves open out in green.  Skunk cabbage was considered to have medicinal value in the past, and it's edible when cooked.  I've never eaten it, although a character in a book I'm  working on  has. Yesterday I found skunk cabbage in the woods and it made me happy.  Spring is here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Look! Up in the sky!

Look! Up in the sky!

No, it wasn't a bird.  It wasn't a plane, although at first I thought it was.  It wasn't Superman, either.  Here's what happened.

A few days ago I went out in the evening to do an errand.  On my way to my car, I paused to admire the evening sky.  Two planets were burning brightly, Venus, and, I think, Jupiter.  The waxing crescent moon added to the beauty.  It was cold and serene, a beautiful winter evening.  And then I saw it.  At first I did think it was a plane because it was that bright.  It was moving, a bright transient star, and then it it burned orange and was extinguished.  I blinked and looked again.  Following in the path of the now vanished bright thing was a smaller, fainter light.  It, too, suddenly vanished.

I stood staring for a while, trying to make up my mind about what I had seen.  Had I witnessed a natural meteorite doing what  meteorites so often do in our planetary atmosphere?  Or had I been privileged to see the fiery demise of space junk, flaming out, with any luck, before whacking into someone's roof? 

I still don't know, of course, but I'm leaning toward the space junk theory.  Space junk has been in the news a lot lately.  And there is so much of it.  We humans don't seem to care where we toss our garbage.  If that was a piece of human made debris, though, it had one attribute I don't normally associate with garbage.  It was beautiful.  Meteors and space junk: beautiful if you aren't right where they land.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year

It's a New Year  (capitalization intentional), a good excuse for a blog entry.  A New Year is typically supposed to be a time for profundities.  Unfortunately, or probably fortunately, I have nothing profound to say.  I don't even have a New Year's resolution to share.  I don't make New Year's resolutions.  I have nothing against resolutions; I make them whenever they are called for, just not necessarily at the new year.   

So why am I writing this?  I'm writing it because of wishes.  New Year's wishes.  I wish a lot of things for us.  I wish us all the traditional health and happiness but I wish for more than that.  I wish us connection, with one another and the planet.   Just imagine what such a connection would bring!  And I wish us all joy. I believe wishes can come true, usually when backed up by, well, resolution.  Happy New Year to us all!