Saturday Snippet: Permission to Court?

No idea if this will end up in the final story or not. It takes place after Preternaturally Familiar.

Arthur finished his duties after worship and departed the chapel. To his mild surprise, Ladislu Padurowski, the current leader of the Hunters, waited for him. The young man seemed calm, but the scent of trepidation verging on fear surrounded Ladislu as he bowed to Arthur. “Thank you.” As he straightened up, Arthur guessed the reason for the young man’s presence, and swallowed a smile. Instead he feigned ignorance. “Yes?”

“I wish permission to court Mistress Deborah,” Ladislu blurted. He caught himself, not quite cringing back as he tried once more. “Ah, that is, sir, I have spoken with my parents, and I am prepared to support a lady as wife. I seek your permission to ask Mistress Deborah’s parents for permission to ask for her hand in honorable marriage.”

Arthur folded his arms. “Indeed.” He allowed silence to stretch as he inspected his nepatisha’s would-be suitor. “What makes you worthy of this privilege?”

“Nothing, sir. But I wish to try to make myself worthy of her heart.”

Ladislu’s complete honesty caught him by surprise. He recovered quickly. “Good. That is the proper answer.” How badly would this trouble the other Hunters? Not so badly as it once might have. He nodded. “I give you permission to court, should Mistress Deborah favor your suit.”

Were relief visible, the young man would have glowed as a beacon in the night. He bowed once more. “Thank you, sir.”

He straightened to find Arthur’s boot knife not quite touching his chest. “If you hurt her, I will take full measure of her pain from you in return. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Master Saldovado, sir.” To his credit, Ladislu’s voice did not shake, and he held gaze.

“Good.” Arthur stepped back, blade still in hand. “Go with the Lady’s blessing, and may Her Defender guide and protect you on your Hunt.”

A third bow, and Ladislu departed into the cold night. Arthur returned the blade to its proper place, folded his arms once more, and allowed himself to smile. The little one had accidentally revealed Ladislu’s interest, and her willingness to be courted by him. It would be a good match, if the young man had sufficient bride price, and if all parties were willing. He chuckled. Master Lestrang and the child might be harder to persuade. That was also good. A young man who wanted his nepatisha’s hand in marriage needed to earn that privilege. Not that any were worthy of such an honor, but Ladislu came close. Perhaps. Arthur walked with slow dignity down the steps and toward the main house. Perhaps.

(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved


In the Saddle or On the Saddle

It’s a phrase I’ve never, ever really thought about. Why do we say, “back in the saddle” or “swung up into the saddle?” We mount a horse, or get onto a horse, rarely fork a horse (old term, very rarely used today in most places). But saddles are always “into.”

You have to go back to the Middle Ages, and then to the Spanish saddles brought to the New World. Don’t think about a modern English style saddle, which is designed to be light and to allow the rider and horse the greatest sense of contact between them.* Think back to who owned horses and rode them and what most saddles were used for: either stabilizing cargo, or war.

The goal was to keep the rider seated no matter what, especially when you rode with straight, extended legs. The saddles had high pommels and cantles that secured the rider when he was hit from the front or behind. It also helps keep an injured or exhausted rider from sagging and falling backwards or forwards. Sideways is also a bit of a challenge, but you can fall off in any direction if you try. Or the horse helps you.

This is a replica jousting saddle. You get into it, not onto it. Creative Commons fair use. Original source:

Here you see a version of the saddle in action, modified for the rider’s armor. It’s a great article about the how and why of re-creating a medieval saddle, and the results for horse and rider.

A 15th century saddle for show or parade. However, you can see the height of the pommel and cantle. This one is in the Met Museum.

These are the type of saddles most writers talked about, unless they described a specific sort of other saddle – pillion pad, or pack saddle, or box saddle, or side-saddle, or . . . These were the sort brought to the Americas by the Spanish, and used on war horses and mountain horses. Below is a Spanish colonial saddle from the late 1700s-early 1800s. It should look familiar.


To this day, charro saddles and others have higher, more snug pommels (or swell) and cantles than do some other western saddles. Because of this Spanish tradition, it is common in American English to say that you get into the saddle, even if you are riding English style.

Some modern dressage saddles retain the older medieval features if you are doing the Airs Above the Ground (Austria and Portugal, France are about the last places to learn this tradition.) I have a barrel-racing saddle that I love. It has a relatively snug seat, as well as suede on the outside, so the rider fits more snugly for making tight turns and rapid accelerations/decelerations. I got to sit in a replica medieval saddle once, and it really helps lock in your posture and where you put your weight.

And so, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry sang about “Back in the saddle again,” because that’s what vaqueros did, and what modern cowboys do. And reenactors, and advanced dressage, and . . .

*Bareback’s no fun for extended periods, and not stable. For either horse or rider, especially once you shift into the trot or canter.

Who Was Meeting Where?!?

So, some years ago, (like, twenty-five*) I was in Cologne, Germany. The small, family-owned hotel, sat three blocks from the train station and cathedral. It was nice, relatively quiet (backed up to the switching yard, so no wild parties back there) and was convenient. As is my usual habit, I got up very early and went strolling. I got a bite to eat at a stehcafe, a bakery-cafe with shelves for eating off of, but no tables. The name is “standing cafe,” and it was for commuters and working men. I didn’t quite blend in, but everyone ignored me, which was fine. The tea was hot and black and the pastries were fresh.

As I wandered back toward my hotel, I saw a couple guys in leather jackets and pants. Now, the hour being early and Cologne being Cologne, I shrugged. Far me it from me to say anything about people who close the club, then go to a diner until dawn. A few minutes later, some construction guys went by, grumbling about thus and such.

After official breakfast, I heard a mild commotion outside the hotel, and eased my window open and leaned out. In addition to the leather-clad guys, who now numbered well over a score, and construction workers, there were guys in full American Indian regalia, some in US enlisted sailor suits, a few US highway cops, and cowboys. What on earth?

Then the first chords of very familiar music started, and realization dawned. “Young man, there’s no need to feel down, I said/ Young man, pick yourself off the ground . . .”

And of course, everyone danced along with the chorus.

It was a convention of the German Village People Fan Club. The guys were having a grand old time dancing in the street, the rest of us were having fun watching and cheering, and the locals shrugged. Cologne has always been more mellow than other parts of Germany.

I had no idea that there was an international association for Village People fans. There was, might still be, and the members there finished their opening and headed off to the indoor venue. I went back to museum-prowling, art viewing, and history basking.

I’d forgotten about that until the other night, when I was chaperoning a school dance. One of the songs the kids played was a re-mixed version of “Y.M.C.A.” Another teacher and I grinned, and I called, “Backwards skate!” That brought even more memories, because the song was a staple at skating rinks when I was a kid.

*I do not want to believe that it’s been that long, but it has. SIGH. I miss that Germany.

Tuesday Tidbit: Exploring the Castle

Mike and Rich play tourist, sort of. No one has killed anyone . . . yet. It is the afternoon following the last excerpt, and a cold front is moving in.

“Done. Don’t like the air. Storm coming,” Rich declared. He hurried past his mage and into the shelter of the courtyard. The smokers had moved with the wind. Mike hid a smile. His dad still sometimes smoked a pipe, but only in the backyard or in his home office. The mage followed the mongoose back into the castle proper. “I am pretty, oh so pretty,” Rich warbled, posing under a statue of a weasel holding a heraldic shield. “Let’s go see the chapel. It’s open.”

“Sure.” Mike scooped him up and they went past one of the spiral stone stairs, then walked slowly through the public side of the castle. A few safety lights burned, casting darker shadows than night alone. “It’s tornado resistant at least.”

“Reeeeelaaaaaax,” Rich commanded, whiskers twitching, claws dug into the discreet cut-resistant fabric on Mike’s shoulders. “What could possibly go—”

The large hand over his muzzle silenced the Words Of Doom. Snickers emerged instead. All sound and motion ceased as they rounded the corner and beheld the Czechs and Consul Houser filing into the St. Michael chapel, along with Marija Kaminska, one of the Polish delegates. Mr. Benes, the castle manager, spoke, and Mike heard Ms. Pullman translating for Consul Houser. Mike tuned out the voices, listening instead with magic, sort of. He drew a tiny bit of power from his Familiar, just in case, and bowed as he entered the well-lit space. Nothing reacted. That was good. Perhaps.

The deconsecrated chapel dated to the building of the castle. Traces of the original paintings remained. St. Michael, wings spread, smiled a tranquil smile as he stabbed a heavy spear into a faded and chipped dragon. Bits of the plaster had fallen away, but the images remained in very good condition for frescoes from the 1300s. Especially frescoes in this part of Europe. “As you can see,” Ms. Pullman said for Mr. Benes. “It is traditional to have St. Michael in military chapels, or when there are concerns about demons and other forces of evil.”

Or when building over pagan ruins, or on a high place, Mike recited. The 767th had lessons about which saints were where, and why, and what that could tell a magic worker. Mike gave his patron saint a small salute, then turned to the stranger images. “No, a left-handed figure is out of place, unless it is Judas,” Mr. Benes explained, pointing to the much-faded painting in question. “And Judas would have red hair. This is a female centaur of some kind, or perhaps an overpainting of a horse and rider, although special imaging of the wall does not show that.”

The figure faced left, bow drawn, aiming at something. That looks more like a crossbow, sort of. The background appeared sort of blue-green, as if the person stood in the forest. She aimed at a man, although he’d faded even more. Mike peered over the others’ heads, then shrugged a little. He’d never heard of such in a chapel, unless the figure was a demon in a depiction of fallen sinners in Hell. Which did not fit the image, as best anyone could tell. A second painting of St. Michael, this time weighing souls, stood with his back to the archer. The saints processed on the other side of the chapel, including St. Andrew and the rest of the apostles. The Annunciation appeared on the south-west wall, another slight oddity. Since the chapel wasn’t aligned due east-west, having the start of the story toward the west didn’t really upset liturgical “flow.” Much.

“We are over the pit and the seal proper,” Mr. Benes said through Ms. Pullman, answering Capt. Sluka’s question. “The upper seal is there, in the center of the floor, below the peak of the ceiling.” Mike glanced up at the simple gothic arches overhead, then down at the brick floor. The square area of well-worn stone might have had words or images on it, but six hundred years of feet and brooms had effaced them. “No, there is a larger seal below us, a true stone.”

Rich shivered. Mike put a comforting hand on him, touching the rough, warm fur. “Don’t like that. Need to see it if we can, don’t like it. Don’t like deconsecration.”


Ms. Pullman frowned and turned toward them. “You have a question?”

“No, ma’am. Rich observed that the paintings remained in excellent condition, given that the chapel was deconsecrated and endured so many years of abandonment.”

She translated for Mr. Benes, and probably the listening Czechs as well. The manager nodded, but did not reply. Instead, he gestured for them to leave. Mike stepped out the door, since he was closest to the door, and cleared the way for the others. As required by the church, nothing aside from roof sat above the chapel. The spiral stairs led up to an adjacent tower and chamber to the side of the upper ceiling, and down to . . . something. The Czechs talked quietly, and Ms. Pullman spoke with Mr. Houser, then Mr. Benes. The manager gestured his agreement, and the group began walking toward a larger staircase. Mike and Rich followed.

They went down. Stone became wood. “This is a wine cellar and occasionally barracks,” Mr. Benes stated. A set of dim lights came on with a thunk as he turned on a heavy metal switch. Stone floor gave way to dirt and gravel, or so it looked. “This does open to the courtyard, yes, via those stairs,” he gestured to a set of wooden steps with twisted wood hand-rails straight out of an illustration of “primitive medieval woodwork.” They did look sturdy, however. Mike approved. He crouched and set Rich on the floor. The mongoose darted into the shadows and came back twice as fast. No one seemed to notice, aside from Capt. Sluka and Marija Kaminska. Kaminska followed Rich with her eyes, and eased closer to them, but said nothing.

“The actual wine cellar is that way,” Benes told them. “It appears that some larger casks were stored here, along with water barrels. Traces of a cistern have been found, or so archaeologists think, in the forecourt outside the  main entry gate. We have a well now, if piped in water ever fails.”

Mr. Houser listened to the translation and made an intrigued sound. Mike echoed him, since officially he didn’t speak much Czech.

Ondra Adamcik, the lead mediator, had been studying the ceiling and walls. “We are not below the chapel, are we?”

“No, sir. We are below the vestry and the private chamber, at the opposite end of the castle from the representative rooms.” Mr. Benes gestured to a deeper, darker passageway off to the left. “The chamber with the portal is that way.” He turned on a few more lights and allowed the Czechs to lead the way. Mike, Sluka, and Kaminska all held back, allowing their superiors to go first. Mr. Benes turned to Mike and pointed up. “Ihre Kopf – niedrigen Decken.” Mind your head, sir, low ceiling.

“Danke Ihnen.” Thank you, sir. Mike stayed low as he followed the ladies. Rich’s tail fluffed and he hissed so quietly that only his mage noticed it. Perhaps. Tik-Tik slithered around the edges of the dimly lit chamber, only the tip of his tail visible in the red-washed shadows. He returned, chittered, then fell silent. Kaminska eased even closer, staying near the door as best she could. Whiffs of abyssal magic burned his senses, nothing strong but . . . Mike eased to the side and held his fingers almost against the gritty sandstones. Traces have soaked in. The stone’s porus to magic. That explains way too much. St. Michael be with us. St. Anthony stand beside us and defend us from demons, St. George strengthen us. Tik-Tik kept one paw on Mike’s boot. Mike bent down and lifted the mongoose onto his shoulder.

“Do not like this, Defender. Look at the seal stone,” Tik-Tik hissed into his ear. Mike, still ducking, eased forward to where the others peered at a flat stone, like a grave marker, and a carefully fenced-off circular well. The well bugged him, but the stone made his hair stand on end. “Near the terp’s shoes.”

What? Mike pretended to be as fascinated with the faint carvings as the others were. The dim light kept him from recognizing the pattern marked into the pale grey slab, but he had a few ideas. At the edge, near where Ms. Pullman stood, he saw marks on the floor, scrapes of stone on stone, oddly deep footprints in the raked dirt. As if someone had tried moving the thing. Did he dare risk it? Mike lowered his shield the tiniest fraction of a bit, shifting his vision as he did. A hint of black, like the thinnest of lines, lurked along that edge of the stone. The pattern shimmered, still unreadable. He eased around to the other side of the stone. No black. A miasma of tainted magic filled the room as if fog had moved in. Mike shifted back to seeing normal life and strengthened his shields once more. A malign awareness shifted, then subsided.

Mr. Benes pointed to the knee-high slab. “Several hundred pounds, as you can imagine. No one has moved it since the 1930s, when local stories claim that the SS shifted it away from the crack it covers. They put it back, if they moved it.” He sounded less than persuaded. “The well is what leads to hell, supposedly. The ghost that comes in sits there,” he waved at a black iron chair or throne at the end of the room, on the other side of the well.

After Ms. Pullman finished translating, Mr. Houser chuckled. “What castle doesn’t have a ghost? Isn’t it Czesky Krumlov that has a white lady?” He turned and looked to Mike, eyebrows raised.

“Ah,” he hesitated, as if searching his memory. “Yes, sir, that’s one of the best known. The White Lady of Rozembirk, or Rosenberg, I think?” His Czech counterpart, Capt. Sluka, gave him a hard look. Did I get it wrong? Or does she not like me playing dumb GI? All of the above probably.

Mr. Benes slipped one hand in the patch pocket on his jacket. He spoke, drawing the others’ attention again. Mike eased back to the door, one hand on Tik-Tik. The Familiar vibrated. Mr. Benes described the black hooded spirit, then a few ghosts and haunts that had been reported in or around the castle. Once Ms. Pullman finished translating, Mike crept out the doorway, around the edges of the cellar room, and back up the stairs.

Not until he’d put the bulk of the Houska Castle between himself and the portal did Mike relax. He set Rich down once more. The mongoose walked with slow dignity out the gate, then dove for the bushes. Thunder grumbled somewhere, echoing off the world around them. A faint flash to the north and west, purple white. Mike crossed himself. “St. Michael archangel, defend us in battle against the wickedness and snares of the devil,” he whispered. He’d finish the prayer once they got back to their room. A gust of cold wind brought drops of rain.

“Back in, storm’s here, back in,” Rich chanted. Once on his preferred perch, he murmured, “Do not like this, Defender. Someone tried to move the slab. Smelled cigarette smoke in the dirt, person dug in trying to shift the seal. Too heavy for now, don’t like it.”

“For now?” Mike murmured back. He retreated out of the wind, arms folded, as if observing the rain now sheeting straight down.

(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Ian Tyson: In Memorium

This is starting off to be a bad winter for musicians. Granted, Jeff Beck and Ian Tyson were both high mileage as well as mature, but still. Sheesh! I grew up listening to Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Odetta, the New Christy Minstrels, and others, along with classical and some old country and bluegrass. Then somehow, years later, MomRed discovered that Ian Tyson was still recording, now western music.

His father wanted him to have a career at sea, or to do normal, respectable jobs. Ian devoured westerns, books by Will James, and turned his back on the sea. Worse. He became a musician (among other things.)

It was love at first hear. I could sing along with Tyson’s music, since he was a baritone. His songs, love ’em or not love ’em, were melodic and made sense. He told stories, songs about horses and ranches, about love and revenge, about places and the people in them. I have my favorites, but there’s no Ian Tyson song that makes me go, “Ugh!” and race for the shower, ear-bleach, or yes.

So, one of his oldest, and a favorite of many Of a Certain Age: Four Strong Winds.

I also liked this one, a canoing song done at at least four times the original tempo:

“Summer Wages” is the fan favorite among SmallDeadAnimals blog readers. It’s not one that I like as much, but I can see why people (especially guys) appreciate it:

Some days, “Timberline (Fifty Years Ago)” strikes a very strong chord: “Did I hold Juanita yesterday, or was it fifty years ago?” Since the late 1980s seem like yesterday . . .

“Claude Dallas,” “Old House on the Hill,” “Banks of the Mussel Shell” are all ballads or half-ballads, eerie and atmospheric. I can never hear “Claude Dallas” without remembering a day out in Utah when my family and I were looking out over Cathedral Valley in Capital Reef National Park and feeling cold chills from the music. It had nothing to do with the beautiful, empty, landscape below us, and everything to do with the solitude.

“Jaquima to Freno” is about a vaquero, and refers to the tack used in training horses in the old Spanish style. “La Primera, and “Steel Dust Line” are also horse songs*, one about mustangs and one about cutting horses and driving from Canada to Las Vegas in winter. Ian Tyson ranched, and it showed in his music.

He badly damaged his voice in 2006 while trying to finish a concert after the sound equipment failed, and his last three albums reflect that. He was still a heck of writer and poet, and a good singer. He died December 29, 2022, on his ranch in Alberta at age 89.

(I am amused that The Guardian needed to explain that cutting horses “are like sheepdogs” in how they separate cattle from the herd. But then I’m a westerner, and have watched cutting horse contests.)

*Steel Dust is one of the foundation sires of cutting horses. Other lineages are mentioned in the song.

Putting Water Back In the Ground

A lot of people depend on ground water, aquifers, for drinking and irrigation. Some aquifers recharge on their own, and do it pretty quickly, such as the Edwards Aquifer in central Texas, or the Sandhills portion of the Ogallala Aquifer. Others either recharge very, very slowly, or not at all. Those are the ones that tend to get lots and lots of attention, unless Central Texas is dry, and Austonio begins talking about sending a pipeline up to the Panhandle to tap the Ogallala.

A quick note to clarify here, before I go any farther. I’m talking about aquifers in sediment like sand and gravel, not groundwater in bedrock, as is found in New England, Canada, and a few other places. That is a different formation, with different flow patterns, and I know next to nothing about how those “work” other than general theory. If you are in New Hampshire and you have a well drilled into bedrock, please contact a local expert.

How do aquifers recharge? It depends on the material above and below the porous layer. That’s what most aquifers are – a layer of sand and gravel that at one time was exposed to rain and snow, or was a river bed (large swaths of the Ogallala and Equus Beds). Under that layer is a watertight layer, usually a shale or something. Over time, that sand and gravel got buried by other things and now lies below the land surface. A few, like the Edwards in central Texas, have access today through caves and sinkholes, where rain can fall right in, or have a very porous layer above that lets rain and snow melt trickle down pretty quickly. The Nebraska Sandhills are pure sand, and water that falls there soaks in, recharging the Ogallala below. Unless there is an extended drought, recharge is not as much of a concern (over-pumping that draws down the water too fast is a different matter.) Other aquifers, like those in Arizona, coastal Georgia, and most of the Ogallala, would take hundreds to thousands to regain their water, if they can at all. When the aquifer is buried hundreds of feet below the surface and topped with firmly-packed dirt, caliche, and so on, water has a harder time soaking in. These are “fossil” waters, and you just assume they won’t recharge without help. How to help without destroying the formation, is another problem.

First, there has to be water to go back in. Without that, it’s pretty moot. Also, the material in the aquifer layer has to still be loosely-packed enough to accept water. If you draw enough out, the layer compresses, and that’s that. No recharge ever, unless all the surface material erodes away and rain falls directly on the sand and gravel.

Ideas for recharging aquifers all involve “putting the water back in down there,” or at least, giving the water an assist. Drilling a well and pouring water back in . . . has a lot of technical difficulties, including the fear of contaminating the rest of the aquifer if some chemical or biological contaminant seeps in – think fecal coliform, or avian cholera, or . . . So the water would have to be filtered, and dust kept out, and the water released high enough that the layers between the end of the well and the aquifer would filter some of the stuff. Oh, and you have to hope that on the way down, the water won’t pick up salt, gypsum, or dig a hole that causes a sink hole.

Around here, attempts were made to deepen the natural rainwater lakes, punching through the clay layer at the bottom of the shallow depression to allow more water to seep in. It started well, but the clay swells, and sediment filled in the holes, closing them. Also the rate or recharge did not justify the cost of the work, which has to be maintained. And depends on moisture. In a year like 1940-41, when the area got 40″ of rain or more, no problem! In a decade like the 1950s, or 2010-2014? Rain? What rain?

Most aquifers were “laid down” when the local/regional climate was much wetter. The Ogallala was sediment dumped from the Rockies by huge, enormous, massive, gargantuan rivers that wandered back and forth over the region for millions of years. Then things changed. In the case of the Ogallala, the goal in 90% of the region is to balance draw-down over time, so that X% of the current depth will remain in Y years. Some places are changing types of crops, other areas revert to range land, and irrigation is much, much more efficient than it used to be. The down side to better irrigation is that less excess water seeps back in to return to the aquifer.

Eventually, a way might be found to return water to places like the Ogallala, Equus beds, coastal aquifer, and so on. If the stuff has not compacted, and if there is sufficient rain and snow to permit that. And if people are willing to spend the money and time needed to do it.

Saturday Snippet: Space Gulyas

This is from a story I will be submitting to an anthology. It is set in the Planet Texas universe.

“It looks right,” István Gabor said as he walked around the small pen. “Color, horns, hoofs, body shape, all correct. But . . . not mammal?”

Dr. Szentmihaly spread his hands in a shrug. “Not mammal. None of the bovine genetic stock we brought to Novi Magyarsk proved viable. Ovine, yes, but not bovine or equine yet. We need a herd grazer now, and this native-base stock works. The meat tastes like beef.”

István studied the grey creature contentedly munching hay in the portable pen. The bureaucrats from Colonial Approval would refuse to allow such a thing. If they knew about it. “Has anyone made an official report to—?” He pointed up at the sky.

“No, sir. No time, and we need the power for more urgent needs.” A small smile appeared under Dr. Szentmihaly’s thick mustache. “It is better to delay any reports until resources are available.”

István smiled in return. “Most certainly. Survival of the settlement is our first priority,” he quoted. And if that meant preserving the botanical environment with a reptile-based gulyas, well, so be it. “No milk?”

The biologist shook his head. “No. But we have sheep and goats, and can work from there.”

“Well done. Cream in our coffee can wait.” He missed that, but all things came with time. The grasses needed to be grazed as soon as possible. The build-up of senescent material already posed a fire risk in some parts of the colony. He started to return to his vehicle, then caught himself. “Wait. No horses yet?”

A long sigh met his question. “Not yet. The stock they sent seems to be unviable. Our,” he waved at the white and tan buildings and half-domes housing the genetics workers, “first try with a native species . . . The legs are too thin and would break too easily. We can’t thicken them and keep the creatures docile enough to have round people.”

Co-located genes struck again. “Thank you for trying. I know your team will find a way. The cattle are our first priority, and the sheep.”

Dr. Szentmihaly smiled again. “You’re welcome sir. We’ll start breeding more of these and send them out to the ranches.”

Five planetary years later, Dr. Szentmihaly sounded disappointed. “It’s not perfect.” He shook his now-bald head. “The genes for a mane were co-located with a lethal cardiac defect.”

Fulop Gabor shook his head in awe and wonder as he studied the stallion. “He’s beautiful as he is, Doctor.” The dark grey stud’s long, flowing tail blew like a banner as he trotted around the pen, then stopped and came toward them, snorting. Calm brown eyes studied the humans, and his ears twitched. The stallion’s hoofs thumped the dirt, strong and sturdy. He was broken to ride but not fully trained yet. “Uncle István will be delighted.”

“I hope so. To have cattle without horses . . . The founders would throw meteors at us.” The biologist scowled. “Or paperwork.”

“Paperwork. The consul from New Texas avers that paperwork is worse than storms, volcanos, or a locust plague.” The locusts should not have been in the terraforming package. Honey bees should have been included. Non-viable horses and cattle were the least little woe compared to that!

Dr. Szentmihaly frown shifted to a smile. “Csirip. This one, three mares, are yours. We will trade out stallions to mix the blood after three years, until a large pool develops.” He shrugged.” And we cross more, now that we know how. Are the cheese goats working?”

Fulop wagged one hand, still watching the almost-horse. “Mostly. The hard cheeses are taking longer than planned, but that’s not the milk. Do these,” he nodded to the animal, “have a name?”

“Majdnemio,” came the instant reply. “Almost horse in the old tongue.”

“My-nem-eeoh.” Fulop nodded. “Perfect.”

Fulop’s uncle met him and the transport the next day at “Tanyanagy,” their ranch. Fulop opened the side of the transport, lowering the ramp, and the four majdnemio walked out. They wore halters, so the waiting men approached slowly, each clipping a lead rope to one beast. “Behold, uncle. Horses.”

István busied himself with the pale brown mare, leading her to the pen. Once all four had been turned in, fed, and watered, he sighed a little. “No hair.”

“Only the tail, and the skin in winter, sir. Dr. Szentmihaly said that manes and heart death are collocated.”

The medium brown mare shook all over, then rolled in the dirt. “Oh.” István watched the horses for another minute or two. “They are shorter shoulder to tail than the video animals.”

“Sprinters, Uncle. We’ll find a way.”

Uncle, nephew, and ranch employees shared tired sighs. It was the unofficial colony motto. That, along with “Swear, then Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome,” and “Bureaucrats and fish stink in three days.” Off-worlder bureaucrats especially.

(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Atmospheric Rivers, the Pineapple Express, and a Large Wetland

California’s drought is, if not broken, seriously dented, especially for the upcoming summer. As of Tuesday the 17th, average depth of snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains was one and two-thirds the thirty-year average and increasing. As usual, once the media could get in, and the storms proved to be numerous and productive (and photogenic. Large bounders on the highway are cool. So are floating cars if they are somewhere far away from you,) people began trying to blame someone for the “atmospheric river.” (Climate change! Global warming! Cars and trucks! Hollywood’s moral turpitude!*) Um, well, not really. This isn’t new, just mildly uncommon.

California and parts of the western coast of North America have a Mediterranian Climate. This means that summers are warm and dry, because the ocean currents tend to be cold, and discourage evaporation. Also, winds from inland bring warm, dry air down from the mountains and push out to sea, sending any storms away from the coast. This makes for predictable seasonal weather – you can plan a picnic for July 15 and be 99% sure it will be sunny and warm, even if you set the date in December of the previous year. Likewise, November through March tend to be moist and cooler, although how wet and how cool vary from year to year. A strong La Niña pattern will send the moisture well to the north, and Seattle will get lots of snow, as will British Columbia. Southern California will be dry, and soon start worrying about water limits and rationing and Mega Drought. An El Niño year means California wades, the northern Rockies are relatively dry, and Arizona has a ski season as well as flooding. Remember when the Colorado River almost ripped out Glen Canyon Dam in the early 1980s? El Niño years. We’ve been having a series of La Niñas.

The short-term pattern his shifted, thanks to a series of Pacific storms that formed well south of the usual track in the Gulf of Alaska. These are sometimes called “the Pineapple Express,” because a southern branch of the jet stream picks them up from as far as Hawaii, and slings them over the west coast. From there they might go straight east, or north, or more rarely a little south**. They dump rain and snow on the West Coast.

Since California lives and dries by the winter rainfall and snow pack, all this would be great if it were spread out between October 1 and March 1. However, it is all in December-January, and the overload has filled rivers, flood plains, reservoirs, overloaded snow-removal equipment, and generally made a mess of the place. This is also not new. If you build a lot of hard surfaces along a river, it will rise higher and faster than before, causing flooding. Land-slides are part of the process as well, which people have observed going back to the Spanish colonial period. That’s just what the geology does in that part of the world, especially when very wet.

We’re nowhere near the mess of 1861-62 yet. Back then the Central Valley was still a wetland for the most part, undrained and grass covered, with meandering streams and only one major outlet. So when lots and lots and lots of snow and rain fell, and fell, and fell between November and January, some of it very hard and all at once, the Central Valley went under water. Literally. Sacramento was navigable by boat. Arizona, Washington, Oregon, and New Mexico also had flooding, and the Texas Panhandle finally saw the terrible drought of the 1850s broken for a while. A drought had plagued the area in the 1850s, and the shift to a very strong El Niño broke the drought hard. Very hard. Now, since there were far fewer people to be afflicted, it was a pain but not the disaster it is today. Only a few thousand people died (!) The rest of the country was more worried about the Civil War (and in TX, about the Comanches raiding again). It wasn’t that flooding hadn’t happened before, but that the scale was so impressive. Thirty-feet deep floodwaters are uncommon, and memorable. The good news was, it refilled the aquifers. The bad news was, it wiped out the ranches in the Central Valley along with a lot of other property, and cost human lives, and made a mess of the place. Wired has a pretty good article, if you skim the climate-apocalypse bits. The cautions and observations about the long-term sequence of floods and modern consequences is food for thought – and disaster novels.

Today, parts of the Central Valley have sunk from ground-water pumping. California’s water storage and use policies are . . . I will be charitable. Convoluted, awkward, complex, and perhaps slightly off in their use priorities. The current series of storms will be good in the medium-run, especially this spring and summer as the snow-pack melts and provides summer in-stream flow. Right now, it’s rough on people, livestock, and wildlife. It will also be a major concern for produce growers and other things, since so many fields are under water – literally – and will be water logged for a while. What the state of the soil will be after the water drains is to be seen. We may lose some to sand and other sediment deposits.

What we’re seeing isn’t new, just news. It’s not caused by people but by atmospheric pressure and temperature systems. Rain happens, and sometimes a lot of rain happens all at once.

*The Book of Genesis says no more global floods. There’s nothing about a localized scouring not being an option.

**The southern track is more common with El Niño patterns, and that’s where southern NM, TX, and northern Mexico get winter precipitation. Or we get it from the Gulf of Mexico, but that’s rare this time of year.

Do What with the Porpoise Hide?!?: Medicine in Anglo-Saxon England

Treating moon sickness was relatively easy. You get the hide of a porpoise, cut it into strips, and beat the sufferer with the strips of hide. Cure follows soon after.

Now, I suspect that most modern medical schools would take a dim view of belaboring a patient with strips of sea-creature hide in order to cure anything. (Not that the faculty have not been tempted to do that to students, or ER physicians to members of that select group known with a distinct lack of fondness as “frequent flyers*.” Nooooooo.) However, it wasn’t all that long ago that slapping someone to break them out of a hysterical trance, or in the case of a small child, dousing him with a large bowl of cool water, was quite acceptable. It worked in most cases. Today? Both would be assault and battery in many jurisdictions, even if the cure worked.

However, the mind and culture were rather different back, oh, 1500 years or so ago, and in the Anglo-Saxon world, some ailments responded best to physical stress, in this case, flogging with a porpoise hide, among other things. The use of flagellation was not rare in Medieval medicine, and seems to have had truly beneficial results in some cases. Porpoise had several magical properties, so and were hunted for food, so the hide would have been available and known by patient and family alike. I’m sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with reasons why the cure worked. I’m not going to speculate. It worked, and was considered a standard treatment, and that’s that.

Once we get into the period after AD 900 CE or so, herbs and prayers replace magical formulae. Mostly. The edges of the world, like the Celtic Fringe (Ireland, western Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Galicia, Brittany) held onto things for much longer. Certain other rites and traditions were retained because they worked, despite what the Church might have said officially. One suspects that a lot of parish priests turned blind eyes when they found small bundles of medicinal herbs tucked close to the front of the altar, and ignored rumors of someone gathering healing plants from the churchyard. The Lord worked in mysterious ways, after all, and the bishop was far away. And better to bless the plants, which the Lord had put on earth to help people, than to encourage a relapse into paganism out of desperation.

So leechbooks** included lots of strange-to-us remedies. As it turns out, several of them work, and in one case work so well that it is used to treat MRSA infections. Others used a combination of natural antibiotics, natural anticoagulants, soporifics (often with a little something to keep the patient from getting too sleepy), fats to prevent drying, and the like to start the body healing. Anti-fever and anti-cough preparations were common. Some of the plants are used today in well-known and respected drugs (digitalis, anyone? Belladonna to dilate your eye before getting an eye exam?) Others, as it turns out, deserve more study. And a few seem to have had magical or placebo effects that we no longer experience because we don’t worry about suffering from elf-shot, or being afflicted by dwarves, or bothered by the evil-eye. Back in the 500s-800s, those were real problems in Anglo-Saxon and Celtic Britain, and needed to be taken seriously by any good practitioner.

I’m not going to leap over into the “natural medicine” side of the argument any time soon, but it’s intriguing to try and imagine the mental world where the leechbooks and other writings came from. I will be incorporating parts of what I’m learning into two books, at least, in two different series. The complicated nature of many remedies implies a full-time herbalist and medical specialist, a leech in the old sense, who did nothing but prepare common remedies and treat the ill and injured. I need to add that to one story in particular, because it fits with the protagonist’s task, and gives him something that he can also do to earn trust when among strangers.

*These are individuals who do not have serious medical problems that truly do need immediate care, but often include people who are seeking pharmaceuticals. Some people who make multiple ER trips have 100% legitimate reasons, and they are NOT “frequent flyers.” When an incoming individual is offered something strong, and demands something “even better” that is a sign.

**”Leech” meaning physician goes way back to the Proto Indo-European root meaning a magic worker or one who gathered words. In Old Gothic and Old English, it carried the sense of enchanter of words as well as healer. The Irish Gaelic term has similar meanings. Words had power.