Stonehenge? Why not!

So, what happens when you have a rancher with an artist friend, a large left-over slab of rock, and display space?

You get Stonehenge II, just outside Kerrville, TX. In 1989, Doug Hill had a slab of rock left over from a patio project. His friend and neighbor Al Sheppard took the rock and made it into a menhir in a pasture. And since one rock needs a few friends, one slab became a rough arch became . . . a stone henge. The replica is only about two-thirds as tall as the original, but is nine-tenths of the horizontal size, so yes, the proportions are a bit off. In the early 1990s, Mr. Sheppard went to Easter Island, and two Moai-head statues now mark the ends of the henge.

After Mr. Sheppard’s death, the family gave the stones to the Hunt County Art Foundation. The rocks had been on private property but open to the public. Now they are in a public park across from the open-air theater and art center.

I didn’t inquire about renting the place for the Solstice.

It’s amazing what happens when you get two Texans, some unoccupied ground, and a slab of stone together. Why Stonehenge? Why not? It’s fun, makes other people happy, and gives the neighbors something new to talk about.

Great Small Museum: The Museum of Western Art, Kerrville, TX

Clan Red was in search of something to do indoors. That was open on Tuesday. So we ended up going 20 or so miles south to Kerrville, and visiting the Museum of Western Art. The museum began as part private collection and part museum for the Cowboy Artists association. Now, while not formally affiliated with the Cowboy Artists association, it features their works along with those of working ranch women artists. Most of the works are related to the American West*, or to American Indians.

The museum is a whisker bit south of the river, up on a hill. Enormous bronze western statues have pride of place outdoors. The museum was originally an open rectangle with a courtyard and fountain, but after some needed repairs arose, the trustees opted to enclose the courtyard and use it for display space. Currently, western saddles from the collection surround the mesquite-floored space. A large case full of all kinds of katsina dolls, a beautiful banker’s desk from the late 1800s, and other artifacts, with more saddles, line the walls, alternating with statues. All the work is by working cowboy or rancher artists, with special displays of Indian beadwork, rugs, and other applied arts.

The cartoonist Ace Reid’s saddle, donated by his wife Madge. Property of the Museum of Western Art.

I wish I could include photos of the artworks, but the museum docents were not certain about obtaining copyright permission from the various artists or their estates. However, the image below is from a gallery that shows the work of Eric Slocombe, the artist. The real statue “Owl Witch” is amazing, and very eerie.

“Owl Witch” (C) Eric Slocombe. Available through Pitzer’s Fine Arts.

The museum does have a wonderful “virtual tour” that allows you to see many of the fine art works remotely. You can access the virtual tour via the main web site, or here:

Red 2.0 is a little young for fine art. However, she spent at least half an hour, closer to 45 minutes, in the Oregon Trail display. It is built for kids, and has a miniature Conestoga wagon they can climb on, interactive activities to try, and tells via “diary entries” the experience of traveling the trail. At the “end of the trail” kids can try on pioneer clothes, hats, sunbonnets, and so on. Adults can also try on the sunbonnets (I might own some of the dresses already, in a larger size.) Red 2.0 is nine years old, and likes to play Oregon Trail on the computer. The display kept her happily fascinated for quite a while, so it is kid approved.

Another small display, across from Ace Reid’s saddle, has derringers. One was a real Derringer, and the rest are “derringers,” meaning small, concealable one or two-shot self-defense weapons.

Did I mention that some came in “odd” calibers?
For formal occasions . . .

I highly recommend the museum for fans of the art of the American West, applied “cowboy” art, and as a place for kids to look at the art and to get a little history lesson. The gift shop has prints of some paintings, jewelry, leather crafts, and books about Western art. Military and fire/police/EMS get an entry discount or are free.** They also have an archive of references and materials by and about Cowboy Artist Association members, as well as other research opportunities.

No, it’s not as large as the museum in Oklahoma City, or the Gilcrease in Tulsa, or in Cody. But it is kid-friendly, small enough to keep you from being overwhelmed, and provides a very good sample of what western art can be.

*Western art in this context is art depicting Western North America, including bison, Indians, cowboys, landscapes, wildlife, pioneers, and western related things. It’s a genre that is often looked down upon by sophisticated consumers of fine art.

**I have not seen so many museums that offer discounts to military and first-responders as I encountered in the Hill Country. The Red family chipped in a little to the kitty to help defray the deferred admissions.

Tuesday Tidbit: Morgana Consults the Experts

Shadow mages vs. textbook. Perhaps. Maybe.

Two weeks later, as Thomas Arthur Chan attacked the vegetable beds with a turning fork and spade, Morgana sat with his parents in her living room, Familiars on lap, ottoman, or platform. “So, what do I need to update or to expand on?” Morgana had sent them copies of the hazards chapter of the gate magic textbook.

“Gate collapse backlash leaves permanent damage.” André glanced to Lelia, who reached over and rested one hand on his lower arm. “It flows back on the same channels, so to speak, that are used to reach through the proto-gate into the other plane to establish the connection. Someone who’s been burned can assist with stabilizing a gate, and can support the person casting the spell. Oh, and he or she can close the passageway, but that’s it.” He shifted in his seat, uncomfortable.

That sounded like painful personal experience. “That’s interesting. And it seems to confirm Del Sarto’s hypothesis about magico-cerebral structures and magic-induced injuries.” Morgana made notes off to the side. She needed to look into that a little more, mostly for personal reference if Krimhilde ever had a problem and needed back-up.

André’s lean features took on a very thoughtful expression. “You know, I’d never considered that connection.” He blinked several times. “But it makes perfect sense, since backlash seems to work like lightning does, with the step-leader being the worker’s spell. But that does contradict McHaile’s observations on energy transfers.”

Lelia had begun leaning farther and farther away, and removed her hand from her husband’s arm. “Dear, you speaking academese. You scare me when you do that.”

Morgana chuckled. “No. If he were speaking acadamese, I’d be fleeing for the hills, Smiley right behind and gaining speed. He’s not using enough syllables yet, and he hasn’t dropped in the words ‘post-structuralist’ or ‘pedogogical praxis.’ Yet.”

“And he’s not going to, or I will shed all over him,” Rodney declared from the top of the ottoman.

Both shadow mages made warding-off gestures in the kit fox’s direction.

“Back on topic,” Morgana said, lest something bad happen. “What else do I need to update or change?”

Lelia took a deep breath and leaned forward slightly. “I don’t know about other kinds of magic worker, but a mage can support clergy in sealing off a plane and gate.”

It was Morgana’s turn to blink, hard. Beside her, Smiley inhaled loudly. He demanded,  “Gate and plane? How?”

Lelia and her Familiar, Tay, both shook their heads. “I don’t know,” the ring-tailed lemur said. “I know it happened, because Silver and I were there, and Shadow and Ears saw it too.”

“I channeled magic to the clergy member. He used that magic, and power from—” Lelia turned one hand palm up. “Somewhere. I don’t know where, or how, but it wasn’t our,” she made a circling gesture with that hand, “magic. And that closed the gate without unworking it, and it sealed an infernal plane away from ours. I don’t know for how long, but nothing is coming in or out of wherever that was.”

Morgana sat back against her chair. “Dang. So it still takes clergy. Even you couldn’t do it.”

Shadow and Ears shook their heads. “No,” Shadow said. “The clergy member passed out from strain, but there was no backlash, no power overflow, nothing.” He managed a faint chuckle. “I wanted to pass out too, but that had to wait until we got home, since I was driving.”

Lelia glared at him and said, “Since you insisted on driving, you mean, because you were too wired to let me have the wheel, and one of us had to look out for deer, and there is no, zero, way either of us are going to let Tay and Rodney behind the wheel of anything.”

Thppppth came from both Familiars. Smiley did his best to look innocent. It failed to convince.  A small halo illusion shimmered over André’s head, then faded. Morgana worked very hard to keep a straight face.

“One other thing,” Lelia added. “It is possible to gate from place to place on our plane, if you go through an intermediate plane and you have a physical link to your destination. But it took a mage supporting a very powerful sorcerer of shadow, and then everything the mage had coming back, with a second mage assisting in holding and unmaking the ‘home’ gate.” She drooped. “So it is possible, it is dangerous, it uses a ridiculous amount of energy, and I’m never, ever doing it again, God willing.”

André had extended his hand, picking up Lelia’s and holding it. “No, you are not, because I will turn that sorcerer of shadow into a newt if he even mentions the idea.”

Morgana studied her notes for a moment. “In other words, it is beyond expert level, requires a lot of special preparation, and even then you have to have multiple magic workers at all points in the process.”

Tay nodded. “I don’t think a coven could do it, because they’d have to move everyone together through the gate, close the gate, find the second destination, open that gate, move everyone through…” His voice trailed off as the other two Familiars made gagging sounds.  

“Possible, maybe. Probable, no.” Morgana filled in that bit. “Was there a link to the intermediate point?”

“Yes, but,” Lelia raised a cautionary finger. “Only the second time. The first time, as best Tay and I could tell, the sorcerer picked a random plane. We were probably fortunate that nothing wanted to bother us and that the plane didn’t seem to be abyssal.”

“Murphy’s Law says that abyssal is the most probable,” Morgana sighed. “You were lucky. You heard about the little oopsie in Utrecht?”

André scowled. “Who hasn’t? I know one of the people involved through a mutual acquaintance, and he wasn’t surprised that that individual would try a stunt that stupid.”

“No kidding, boss. If anyone would try it, it would be Heinrich the Twit.” Rodney’s sour tone made lemon juice sound sweet.

Smiley poked Morgana with one large claw. “Speaking of obnoxious items, Madame, do you want to show Silver and Shadow the irksome book?”

“No, but they probably deserve at least a warning of what might be coming.” Morgana set her notes aside and stood. “Potoo Brothers strikes again.”

Rodney sagged and flowed across the top of the ottoman until he looked like a miniature polar bear rug, but with giant ears. Morgana fetched the book from her workroom and handed it to André. “That bad?” he inquired as he unwrapped the silk around the book. Then he opened it to a random page and started reading. “Gottinhimmel!” He handed it to Lelia.

“Which chapter?” Morgana asked as she sat back down.

“Scrying and divin— Ugh. Really?” Lelia showed Tay the offending page.

His ears flopped flat against his skull and he fluffed to twice his usual size. “Really. That’s inexcusable.” The lemur bared his fangs. “Completely inexcusable.”

“In a just world, a delegation of mages and sorcerers of shadow, accompanied by the strongest light-inclined coven in North America, would call on that publisher and gently remonstrate with their staff about releasing such works. And with the authors of such titles.” Smiley too bared large ivory-colored fangs, ears back. “Alas, we live in an imperfect world.”

Lelia closed the book and shook a finger at her Familiar. “No lectures on following man-made law and working inside existing institutions, please.”

“No, this is the lecture about not squandering magic by gating into Potoo’s office and staging a book burning. Except I don’t think you can safely toss that tome into the burn barrel.” Tay sagged, as did Rodney.

Morgana removed her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She needed to get that pad replaced before it wore through. “And salamander fire won’t do it, either. I’m thinking about seeing if one of the industrial recyclers can chop it into pieces, then destroying the fragments separately.”

André’s eyes narrowed and he took the book back from his wife. Shadow magic flowed around the book, then cleared. André shook his head. “It’s got spells woven into the paper to protect it from errant spills, spells, and physical accidents.” He opened to the index, found what he wanted, and flipped pages. “Yes. Look at the book as if you were studying a pattern spell, Lake.”

Thus warned, she drew magic from Claws, shielded them both, and looked. Indeed, protections curled around and through the book, like the drawings she’d seen of electromagnetic charges around the Earth. “So both the accident and the essence are bad news.” She returned magic to Claws and closed her eyes for a moment. “I’m glad it isn’t in full production yet.”

“No shit,” Rodney sighed.

Lelia held out one hand. “May I see it again for a moment, please, dear?”

One thin silver-white eyebrow rose before André closed the book and handed it to his wife. She opened to the copyright page and read it. She bared her teeth a little as she showed Tay something. He leaned back. “To do that would be an abuse of professional connections, unkind, and richly deserved. Doooo eeeeeeettt.”

Should I be concerned?

Lelia showed the same information to André and Rodney. A hard, predatory expression suffused André’s countenance. “Madame, are you suggesting that I call upon a professional contact and encourage abuse of authority?”

“No. I am suggesting that Defender and Tik-Tik, being near the new offices, pay a social call and leave their visiting card. To do otherwise could be taken as a slight, and the magic workers world is rather small, dark sir.” Lelia’s words sounded like a Victorian manners book. Her expression made Morgana want to remove an icon of St. George from the icon corner and set it between them.

And this is why people give them such a wide berth at conferences. I can see why she’s been able to work for Saldovado for so long. “Which still leaves me with the problem of a very dangerous book that I can’t safely dispose of.”

Tay sniffed. “Um, you know, actually, there might be someone who knows someone who can take care of the thing.” He poked his mage with one claw. “Mr. Smith.”

Lelia closed the book and blinked very hard. She opened her mouth, then closed it. “You know, that is an idea. And if not, he might have a contact who—” She nodded once. “Morgana, I have a professional contact, an art collector, who has some very eccentric associates. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of them might know a way to deal with this.” She tapped the top of the book with a slender finger.

André nodded in turn and partly folded his arms. “Hold onto the book for now. Lelia will contact Mr. Smith and see what he says.”

It wasn’t great, but it was a maybe. She’d take maybe. “Thank you, for the information and for the book disposal suggestion. The first print run is scheduled for July.”

Lelia stood and set the book down on her chair. “Pardon me for a moment.” She walked briskly toward the guest washroom.

“Do you gentlemen need out?” Morgana inquired.

Three enthusiastic nods confirmed her guess. She let the boys out through the mud room and checked on Art in the process. André came with her. “I’ll drop a line to someone who might be in a position to have a word with Potoo. Enough’s enough.” His expression cleared. “Good lord, Art, that’s a record!”

The entire vegetable bed had been turned over, and the dark-haired teen had started work on the herb garden. “Is it?” He stopped and looked at the well-churned soil. “Um, I guess I had a few frustrations to vent.”

Morgana shifted to magic sight and observed several Earth Elementals cavorting in the nicely-loosened soil. He’d had a bit of help. Interesting, especially if he hadn’t noticed. “Well done, Art. If you want to stop for a few minutes, I’ve got snacks and drinks inside for you. And your parents.”

He tilted his head to the side and leaned on the large garden fork. “Thank you, ma’am. Maybe a little later. I’ve got a rhythm going.” Art resumed his attack on the loam.  

“He’s going to be sore tomorrow,” André murmured as he followed Morgana back into the house. “He’s not used to that kind of physical labor.”

“Better him than me, no offense.” She pulled cheese, home-made crackers, summer sausage, and sausage balls out of the fridge, along with sauce for the sausage balls. She slid them into the microwave and set the timer. “What plans does Art have for when he graduates?”

Lelia had returned from the washroom. “He plans to make his parents feel old. Or at least, that’s what he manages to do most of the time. I’m too young to have a child graduating high school!”

“Dear, you don’t. He graduates in December, remember?” André stayed out of arm’s reach as he spoke, and Morgana sensed a shield forming.

Lelia gave her husband a look. Then she said, “He’s going on his mission. There’s some debate as to when, because of schedules and his age, but he’s going to do that, then college, here. At least to start.”

André had released his shield spell. He said, “After that? My mentor wants to work with Art. We’ll see. For one, Meister Gruenewald’s, ah, not young. And two, that means Art going to Germany for a while.” Art’s dad sounded less than excited.

The microwave chimed. Morgana retrieved the sausage balls, now hot sausage balls, and set them on the table with the other snacks. Lelia had gotten plates, and Morgana found the long, slender fork for spearing the meatballs and dipping them into the sauce. Lelia served herself, then said, “And three, Art is not his father, and might not want to take up Emm Gee’s offer.”

Tay snorted from the floor. “Offer? Demand’s more like it.”

“Well, what do you expect from someone who thinks he’s more entitled than Queen Victoria was?” Rodney sniffed. “I mean yeah, he’s earned a little of it, but sheesh.”

Morgana tried to recall who they might be talking about. Two academics popped to mind, and one solo witch who’d been tossed out of at least two covens on different sides of the country. “Have I met this person?”

André and Rodney both shook their heads. Lelia made a warding off gesture with her fork and one finger as she chewed a sausage ball. “No, ma’am,” Rodney said. “He prefers to stay in Europe. Him and airlines wouldn’t mix.”

Talk shifted to harmless topics, including regional gossip and complaints about the cost of tuition. “To be honest, I’m very, very happy that Hiram has an apprenticeship and doesn’t want to go to college,” Lelia confessed. “In-state tuition here is already fifty thousand a year for a full load, plus books and housing. I’m terrified of what a private college would cost.”

“Too much for what you get, based on the news,” Morgana replied, a touch tartly. “I realize that only horrible warnings make headlines, but really.”

“Indeed Madame,” Smiley intoned from his platform beside the table. “Although why one is surprised by the lack of employment for holders of a degree in ‘the philosophy of knowledge theory’ I fail to understand.” If his tone were any drier, he’d turn the Amazon Basin into a desert.

Lelia wrinkled her nose, then had more cheese and crackers. “For the same reason that certain authors throw tantrums because people won’t buy their books. Poor writing, lousy covers, and sketchy subject matter notwithstanding, of course.”

“That new series from MoonDrop Press?” Morgana guessed.

A head shake. “No, ma’am. The gal who writes as Gloriana Swansdown. The shimmery incubus romances.”

It was Morgana’s turn to wrinkle her nose. “Shimmery incubus. No thank you. I tangled with one of those once, or something close to it, in Japan. An import that preyed on round-eyes.”

Groans arose from her guests.

“That was sort of my thought as well. I managed to contain it until a local native magic worker could send it back to wherever it needed to go.” She’d been a coven witch at that time, and containing the spirit had taken all the starch out of her for several days. Ted, God bless him, had missed the excitement.

(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved.

Odd Name, Fun Place

I wasn’t certain what to expect when MomRed announced that she’d booked a small cabin “with a loft.” Actually, it started with “how do you feel about climbing a ladder into a loft?” Since RedQuarters lacks lofts, I wondered if this meant that she was hiring me out to help someone at church or who she knew. No, it had to do with sleeping quarters.

So, seven and a bit miles east of Fredericksburg, TX, we pulled onto a small side road and wound through houses to a set of four small cabins, very much like the Sunday Houses found in the region. “Rumpelpunzeldornaschenwittchen” filled a small sign. I had been warned that the cabins were named for fairy tale characters, and that the hosts Heinrich (Henry) and Barbara were German, so I sorted out “Rumpelstiltzken, Rapunzel, Dornrose, Aschenputtel, Schneewittchen.” My parents and I stayed in “Rapunzel,” a lovely small cabin with a tiny half kitchen (no stove but has small fridge and microwave), bathroom, sitting area, large downstairs bed in an alcove, and a twin bed upstairs.

Lurking at the top of the ladder . . .

OK, any place with a dragon waiting in the loft can’t be too bad.

Not recommended for those who dislike heights.

The ladder’s not as bad as feared, although making multiple trips up and down per day reminded me why I don’t like stairs. The cabin was very quiet, and comfortable (good Air Conditioning). Breakfasts were semi-German, meaning that Barbara used US meats and cheeses to provide a German-style breakfast with cold cuts, boiled eggs, bread and cheese and butter, fresh fruit, fruit juice, yogurt, and occasionally pastries. The cabin came with a coffee maker and microwave and hot-plate, as well as plates, bowls, glasses, and utensils.

The landscaping is attractive, and you don’t feel as if you are surrounded by houses (aside from the chickens from across the creek who sometimes visit). There’s a nice little pond, and fireflies at night. Hummingbirds, cardinals, and other birds nest in the area, and swallowtail butterflies worked over the clover in the yard. Yes, mosquitoes, but that’s par for the course in this part of Texas, especially after the wet May and early June they had. All damage from Snowvid 21 has been repaired.

The other place of note where I stayed was the Whitten Inn.

Yes, there are two cats who supervise housekeeping and maintenance.

The Whitten is in Abilene, TX. It is just off I-20. It is not fancy, but it is amazingly clean, with very reasonable rates. The family is pro military, and there are retired and active duty military and police/fire/EMS discounts. The place advertises that they use My Pillow™ brand bedding, which tells you a bit about their opinions, if the USMC flag flying beneath Old Glory wasn’t a clue. However, they don’t make a big deal about politics. The big deal is a quiet, comfortable, no-frills stay. The furnishings are not fancy, but they are comfortable, at least for me. I was delighted not to have a pillow-topped mattress for once (I prefer firm rather than “disappears into the fluff never to be seen again.”) The Whitten Inn doesn’t serve breakfast at the moment, but there are several eating places close by.

Dining in Fredericksburg ranges from chain restaurant (pizza, Diary Queen, and so on) to German-style and German. There are several very good Italian places, a number of bakeries and coffee shops, and so on. One thing to be aware of is that even in tourist season, Monday and Tuesday, or Tuesday and Wednesday, are often closing days. Tuesday is the most common “closed” day. The bakeries are good, and if you want snacks, well, bakeries, popcorn shops, candy shops, fudge, ice cream . . . And then there’s the peach ice cream from the farm stands by the highway . . .

A Dream that Came True

When I was 10-20 or so, I was hooked on unicorns. Unicorn books, china and glass unicorns, unicorn stickers, unicorns in art . . . It was probably the only “normal” thing about me, until the fad for all-things-unicorn passed but I kept collecting them and reading about them. Oops.

When I was still in high school, one of the adult choirs I sang with went to New York to perform at Lincoln Center (late 1980s.) Mom and I took one day and hopped on the bus (educational) and went from one end of Manhattan Island to the other to visit the Cloisters Museum. The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum. In 1913 George Grey Barnard, John D. Rockefeller, J.P Morgan, and a few other guys bought four French church cloisters and moved them to New York. And added appropriate art, furnishings, and so on. When the museum opened in 1938, it became the home of the Met Museum’s medieval art and artifacts collection (not that the main location lacks medieval art, but this is more in situ.)

Why the Cloisters? The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestry series. And the rest of the stuff, but it was the tapestries that I desperately wanted to see. And so we did. They were wonderful – as was the rest of the museum.

Fast forward to 2012 or so. Mom, Dad and I were wrapping up a tour of the highlights of France. It ended in Paris – which was miserably hot. As in the 90s. Street temps in the 100s. Not fun. But, one morning we skipped the official whatever and went across the Seine to the Muse´de Cluny. This is an old Cluniac monastery and church that is now a medieval art and artifacts museum. Why the Cluny? Well, because it had old stuff, in an old setting. And because of the Unicorn Tapestries. These are “The Five Senses,” the ones with the unicorn and lion holding standards, and the lady and her servant hearing, smelling, looking, and so on. We got shooed out of one gallery because the guard was going on break (ah, France), and hurried into the tapestry gallery. We were the only ones there.

Remove the people and you see what I saw.

You don’t walk straight into the gallery, but around a wall. The space is dimly lit and cool, in order to preserve the tapestries. They are displayed in a semi-circle, so you can stop and look at each one without blocking other people’s view.

I walked around the partition wall, saw the singing colors and designs, and wept. Tears rolled down my face as I stood there, truly awe filled. The weavings were so beautiful! So perfect! Everything I’d every hoped to see existed before my eyes. As I type this, I feel the awe once more, the sense of wonder. It wasn’t sacred wonder, like I’ve felt in some churches, or when worship does everything it should but so rarely does. No, this was . . . an echo? Something in me resonating with the art, like a perfectly tuned musical chord raising a harmonic. The tapestries are secular, not sacred, works, but something about them . . . My heart truly overflowed with joy. Not happiness, but joy, the deeper emotion.

The rest of the museum was quite good, and I learned a great deal. Of the museums I saw in Paris, I’d say I liked the Art of Northern Europe part of the Louvre, then the Cluny, then the Southern European section of the Louvre, in that order. I didn’t get to the Impressionist museum or the military history museum.

“Sight” Image source here:

Fur in History: A Quick Overview

Another repeat. I’m still on the road.

So there I was, trotting along under the January stars, pleased that I had found my fur-lined winter hat, and my fur neck-piece, and my fur muff, and thinking about fur, who wore fur, fur in art, and realized that I have not yet seen a book about the history of fur. The North American fur trade, yes, lots and lots of books, because my early childhood was spent at a place where two major rivers and multiple trading trails crossed, trade routes that predated Europeans by quite a while. So I grew up reading about fur trappers and beaver and that sort of thing. But what about fur in world history? Fur is a no-no for some people today, although that seems to be changing a little, and no one seems to shed tears over lining a hat with rabbit, or using rabbit fur to make felt hats. Back in the day, before central heat, fur meant survival and was one of the most important trade items around. Fur carried status, even squirrel and other “low-class” furs. Continue reading

Tuesday Tidbit: Morgana and the Book of Doom – Part Two

Articles, rural living, and . . . salamanders?

The next day she wrote the article. She’d get criticism because Justinian published her two textbooks, but she didn’t have a dog in the fight for an intermediate-level work. That required a lot more familiarity with current training methods and with bridging the chasm between “this is magic. This is not magic.” and “cast a gate after determining which plane you need to send the interloper back to.” The differences between sorcery, coven, and mage magic also grew much larger once the student passed the basic levels. She’d stick to what she knew.

“So. Introduction of topic and reasons for new titles. Topic-by-topic comparison chart, discussion of each book on its own, comparisons, then separate coverage of Potoo’s volume. No interior images of that one.” Morgana scribbled a note to the press, reminding them of that. “Right.” She started typing.

By evening her back hurt, her eyes felt dry, and eating Smiley’s supper seemed like a quick and easy meal plan. Instead she opened the slow cooker and dished out a large bowl of “clean-the-freezer” stew. Smiley worked on roadkill deer ribs and loin, snarling a little. Well, he was a wolverine, a species not known for delicate dining habits. At least he wasn’t Rodney Lestrang. Just what little she’d heard through the Familiars’ gossip tree made her queasy. Some of his purported meals sounded worse than what buzzards dined on.

After supper she and her Familiar strolled along the long driveway connecting Chaos Manor to the county blacktop. She needed to go to Riverton in a day or two. No, she’d go tomorrow, let the article sit overnight, and then proof-read it and have Smiley check the draft. He had a better sense of what might be missing than she did. “Have you discerned any solution to the book disposal difficulty, Madame?” he inquired after they’d turned around at the hay meadow. The dark green cool-season grass already reached mid-shin. They’d probably get at least two mowings this year, maybe three if fate and weather smiled on her.  

Morgana waved away some gnats. “No. I’m going to call Angahard this weekend and see if she knows anything about asking a salamander to take care of it.” Salamander fire would take care of a lot of problems, if one felt willing to oblige. “Although I’d have to shield the salamander from the book’s contents, and I don’t know how well that would work.” The volume probably wouldn’t hurt the creature, but her conscience would bother her.

A sound between a thoughtful noise and a battle snarl came from Smiley. After a few more yards, he observed, “Would bael-fire serve as a suitable disposal vehicle?”

She alternated between “no” and “oh hell no.”  She settled on, “Resonances. I’d be terrified of what resonances bael-fire might ‘ping’ if it were applied to the book.” In theory none, because the physical book of paper and ink was not the same as the potential of spells-in-use. Some of what she’d read, however . . . “I’d be very, very leery about the essence of the book’s contents affecting its physical accident.”

Smiley blinked several times, then drooped. “Right. Assume the worst, because with Potoo it’s probably true. Fangs-n-fur,” he snarled. “Someday, karma will sort them out. I would dearly love to have the snack concession on that day.”

Morgana rolled her eyes. Apex predators. “Go right ahead, Smiley. I don’t want to be on the same continent when the lawyers stop circling and dive in for the kill.”

A crow zoomed past overhead, chased by at least three songbirds. Speaking of dive in . . .

The next afternoon, Morgana contemplated curse lifting. Specifically, would she lift any curses or hexes cast on any of the meteorologists in or around Riverton? The rain sheeting down the windshield ought to have arrived on Saturday, according to the previous evening’s forecast. The morning weather suggested that rain would commence on Friday evening. At the moment, it was still Thursday. “I know I should have gotten that damn garage door opener replaced last month.” She slapped the red SUV’s steering wheel, but lightly. She didn’t want to bruise her hand.

By the time she marched around to the back of the house, let herself in, stomped through the house to the garage, unlocked the mechanism with the help of a step ladder, and heaved the garage door open, her shoulders and hips had begun to ache, and her left knee joined in on the chorus. She backed the car half-way into the garage. All the way and she wouldn’t be able to open the back and unload. Smiley would have a grand time eating his way out of the car. “Ageing is not for sissies,” she grumbled as she opened the hatchback. She unlatched the door on her Familiar’s armored car-carrier, lowered his ramp, and started hauling her purchases into the house.

André didn’t answer his phone when she called that evening, so she left a message. He called back just after nine, sounding far too lively and awake. “Hi Morgana, Lelia and I were at a fencing team parents’ meeting.”

“That sounds more entertaining than the usual Parent Teacher Association meetings.”

He chuckled. “They can be, at least if money is involved. My suggestion for a shish-kabob dinner for raising funds was vetoed, even if it would be club-appropriate.”

She could imagine that all too well, including Lelia’s disavowal of her husband’s ideas. “The thought of teenagers with long skewers probably terrified the school administration.”

“Parents with long skewers, actually.” He sounded thoughtful, in a predatory way. A bit like Smiley, now that she thought about it. “So, you want to trade an interview for space to have Art work off energy?”

“Art or Hiram, or both. Justinian wants me to update the hazards chapter in the gate magic book. Of the people I know, right now you and Lelia have the most experience with that, and the most recent, so I thought I’d pick you and your Familiars’ brains, so to speak. And I need a strong young man or two to do the heavy digging in my garden this spring, and later in the summer. I’ll provide teenager chow.”

André made an interested noise. “Let me ask Lelia, then Art.”

She heard muffled voices, then an unmuffled “If she’s offering to feed them, I’ll drop them off with care instructions and she doesn’t have to return them.” Morgana chuckled. Her nephew Gregory hadn’t eaten his weight in food daily, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Ted had assured her that came from the maternal side of Greg’s family. Ted’s mother had warned otherwise.

“I have an enthusiastic yes from their mother and a qualified yes from Art and Hiram. I’ll change that to a solid yes from Art and not-right-now from Hiram, since he has more homework. Deborah abstains.” André chuckled. “Familiars don’t get to vote.” Raspberries in the background suggested some disagreement from that quarter.

“Let me know what works for you on the interview, because your schedule is less flexible than mine,” Morgana said. “And e-mail me a list of any food allergies. Not current dislikes, but allergies.” She’d hate to accidentally do-in a voice-activated turning-fork. Smiley would tease her unmercifully.

She heard the sound of adults conferring, and a teen-aged male adding commentary. “Not this weekend,” André said. “And next weekend is Easter for us. Two weeks from Saturday, ten AM?”

Morgana flipped two pages in her “paper brain,” as she called the day planner. “Perfect. Weather permitting, I’ll have work for the boys, or boy, to do. Smiley can supervise.” He bared his fangs at her, a little gleam flashing on one long incisor.

“Boy. Hiram has a scout project that day. Deborah will be at Krimhilde’s, doing something herbal, or reading herbals if the weather’s bad.” A long, tired sigh. “I know I had their energy once. I wish I knew where I left it, so I could get it back.”

Rodney’s voice came over the line. “Off hand, I’d say about a quarter of it stayed in Southwest Asia, another quarter in Europe, and a third quarter at various goth clubs and concerts on two continents, boss.”

“Not helping, Rodney,” came André’s tight reply. Morgana imagined him clamping his hand around the white-bleached kit fox’s muzzle. She’d done that once with Smiley, but it was to keep him from taking a large chunk out of the posterior of someone who almost deserved it. She’d also nearly dislocated her shoulder. Wolverines were strong.

The next day she reread the article draft, making corrections and re-phrasing a few things. “Smiley, your turn,” she informed him after dinner. “I left the pages on your reading stand in the work room.”

“Very good, Madame.” He gallumpfed off that direction.

Morgana busied herself with sweeping up shed fur and dust, then thinning herb starts. The thyme seemed especially boisterous this year. She’d sent Angahard an e-mail, asking what time to ball-call. European countries shifted to Daylight Savings on a different schedule from the US, and Morgana never could remember if they were on a six hour or seven hour difference at the moment. “I need to look up the current best-practices on salamanders in the US.” Austria, Germany, France, and the US all had different rules, and Canada didn’t bear thinking about, since the national government allowed each province to go its own way on magical creatures. Alberta and British Columbia were the strictest about salamanders and other fire-aspect creatures. “As if they caused forest fires,” Morgana sighed a little to herself. This was what happened when politicians insisted on regulating magic, rather than allowing the community to police itself. “Oh well, it least they aren’t Russia.”

Smiley reported back as she started cooking supper. “No major changes, Madame. If anything, I’d be less diplomatic about the Potoo Brothers title, since we did not look at the most advanced exercises. Perhaps we ought to, only one or two pages, as a precaution.” He sounded less than enthusiastic, and his tail drooped, dragging behind him, gathering a bit of pale dust that she’d missed. “I believe I will step outside for a moment.”

“Go right ahead. Supper will be an hour at least.” She’d had a protein-heavy dinner.

“Thank you, Madame.” He disappeared into the mud room, claws clicking a little on the tile. She heard the pet-door in the main door clack, unlocking as he approached. He’d at last agreed to wear a collar with a key-fob on it, so he could come and go at will during the day. Morgana rolled her head back and forth, releasing tension in her neck, then resumed stirring the cubed meat. The package claimed pork, but the contents seemed very dark for domestic pig.

Not ten minutes later, Smiley raced through the pet door. Thump came from the mud room as he slid the blocking bar across the door. Morgana peered around the corner. His fur stood on end, and he bared his teeth. “Skunk, Madame. In the garden. Staggering.”

Oh shit. She turned the fire off under supper and got the varmint rifle. A quick look out the window of the breakfast nook revealed a very strange-acting skunk weaving as it walked through the garden. Damn, it was early in the year for rabies. She switched into yard-boots and opened the back door, then eased out. She sighted and fired, dripping the skunk. She put a second round in the chest, just to be certain, then went back inside and called the County Extension Agent’s rabies hotline. “Hi. Morgana Lorraine, with a possibly rabid skunk. Yes. Behavior. It was staggering and wandering in my yard. Yes, chest, to preserve the head if you want it.” She listened to the groan, and a conversation in the background. “I can bag it and have it at the gate, if that would be easier.”

The next morning, at ten, she ball-called Angehard. Her niece answered promptly. “Good morning, Aunt Morgana. How are you?”

“Pretty well, and good afternoon. Has spring arrived yet?”

Angahard shook her head, then lifted an errant strand of medium-brown hair out of the way. “Too much static,” she said as she pinned the hair back in place. “And no, we had some snow last night. Just enough to dust everything in white. The ski mountain got four centimeters, so the late season skiers are delighted. Jean-Paul is not as excited, because he’s out checking the trails.”

The joys of being an avalanche safety officer. “We’re having rain and cool weather, but no avalanches. At least none on the farm.”

Angahard laughed, smiling broadly. “I’d hope not! How are things there?”

After a bit of chatting about family and Chaos Manor, Morgana said, “I need to lean on your expertise with salamanders.”

Her niece blinked. “Is this for a book?”

“No, actually it is for book disposal.”

Smiley had joined her, climbing onto his carpeted platform where he could see and be seen in the crystal ball. “Madam has a title so dangerous we cannot, in good conscience, sell it or keep it.”

“As bad as Martindale?” Angahard blinked several times. “I didn’t think that was possible.”

Morgana held up three fingers. “Three words: Potoo Brothers textbook.

A groan sounded from the other end of the call, and Angahard covered her eyes with one hand for a moment. “They need an exorcism.”

“Several people have suggested that. Others recommend a lawyer. My problem is that I was given a copy of the book to do a review. I have, and the book is so bad that it is actively dangerous, meaning lethal. I need to dispose of it safely.” Morgana frowned. “Just surface-reading the accident of the physical book suggests that it has been inadvertently made fire resistant. Thus my question about salamanders.”

Angahard pursed her lips as she thought. She looked very much like her mother, Morgana’s sister, when she did that. Same nose, same medium-thick lips, same trick of looking to the left while squinting her right eye. “I can see why you’d be interested in having a salamander try to consume the book. I . . . I don’t think it would cooperate. Just a moment, please.” Angahard’s face disappeared, replaced by landscapes of the Swiss Alps in summer.  Was one of them the setting of her current hotel? Possible, since it was a US owned mountain resort. Smiley sighed at the glimpse of fat lambs and kids gamboling in a meadow.

Morgana’s niece returned. “Aunt Morgana, no, it would not work. I checked one of our semi-retired salamanders. His peak temperature only reached six-hundred-forty degrees Fahrenheit when he was in his prime, and that was standard heat, not magic fire. Even with giving one a lot of oily food and fats, which I don’t recommend, the book would not completely burn.”

“Thank you. I wasn’t sure myself, because of having to shield the salamander from the book while having it also consume the book.” Morgana drooped a little, but that was that. “How many salamanders are you currently riding herd on, pardon the pun?”

“Only eighty four right now. There have been some anti-magic rumblings recently, so the management had us reduce the number of salamanders and replace them with super-thick thermal carafes and regular alcohol-fueled or even electric chafing dishes.” Angahard shook her head a little as Smiley muttered. “This as they are also trying to cut back on electricity use because of the new taxes. I’ll be glad to come back to the States.”

“What about Jean-Paul?” Angahard’s husband was a Swiss citizen.

“He wants to give the US a try. Some of the government’s environmental policies are making it harder to protect people from avalanches and other hazards, and he’s . . .” She looked down, then back up. “His team recovered five bodies last month. Snowboarders on a cornice that his boss couldn’t get permission to drop the week before. It’s hard on Jean-Paul.”

Morgana pinched the bridge of her nose. “That is rough. I’m very sorry to hear that, and I can see why he’d be willing to consider relocating.”

After the call ended, Morgana folded her arms and leaned back in her chair.  “Well dang it. I can’t bury it, sending it to the landfill is out of the question, no university special collection is currently accepting hazardous modern tomes . .  Phooy and drat.” With that she creaked out of the chair and stalked out of the workroom. She needed food and good coffee, and not in that order.

(C) Alma T.C. Boykin 2021 All Rights Reserved.

Milton’s Satan: Analogies and Culture

When David M. Potter wrote his book, The Impending Crisis about the politics and social forces in the lead-up to the American Civil War/War Between the States, most educated people had read Milton’s Paradise Lost. Potter, describing the “great triumverate” of Henry Clay, Danial Webster, and John C. Calhoun, described Calhoun as “the greatest champion of error since Milton’s Satan.” Potter could do this, knowing that everyone reading his book would understand the reference. When I first read the book 15 years or so ago, all the grad students in the seminar got the reference, because we’d either read it in high school (me) or in undergraduate English classes. Or out of curiosity (the Marine. That’s when I discovered that the guys in Southwest Asia read anything that didn’t try to flee under its own power.)

Today, if I wanted to assign the book, I’d probably also have to copy Satan’s speech from Paradise Lost and have the students read it as well. No one, outside of a very few charter and private schools, reads things like Milton in their entirety in high school English. Or almost their entirety. When I went back as an adult and read the unexpurgated epic, I found all the anti-Catholic, anti-Church of England bits that the HS edition omitted. The point being, the cohort behind me in the schools likely doesn’t know the story, or Milton’s character, and why Potter made the comparison. Knowing Calhoun, he’d be flattered, based on what I’ve read of him. (Andy Jackson would probably say that Potter gave Calhoun too much credit.)

When given a choice, to the surprise of a number of college administrators, undergrads ask for Great Books courses. You know, Aristotle, Plato, Milton, Adam Smith, Machiavelli, Mary Woolstonecraft, Dante, and others of what is sometimes called “The Western Canon.” Over the years I’ve gone back and filled in gaps, sometimes discovering as I did with Milton that what stood out as a teenager and what I catch as an adult are rather different. The students want to know the references, the meaning of analogies, and where ideas and culture came from. This is unwelcome among many administrators, because 1) it requires faculty who know their stuff and know the Great Books, and 2) there are a lot of Dead White European Males in the list. There are no federal awards or grants for Great Books courses. The very fact that the DWEMs are Frowned Upon by the Establishment is part of the lure. If you ban it, they will try to read it, just for shock value. Like a student I had who showed up with a copy of Mein Kampf. I congratulated him on taking on the task, and assured him that no, there are no good translations. Hitler needed an editor. The student later admitted that the book was, on the whole, rather boring and repetitive. (As one of my colleagues said, “Wait till he gets to On Capital by Marx. Then he’ll really know what boring means.”)

Seventy years ago, everyone who would have read Impending Crisis at least had a passing knowledge of Milton. Today? I’d be happy if an undergrad confused him with Milton Friedman. There was a common culture that is fading, or being eroded. “Great Triumverate” “Milton’s Satan.” Those references are slipping away, with a lot of other things. We lose them at our peril, because reading Satan’s great monologues gives such a perspective on the people who have that mindset today. Old Scratch really did have all the great lines.

Show Museum or Teaching Museum?

A re-post about museums and their purpose.

You probably can tell without my saying much that I am a sucker for museums. Art museum, science museum, history museum, folk-life museum, botanical garden, I’ll probably at least poke my head in to see if it looks promising. I’ve been very, very fortunate to be able to visit, and re-visit, many of the great art and history museums north of the Alps, like the Kunsthistorischesmuseum [Art History Museum] in Vienna three times, the Gamäldegalarie [painting gallery] in Berlin twice, and a few others, like the Louvre (twice over two days. Don’t bother with the southern art section, IMHO). Continue reading