Horses, Camels, and Human Behavior

I’ve been reading a lot about the Russians, or more specifically the princes of Muscovy in the 1400s-1700s and their problems with horse nomads. The Crimean Tatars, the remnants of the Golden Horde, and other steppe peoples kept southern Russia, Galicia, and Poland-Lithuania busy for five hundred years. Reading the accounts of the princes of Muscovy as they tried to deal with the khans feels a bit like reading histories of the Old West, except for the language of the treaties and the shadow of the Ottoman Empire looming in the background. Continue reading


Oh Sheet, not again!

I’m allergic to ice. I like ice in drinks, or keeping food frozen and fresh, or as the first snow of the year. Ice clinging to power lines and coating branches, turning roads into hocky-rinks and bringing out the worst in other drivers makes me break out in (metaphorical) hives. I do get cold chills thinking about ice-storms. Been there, done that, and yes, I do have the tee-shirt. The shirt-shop was one of the few places in town to have power (along with a few restaurants and student bars, the hospital, and the university campus. The U has its own power-plant and generators because of things like winter storms, tornadoes, and other fun events.) Continue reading

“All is Safely Gathered In”

I wrote this when I was flying up in the Midwest fifteen-twenty years ago. Tom still farms, although his oldest boy is taking more of the duties.

Field work started in late September, heralded by a stretch of dry weather and small clouds of golden smoke moving steadily back and forth through rustling dry corn stalks and freeze-gilded soybean stems. Soon, processions of chugging tractors and pick-ups hauling tall wagon-loads of grain and beans to the elevators began passing up and down the highway by day, while the combines’ bright headlights shone long after dark, hiding in their own chaff-fog on still nights. All this came as quite an eye opener to basically a city girl. Ranching I knew something about, and winter wheat, but nothing about harvest time on smaller family farms. One thing I learned quick  – up here, “beans” doesn’t refer to pinto or black. All field beans are soy. Continue reading

Feasts of Thanks

“Come ye thankful people come/ Raise the song of Harvest Home.”

I suspect that ninety percent of the cultures on Earth practice some sort of harvest thanks ritual. I say only ninety percent because those cultures that focus on, or derive from, purely nomadic herding traditions seem to have offered thanks, but not specifically for harvest. Otherwise, you find prayers or meditations all around the world that urge believers to stop and express appreciation for the bounty of the season. After all, it is polite to say “thank you” for a gift given by another person, so how much more important is it to show gratitude for the things that make life possible, especially in places with seasonal climates? In Europe, the idea of Harvest Home developed and was preserved in England especially. The last sheaf of grain was cut, and in some places tied into the shape of a corn dolly to represent the spirit of the harvest. Harvesters carried the sheaf or dolly to the manor house or village with much celebration, and it was expected that the landowner would provide drinks and a feast for the workers as they celebrated “harvest home.” Continue reading

Tubes full of Cats

That’s one popular definition of the Internet: a series of tubes filled with cats. given the prevalence of cat cartoons, memes, pictures, videos, and so on, I’m tempted to agree. Some of the stuff in my e-mail box reminds me of hairballs and littler-box leftovers. Thus, it is only fair for me to do my part to keep the Internet’s tubes full of cats: Continue reading

Self-inflicted Misery

For reasons probably only known to my Calvinist ancestors, I go to the gym at least once a week, preferably twice a week, and lift weights. If I go more often, I see negative results and lose conditioning through some quirk of physiology. Officially, I go in order to stave off osteoporosis, to build core strength to compensate for my back injury, and (at the moment) to improve shoulder strength so I don’t injure tendons and ligaments (again). Oh, yeah, and to keep the middle-age spread in check. My ancestors on both sides came from locations and cultures where being able to squeeze every last bit of energy from food was a survival advantage. Continue reading

Book Review: Wealth, Poverty, and Politics

Thomas Sowell, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics (NY: Basic Books, 2015)

It’s pretty much what the cover says: a very well written analysis of wealth and poverty on an international scale, and the politics that augment, exacerbate, and affect wealth and poverty. Sowell draws on his earlier writings but adds in a great deal of more recent research to provide an easy-to-read, easy to reference synopsis of “How come some places/peoples have all the luck?” Continue reading

Canadian Musicians and Memories

I grew up surrounded by music. Dad Red has quite an ear for music, was high school drum major, and played sax and clarinet in jazz bands in college for a little spending money. Mom Red was an operatic alto and has sung in church choirs and municipal choruses all her life. I didn’t hear pop music until I was in 5th or 6th grade, which probably explains a great deal of my Odd musical taste. Instead I listened to classical music (even calling in to the local NPR station when I was 7 or 8 to request Beethoven. The DJ was so nonplussed that he took the call and played the composition.) and folk music. Peter Paul and Mary? Yup. Johnny Horton? Oh yes. The Irish Rovers, Odetta, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, the Limelighters and the New Christie Minstrels, and Ian and Sylvia and Gordon Lightfoot, among others. The ones I always go back to are Lightfoot and Ian and Sylvia. Continue reading

Day shadows creeping

A week or so ago, I got to work a little early. It had been a cool, clear night following the passage of a dry cold front, and as I reached the county road that leads to the school, day shadows had begun retreating eastward. The far horizon had a lingering band of purple tint, and a few high ice clouds well up in the air turned pink gold. Earth shadows still stretched across the ground, but they withdrew as I watched, slowly, until only the playa bottom remained in shadow as the ground turned faintly pink and gold, then shifted to the usual winter tan and brown. Continue reading

Under the Sign of the Lion

So I opened the Wall Street Journal last Thursday and my jaw dropped when I reached the back of section 1. One of the most elaborate pieces of modern jewelry I have ever seen took up the entire page. It is a brooch in the shape of a lion standing on the tail of a shooting star, done in diamonds, hundreds of diamonds of all sizes. The workmanship took my breath away. The piece comes from the “Sous le Signe du Lion” collection by Chanel and I must have spent a good fifteen minutes studying the picture, trying to see how the brooch had been put together.

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