Two Countries, Divided by a Common Notation System

Two things are generally true about choirs as compared to orchestras. Orchestras don’t breathe, and choirs don’t count. Specifically, it is rare for the entire orchestra to have a lift or hesitation for a catch breath. The brass and woodwinds might, or they might just take turns grabbing oxygen. Choirs usually have musical cues written into their scores, or a piano reduction for practice, and so don’t count constantly the way most instrumentalists do. It is very unusual to see the markings for, oh, a 12 measure rest, then a time-signature change, a three measure rest, and then choir notes.

That is, unless an orchestral composer writes something with a choir in it . . .

I was reminded of that recently, when grousing about crazy key signatures with some symphony members. The composition we had performed had, at one point eight sharps. [Waits for music people to finish face-palming]. There is no such thing as a key with eight sharps, as normally written. If you need something that odd, you toss in a few accidentals (notes that are raised or lowered a half-step temporarily) or just use the key that matches the sound you want. This led to grumbling about “composers who are showing off,” and use way too many keys in their music. Key changes are not, in themselves, bad. Changing which notes are sharp or flat, oh, say, nine times in a six page church anthem for choir? Not a way to win friends from either the choir or the organist.

So . . . Some years back, the choir I sang with got the choir parts for a joint forces exercise, er, choir with orchestra, composition. The composer was not used to writing for choirs, and thus did as she would do with instrumental parts and just put in a bunch of resting time before the choral entrance. And a few key and time changes, but nothing too wild. However, there were no hints for the choir (or accompanist) as to when we came in or what our cues were.

Predictable chaos ensued the first time we rehearsed it with orchestra. After perhaps ten measures of no choir, the conductor (who is primarily a choral conductor) realized that four parts were missing and stopped the orchestra. “Come in this time,” came the order. Fifty pair of eyes glowered down from the risers, because we had neither cue nor clue. “I’m starting seven before the choral entrance.”

Right. The handful of us who had some orchestral experience started counting under our breathes. One of the others held up a hand behind the music folder and gave the folks behind a count down. Four measures. Three measures. Two measures. [Rather like the start of a Tour de France time-trial, actually]. Launch.

After the third run-through, I sorted out some cues and where they were in relation to the choral entry, and marked that on my music. It helped. But I still had to spend — a while — counting like mad.

I’m not sure some of the alti ever forgave the composer for that. We sopranos had our own beefs. (“We’re not violas – that’s LOW.”)

Tuesday Tidbit: Book Disposal

So, you can’t burn it, drown it, or shred it. And even Rodney won’t eat it. What’s a mage to do?

Not quite three weeks later, Justinian called on the phone. “Morgana, two things. One, did you get the galley proofs for the hazards chapter?”

“Yes, they arrived in the mail yesterday. I’ve set aside tomorrow for Smiley and me to review them.”

Relief. “Thanks. I’ve had two book deliveries disappear, so I’m getting a little bit worried. Which brings me to the second thing. Do you still have the Potoo Brothers text, the review copy?”

Alas, alack and well a-day, yes. She’d skimmed a few other chapters of the book, and the least worrisome part were the copyright and title pages. She’d also tried pouring water over it. Both fresh water and salt water beaded up and ran off the pages, even though they felt and looked like plain paper. “Yes. I have it, and I want to destroy it, but my experts in mayhem say that’s almost impossible.” Going to Iceland, Italy, or Central America to dump it in a volcano had increasing appeal, if she won the lottery.

“I, well,” he sounded puzzled. “I was contacted by someone looking for dangerous books. She already has Martindale, and Clowar, and that herbal that’s banned in Canada and a few other places, among other volumes. I told her that I might have one, an unusual title with only a handful of known copies at the moment.” He stopped.

So, was this the person Lelia and André had mentioned, or a nut case? Because a few of those were out there, heaven knew. Morgana stared at the kitchen wall and thought hard. “If someone will vouch for the collector, I’d be willing to give the book to them. That way there is no question about violating the ‘not for sale’ condition in the review copy agreement.”

“Sale? We’d be hit with both lightning and an asteroid should we even contemplate such a thing, Madame!” Smiley’s protest likely carried all the way to Vancouver.

That decided her. “Justinian, let me call someone and check with them. If they don’t have any qualms, then I’ll send the book to you, wrapped in silk, via courier service.”

“I’ll stall the possible buyer, then. Thank you, Morgana. I’ve already contacted the lawyer about a possible defamation suit from Potoo, once the review article comes out on the twenty-first.” He sounded mildly irritated.

“Good luck, and I’ll warn mine as well.” After he hung up, Morgana glanced over at Smiley. He peered up at her from his dining corner and licked his chops. “Well, that’s intere—” Her phone rang again, and she recognized the number. “Hi Lelia, it’s Morgana.”

“Hi, I’m on a break at work, so I’ll be quick. Here’s what we worked out,” Lelia said. “You will get a call from Justinian asking for the Potoo book. The interested party will have contacted him. Send the book to Justinian, and he will get it to the collector. That,” a long pause. “Tay would you say individual?”

“Individual works,” came faintly over the line.

“That individual is used to dealing with dangerous tomes, and has a safe place to keep the book. Before you ask, I don’t know the person myself, only that someone I trust vouches for her reputation and ability to safely store or destroy the book.” Lelia sounded somewhere between amused and irritated. “I don’t think even André’s former employer is as cagy as these people are about who, what, and where.”

In the background, Tay demanded, “Well, do you want them living next door? Remember the birthday present.”

“No thank you, not if they all have that sense of humor.” Lelia cleared her throat a little. “Sorry, Morgana, long story. My art collector contact has, let us say, a sense of humor more warped than a vinyl record left in the sun on the back seat of a black car in August.”

“Young lady, you are too young to make that comparison, and I’m too young to remember LPs. You trust this individual?” Because something sounded very, very fishy.

A long intake of breath. “In this matter, yes. In general, no. But I don’t trust anyone I don’t know well, so I’m not a good judge.”

OK, that made sense. “Justinian just called about a business matter, and because a collector of dangerous tomes pinged him. She, the collector, is interested in the Potoo textbook.”

“Send it would be my recommendation, ma’am. If anyone can handle or destroy it safely, it would be that individual or André’s instructor, and I’d be afraid that Emm Gee would try some of the corrupted spells just to assuage his curiosity.” The certainty in Lelia’s voice raised Morgana’s eyebrows. Who was that cocksure? Someone who would probably not live long enough to regret their decision.

“I’ll call Justinian back tomorrow and let him know that a shadow mage cleared the book transfer. I’m not selling that review copy, but I will happily give it to someone who can either store or destroy it.”

Tay’s voice came over the line. “Do that, please. Even a volcano might not work, because the shielding spells might kick in and prevent anyone from dumping the thing into the lava.” Anger flowed under his words. “Shadow did a little looking and what he found bugged the heck out of him.”

She was not at all surprised by the news. “Good to know. I’ll contact Justinian tomorrow.”

Morgana and Smiley sent the book and the galley proofs back with clean consciences. “I probably ought to be more worried about the buyer,” she admitted as she let him out of his car-carrier. “But I’m more relieved than anything.”

“Indeed, Madame.” He rubbed his nose with the back of one claw, then lumped down the ramp. “You have taken all reasonable precautions, and some that ought to be unreasonable, and your duty is concluded.”

Four days after Grimmore Quarterly went out to subscribers, Morgana logged into the national academic magic-workers’ news service and skimmed the headlines. “Well, well, well.”

“Madame?” Smiley inquired from atop his platform beside her work table.

She ought to feel concerned or possibly even distressed. Instead a sense of peace tinged with near unholy glee filled her heart. “Potoo Brothers Press suffered a computer network failure that wiped the last six months of editing documents and manuscripts. A corrupted system update, apparently. Even worse, that same weekend they lost all their manuscripts and several hundred copies of already printed titles in a fire at their office. No one was injured, and the damage seems to have been quite limited.” As she read farther, she stopped and pointed to the fourth paragraph.

Smiley pulled on his reading glasses and studied the screen. “How unfortunate that the sprinkler system failed only in that part of the office complex. Truly a mystery, Madame.”

“Indeed.” She folded her arms. “I’m glad that the staff and fire-fighters did not suffer harm, and that the safety system protected the other company’s materials.”

“Quite so, Madame. Quite so.” Light flashed off the wolverine’s bared fangs. “Even better that no one we know was anywhere near Potoo’s offices and storage facility.” He sniffed. “Before you inquire, Defender and Tik Tik were at work at the time and have witnesses.”

Morgana gave him a sideways look. No, she did not need or want to know. She skimmed a few more articles, then stood and stretched. “Right. I’m going to see about getting the tomato stakes and bird netting out of the shed. Might as well do it now, before I need them.”

He turned a hundred and eighty degrees and trotted down from his platform. “An excellent idea, Madame.”

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

Marinated Pickled Mushrooms

I like mushrooms, especially cooked in a stew or pickled. When I had to come up with a relatively simple-to-make hors d’euouvre, I went through one of my many cookbooks, found a starting place, and set to work.

The original recipe also calls for some salt, but we don’t use that in anything other than baking.

You need: two pounds baby mushrooms (little white ones. Four boxes the way the local stores package them)

2/3 cup [red] wine vinegar

1/2 cup oil [I used basil infused olive]

2 cloves garlic, crushed [a small dollop]

1/2 cup parsley chopped [I used three Tablespoons dried flakes]

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard [I used German]

2 Tablespoons brown sugar.

Clean the mushrooms and trim off the ends of the stems if needed. In an medium-sized, acid-proof pot, bring vinegar, oil, garlic, parsley, mustard and sugar to a boil. Add the mushrooms and return to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or a little longer, depending on altitude. Allow to cool in the liquid. The mushrooms will shrink a lot, so the liquid will probably cover them. That’s good. Store in the fridge in a sealed container until time to serve. Drain and serve with toothpicks or allow guests to help themselves.

Makes a lot. Could be halved, but remember, mushrooms shrink. These keep well, and really are better the next day. Feel free to tinker with the spices and the type of wine vinegar and oil.

Original recipe from: Savoring the Southwest: A Cookbook and More from the Land of Enchantment Published by the Rosewll Symphony Guild, Roswell, NM. 1983. (The book is part of the long tradition of fund-raiser cookbooks that go back to the original Charleston Receipts by the Charleston SC Junior League.)


A little past peak, but acres and acres of color . . .

Mid-June is a little past peak for wildflowers in the Hill Country. The Bluebonnets have already come and (mostly) gone, and the hot-season flowers are starting to rev up before the July-August Wilt. However, as you can see from the above photo at the LBJ State park (adjacent to the federal park, which is mostly closed for needed repairs), color still abounds. Indian Blanket (gaillardia) is the most common in the photo.

OK, so not all of the bluebonnets are gone . . . Coreopsis with bluebonnet and gaillardia. Still at the LBJ site. They have acres and acres of pasture that were in bloom in early June.
Just in the ditch, no place fancy . . .
A rather large blooming cactus . . .

Alas, when MomRed went back three days later at sunset, to catch the cactus in full glory, it had disappeared. If it hadn’t been for the bare dirt, she’d probably have thought that she’d lost her mind. The cactus was the second thing to vanish without warning.

The bar ditch of the same yard as the cactus, ten minutes after [yaaawwwnnn] sunrise. The home-owners left the ditch and large swaths of the front yard unmowed until the flowers set seed.

What? You want a few to take home? How many acres worth would you like?

One of the fields at Wildseed Farms, a commercial wildflower farm very close to where I stayed. I left the buffer between the parking lot and the flower field in the image to give you an idea of how big this is. The buffer is 20 feet. (I got seeds. And a tee-shirt. And walking stick. But that’s it. Really.)

People are encouraged not to pick the wildflowers growing in yards or by the road. Bluebonnets are protected by state statute. However, not everyone studies law . . .

Sicut chervus . . .

We were waiting for the bats to emerge from Old Tunnel State Park. A deer showed up first. As you can guess, it doesn’t really worry about all the gawkers taking pictures of it instead of the bats.

Saturday Snippet: Into the Family

A story from outside of Riverton.

She heard voices, a near deafening roar, and the hellhound let go of her, knocked away from her arm. The shield had collapsed! She’d broken the sorceress’ power. They might have a chance. Thank you, God. The pain didn’t matter any more. Sharrie tried to call out, but awareness disappeared before she could draw a breath.

Two weeks later, Matt and a man who looked like his brother or a close cousin waited as an orderly wheeled her out of Riverton Regional Hospital. She tried to get to her feet, and Matt took her hand, steadying her. “You know him?” the orderly demanded.

She thought quickly. “Yes. He’s a good friend. We met through work. His name’s Matt Bauer.” It was mostly true, except for the first part. Maybe.

The dark-haired young man nodded, pulled a worn leather wallet out of the back pocket of sturdy work jeans, and showed the orderly his diver’s license. “Sharrie lives not too far from my parents’ home,” Matt said. “My brother and I thought it would be better if she didn’t try to take a Wheelz or taxi, given what happened last week.”

The orderly relaxed. “Yeah, no joke. You take care, Miss Liefson, we don’t like repeat customers.” He smiled as he spoke.

“Sir, I’ll do my best not to come back. No offense, but your cooking’s a little bland, even for a former Minnesotan like me.” She wrinkled her nose.

He chuckled, but watched like a hawk as Matt helped her into the back seat of an older model dark green sedan. Only then did the orderly return to the hospital proper. Sharrie settled against the cloth covering the seat, then set the small bag with her things beside her. What would she do now? She had no job, no insurance and Lord knew what the bills would be, no family . . . She didn’t even really know Matt except from the feed-n-seed, and that night.

“Allow me to introduce myself, since my brother can’t be bothered,” Matt’s brother said as Matt started the engine. “I’m Florian, Marius’ brother. Or Matt, as you call him. I work for the implement dealer, Oberst’s Tractor and Supply. We need a clerk and someone to help in the parts department during rush season, and Marius said that you’d need a job once you got out of the hospital?”

“She does. The sheriff closed the feed-n-seed for the near future, until they sort out what exactly Mrs. Revelin was on and where she got it, and who she sold to.” Matt shook his head, then pulled into traffic. “They think it was meth. Based on what we saw and fought, I’d say that was just the starting place.”

Once they got away from Riverton proper, Sharrie asked the question that had bothered her since that night. “What was it that she summoned? Besides the hell-hound thing.”

“Something nasty, possibly a form of revenant. But I’m not sure.” Matt shrugged, or at least what she could see of his shoulders rose up, then descended. “Once the shields collapsed after you drained her power, my brother and I took care of it.”

As they drove, Sharrie reached inside for her magic. Nothing. Still nothing. She hung her head. A few tears seeped out. She’d burned herself out permanently. Maybe my family will take me back now, since I’m no longer tainted. No, probably not, since she’d dynamited her bridges pretty thoroughly when she’d stuck to her guns about Uncle Alex selling anhydrous to the meth cooker. He might have been her father’s brother, but helping make that garbage was wrong as well as illegal. It messed with people in ways she didn’t want to think about, especially when a person had magic.

Matt coughed. “Miss Liefson, we’re at your apartment.” She looked up. Yes, the small white house behind the O’Raurk’s farm house. It looked just like it had when she’d gone to work three weeks before, except that her car sat on the little parking pad. “I owe you, and it wouldn’t be right for you to lose your home because you got hurt, so I paid the rent for you. Whenever you can, pay it back, once you get a job and everything settles down.”

“Matt got permission to move your car once the sheriff cleared it. Our older sister, Maggie, went through your fridge and cleaned out the rotten things, and the potatoes. She left a list on the counter for you,” Florian told her as he opened the car door for her. “Maggie went to school with the O’Raurk’s middle daughter, so they let her in to take care of the fridge once we knew you’d be in the hospital for a while.”

Sharrie’s eyes blurred with tears again. “Th- Thank you. I’m in your debt.”

Florian shook his head as Matt came around and offered her a hand getting out. “Other way around. Matt and probably other people would be dead if you hadn’t stopped Revelin.” She felt Matt’s hand squeezing hers, support and a little comfort both coming from the strong, work-rough grip.

Once she’d gotten into the apartment, Florian handed her a business card. “Call when you’re ready to start work, if you haven’t found something better. We’re paying sixty a year, plus full benefits. More if you have experience with Seedlister inventory software.”

Sharrie pursed her lips. “Um, is that close to FarmFile? I’m pretty good with FarmFile, and OK with AgChem’s in-house ordering system.”

Matt covered his eyes with one hand as Florian’s smile lit the room. “Miss Liefson, if you can make AgChem’s system work, Mr. Oberst Junior will probably offer you a gold-plated office chair with delux cushions, and rights to his first-born son once he has one. Inventory and ordering software hates him. Not that I told you that.”

“No, sir. I didn’t hear anything.” She’d gotten good at not hearing things, growing up.

“This is why I just stick seeds in the ground and then harvest what comes up,” Matt said. “Seeds grow or they don’t. They don’t try to update their processing package in the middle of germination.”

“No, they just freeze, or drown, or burn-up, or get flattened by hail, or eaten by deer,” Florian retorted.

 Matt stuck his tongue out at his brother. “And if people didn’t farm, you couldn’t sell implements or seed. Nyah.”

Sharrie sighed to herself. They sounded just like her older brothers and cousins, except with a slightly different accent. The room wobbled a little, and she staggered, then sat in the chair Matt shoved under her. “Sorry. I’m not used to standing right now.”

“No, I’m the one who needs to apologize, Sharrie. You’re recovering from magic strain as well as physical injuries, and that takes a lot more than just three weeks to get over.” Matt sounded very apologetic. “And Florian and I know better.”

A faint “no shit” came from Florian’s direction. More loudly he said, “I’m serious about calling Oberst’s, Miss Liefson. We really are short handed, especially in people who can tell seed corn from fertilizer.”

“He’s not exaggerating, either.” Matt shook his head. “I’m starting to think that the Riverton public schools are located in a different reality from this one.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll think about it.” Her hair and other things itched, and she really wanted a hot bath and to think about food. And to see if her car still ran after sitting for so long. She’d need to get groceries, somehow.

A firm hand tapped on the door. Matt opened it and Mrs. O’Raurk marched in. She wore a big apron over her faded floral-print dress and looked ready to thump all of them with a wooden spoon. The grey-haired farm wife folded her arms. “Boys. Miss Liefson needs rest. Shoo. Or I’ll tell your father that you have time to scrape and repaint that corn crib that’s irritating all the neighbors.”

Both men ducked, then slunk out past Mrs. O’Raurk. She kept a close watch on them until car sounds faded away. “They’re old enough to know better. So.” She marched past Sharrie and opened the fridge. “Yesterday their sister, Maggie, replaced everything that had gone bad, and got fresh milk for you. Before you fuss, she works for a dairy and gets two gallons a week as part of her benefits. Her husband can’t drink milk, so no point in wasting it.” She closed the fridge. “Pat ran your car yesterday, so the battery’s good. Your rent and utilities are paid up through the first of August, so don’t worry your head about rent right now.” 

Tears made the room shimmer. “Thank you, ma’am. I—” she swallowed hard to keep from crying. “Thank you.”

A small, plump hand patted her shoulder. “Blow.” A much-washed hankie appeared. Sharrie felt eight years old as she wiped her eyes and blew. “You’re tired, you’ve been eating hospital food, and you are recovering from getting badly hurt. That’s enough to make a rock have the weepies. I’m making ham-bone soup, and I’ll bring you a quart for supper.” Another comforting pat. “Now I’m off to see if Pat left any dinner for the rest of us.” Mrs. O’Raurk let herself out, closing the door quietly but firmly as she departed.

Sharrie got to her feet, locked the door, and poured herself a glass of milk. Rich, thick whole milk coated her tongue and filled her stomach. She found some crackers and nibbled a handful, then drank a glass of water. “A shower, then think. No, nap.” The doctors had said that she’d need a lot of sleep to finish healing. “Then I need to message the coven.” She owed them that much, to warn them that they’d need to find a new buffer.

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

Book Review: The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean

Ellenblum, Ronnie. The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean: Climate Change and the Decline of the East, 950-1072. (Cambridge University Press, 2012) Kindle.

Everyone knows that the 900s-1200s were a great time to be in Europe – warm, good weather in general, leading to a period of cultural and economic development that is often called the High Middle Ages, when the great cathedrals were built and chivalry flourished and the Hansa cities were at their peak. That’s true, but only if you were in western or central Europe. The Levant, Mesopotamia, the Balkans, the Pontic Steppes and Egypt? Endured bitter cold, drought, plague, and economic collapse. Invasion came with the cold and drought, and pushed the Byzantine Empire into rapid decline. North Africa went from semi-bread-basket to desert with pockets of irrigation, and Jerusalem was almost abandoned. When the warriors of the First Crusade breached the gates of the holy city, they found very few people compared to the population in the year 1000 or so.

The weather patterns that warmed and moistened western and northern Europe froze and desiccated Southwest Asia.

The book’s origins stem from Ellenblum’s curiosity about the lack of water in Jerusalem vs. the population it was supposed to have supported during Roman and early Byzantine times. This led to studying the hydrology of the city, and the discovery that most of the springs had dried up by the time of the First Crusade. Why? Bad land management? Climate shifts that caused the springs to lose groundwater and fail? As it turns out, the answer is a series of cold, dry years that caused the local water table to drop. This dried the springs, many of which never returned even after the rains came back. Jerusalem had to shift to relying on rainwater caught in cistern during the winters, meaning it could no longer support even half the population it had boasted at the time of Jesus.

When the author looked farther, it proved that Egypt, the rest of the Levant, Mesopotamia, and the Pontic Steppes (area north of the Black Sea) also suffered severe cold and drought during the period of roughly AD 950-1100. The lack of rain, and the bitter cold (snow on the ground in Baghdad for 40 days!) caused already tense relations between settled peoples, Bedouin nomads, and steppe nomads to collapse. The governments could not feed the people in some cases, nor could they keep the Turkic nomads out of the river valleys. When the Turks arrived, they burned, looted, carried off people to sell or ransom, interrupted trade, and eventually took over swaths of the area. The great centers of Islamic and Jewish learning in Baghdad disappeared, and Islam (Sunni) took on a different intellectual focus, one less interested in preserving the Classical philosophies and more on Islam’s own philosophy.

This is one of the books that I read and slap myself on the forehead and go “Duh.” I’d always wondered why the Seljuk Turks suddenly appeared in Southwest Asia. We went from Byzantine vs. Arab to “Turks in Charge” in the 1050s and later. Why? Where had the Seljuks come from? Why had they left the steppes? Well, they were pushed by the need for fodder and food, because the terrible weather drove them south and west. This also caused the Magyars (Hungary) and Bulgars to raid the edges of the European part of the Byzantine Empire just as Constantinople was cut off from major sources of food and military personnel. Toss in the plagues that always break out in cold, undernourished populations, and you can see why the empire started devaluing its currency and could no longer hold onto the edges of its territory, especially in Asia Minor.

Elllenblum is tightly focused on the region, so there are no cross-comparisons with western Europe or Russia (Kievan Rus). I do know from other reading that China experienced cold and drought in the 1000s, with floods and the disaster of the Yellow River floods following (1090s-1140s). The author alludes to the push to the east, and into South Asia, leading to shifts in Muslim control over northern India (the Lodi Sultanate). The book is also somewhat episodic, and focuses on weather and its direct effects, rather than on telling human stories. If you are looking for the tales of people, or a seamless, flowing narrative, you will be disappointed.

The book also lacks a bibliography. This is inexcusable on the part of Cambridge University Press. The notes are extensive, but readers are forced to comb through them at the end of each chapter to find material and primary sources if a reader wants to follow up on a topic.

I highly recommend this book for students of medieval Middle Eastern history, for those interested in the environmental history of all of Europe, and scholars wanting to fill in gaps about the causes of movements, migrations, and the shifting attitude of local Muslim rulers to Christians and Jews. A basic background in the overall history of the region is good, but not really necessary depending on the reader’s focus. I found the book easy to read, but this is my baliwick. Non-specialists might not be as enthralled.

FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my own use and received no compensation from the author or the publisher for this review.

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 . . .