Not Repeating, But Rhyming

China and western Europe have drought. The previous year had flooding and cold. Eastern Europe alternate hot and cool. Parts of North America are dry, then drenched, while other parts get warm for extended periods. La Niña has dominated the ENSO pattern in the Pacific for two years now, and may go neutral or shift to El Niño after February.

We’ve seen this before. The 1200s and early 1300s, the early 1600s, low solar energy output augmented by a bunch of tropical volcanoes going off, with the Italian volcanoes and Iceland’s Katla tossing out their own contributions, caused a massive climatic downturn in the northern hemisphere that led to some of the worst-for-humans weather patterns in centuries. Cold and wet, hot and dry, floods and rotting crops, summers with hard frosts in June, droughts that dried the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, plague and other disease outbreaks, civil unrest and regional wars . . . The Seventeenth Century stank worse than rotten eggs and a dead cow in a confined space in August. And it wasn’t because of CO2 or the internal combustion engine. It was the internal combustion of the sun and some volcanoes.

El Niño and the North Atlantic Oscillation are patterns. They don’t repeat on set schedules, because there are far too many variables, only a handful of which climate and weather people are 100% sure about. To make things more complicated—as if Nature needed help!—there are connections between the snowfall and rain in East Africa and the El Niño pattern. We just have no way to know how it works, but we know it is there because of the enormous Nile flood calendar. Climate specialists can cross-reference written and proxy data from South America and Southeast Asia with the Nile flood records, and there is a clear pattern.

What we can’t predict are volcanoes. A massive volcanic eruption in what is now Indonesia probably played a major role in the weather shift that triggered the rodent population explosion that led to the Plague of Justinian as well as the cold, wet, stormy weather that battered north-western Europe in the 500s. Nor could we predict the spate of tropical volcanoes in the 1300s and 1600s, or the Year Without a Summer (Mt. Tambora, tone it down!) The right volcano in the wrong place can cool things considerably. Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines dropped global temps by 1-2 degrees C for a year or so.

Nor can we pinpoint forecast what will happen exactly where. Eastern Europe might be slightly above average while Western Europe and Britain freeze. Or bake. A heavy winter with lots and lots of snow might be followed by a hot summer and drought. We can guess trends based on recorded and past oceanic temperatures and winds, but all forecasts are odds. My part of the country has good odds of reverting to average-for-the-past-thirty-years rainfall if next year is an El Niño, because that shifts the storms patterns south, more directly over this area. But that’s averages, not “RedQuarters will get 22 inches of rain between February and November.”

So if I seem a bit mellow about the latest “sky isn’t falling and it’s all the fault of the Global North minus China,” it’s because I’m looking at the long patterns. No, it isn’t any comfort when my water bill skyrockets as I try to keep the grass not-entirely-dead or the gas bill zooms because of Snovid ’21: Part 2 the Sequel. (We only got down to -4 F, with windchills of “miserable.” And up here we had rolling four-hour blackouts on a schedule, not the weeks without power like down-state.) Nor do I envy Europe if the predicted effects of the Tonga volcanic eruption do cause colder weather on top of the usual chill. Is it all mankind’s fault? Only if we’ve figured out how to trigger volcanic eruptions, or how to dim the sun, and I do not refer to adding fine particulates to the atmosphere, or putting mirrors in space to reflect “excess” solar energy.

I still don’t like drought, or blizzards, though.


Nonsense Poems

One fine day in the middle of the night,
Two dead men got up to fight,
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other,

One was blind and the other couldn’t, see
So they chose a dummy for a referee.
A blind man went to see fair play,
A dumb man went to shout “hooray!”

A paralysed donkey passing by,
Kicked the blind man in the eye,
Knocked him through a nine inch wall,
Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,

A deaf policeman heard the noise,
And came to arrest the two dead boys,
If you don’t believe this story’s true,
Ask the blind man he saw it too!

The above is one of the nonsense poems I learned as a child and still enjoy as an adult. They are silly, illogical, full of contradictions, and leave little kids and some adults scratching their heads and frowning because the poem breaks all the rules of logic.

Here’s another one I remember, but in a slightly different variation:

Ladies & Jellyspoons…
: : I stand before you to go behind you
: : To tell you something I know nothing about.
: : This Thursday, which is Good Friday,
: : There will be a mothers’ meeting to which only fathers are invited.
: : Wear your best clothes if you haven’t any,
: : And if you can come, please stay at home.
: : Admission is free, pay at the door.
: : Grab a chair and sit on the floor.
: : It doesn’t matter where you sit,
: : The man in the gallery is sure to spit.
: : Our next meeting is about the four corners of the round table.
: : Thank me!

The version I learned was from a folklore book, and goes:

Ladies and jellybeans
Reptiles and crocodiles
I stand before you to sit behind you
To tell you something I know nothing about
There will be a meeting tomorrow evening
Right after breakfast
To decide which color to whitewash the church
There is no admission
So pay at the door
There are plenty of seats
To sit on the floor.

A discussion on StackExchange points back to manuscripts dated from the 1400s and 1305 with examples of nonsense-type sayings. It also ties into ballads where impossible tasks are assigned to a hero, or would-be (or former lover), as in “Scarborough Fair:”

“Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Without any seam nor needlework*
Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well
Which never sprung water nor rain ever fell

Tell her to dry it on yonder thorn**
Which never bore blossom since Adam was born.

Ask him to find me an acre of land
Between the salt water and the sea-sand

Oh, will he plough it with a lamb’s horn,
and sow it all over with one peppercorn,

And when he has done and finished his work,
then come to me for your cambric shirt,
and he shall be a true love of mine

Both are common folklore tropes, and appear in a lot of places.

*The Virgin Mary was said to have made a seamless robe for Jesus, although whether this was Jesus as a child, or later in his career, depends on which source you look at. It is based on John 19: 23-24, with some medieval updates and theological embroidery.

**The opposite of this appears in “The Corpus Christi Carol,” which describes a thorn tree that has bloomed ever since Jesus birth (also the German carol “Maria Durch ein Dornwald Ging.”

Look Out, Happy Tail!

Coffee-table height table, well worn, and surrounded by comfortable, slightly scruffy chairs. This is the kind of furniture that doesn’t mind if you have been working on an airplane, or refurbishing a WWII era hangar and then sit on the upholstery. Airport bums (APBs) are lounging around, talking airplanes, weather, airplanes, hangar gossip, and airplanes. And a Golden Retriever naps in the corner.

Bill, the owner of the dog, and Jerry, the aerobatic instructor, come bouncing in with everyone’s dinner orders (mostly burgers and one chicken and bacon sandwich, because the guy’s doc said, “Eat more white meat.”) “Hi guys! Food’s here!”

Bill sets his bag and drink carrier down on the table, and takes Goldie out for a moment. The rest of us pay Jerry and start sorting out burgers, fries, onion rings, and other stuff.* Food divided, we dive in.

Bill returns with Goldie. Goldie saunters over and looks at the table. “Not yet, girl,” Bill informs her. She backs away. He flops into an empty chair and grabs his burger. She turns to face him.

“Happy tail!” Jerry yelps. We grab everything off the coffee table as a strong, fluffy tail sweeps across the surface at a high rate of speed.

Ah, those were the days . . .

*For us, this was health food. A little later, I became quite an expert on which airport’s vending machines had the best selection, the healthiest stuff (not always a good thing), and the highest fat to chocolate ratio. Pilots and mechanics tend to be on the see-food diet. Or as one retired charter and corporate pilot phrased it, “If you are what you eat, I’m fast, cheap, and easy.”

Other People’s Minds

“How could they do that?!? Didn’t they know that it didn’t work/doesn’t work/is terrible and we don’t do that?” It’s a common reaction to some things in the past, or in other cultures still, and I understand it. From outside, it just does not make sense, it is dangerous, “it ended . . . poorly” as the Grail Knight would have phrased it (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), he really should have known better. Except . . . they didn’t or it had always worked, or their world-view was just that different.

Part of being a good historian, in my opinion, is being able to get inside other minds and suss out the logic and reasoning for things. Now, not every historical figure had what we would consider logical and rational reasons for things, especially later in their careers. And sometimes cultures just go nuts, usually because of a lot of external and internal stress. Things snap. Some of Henry VIII of England’s later actions seem insane, perhaps because he was suffering the effects of a traumatic brain injury (and other things). But when you are looking at an entire culture that does something over and over for centuries, there has to be a good-to-them reason. Finding and understanding that reason is not always easy.

I love it when someone moves past, “They did that. Ick. Then this other thing,” and asks, “That’s really strange. It doesn’t make sense in my world. Why would people do that?” It means they really are chewing on the thing and haven’t found a good reason, so they ask someone. Or start digging for themselves into more specialized material to find out why. Why do the governments of Russia seem paranoid compared to other governments? Why did Ivan IV of Russia act as if everyone was out to get him? Why did [insert culture here] practice human sacrifice? Why did people think [toxic thing] was medicinal? We get more cool historical discoveries from questions like that.

“Why does this Scandinavian art from the early Bronze Age looks a lot like depictions of yoga? The Scandinavian culture was descended from the same culture as the Avestas and Vedas. Could there be a connection?” And so some people started digging and came up with some ideas that perhaps, yes, there might be links. We can’t tell without more evidence, but the possibilities are intriguing, and if true, suggest that either 1) there was a lot more long-distance exchange of ideas than we thought or 2) certain cultural practices lasted a lot longer than anyone had imagined. Or developed earlier.

What is the mind set that says a certain thing makes sense? It’s not easy to get into that mental world. In some cases, I really do not like making myself go there. That I can put myself into the world of a Vlad III or Mathias Corvinus, or an Aztec priestess, or certain cultures and figures, bugs the living daylights out of me. I’m not Ivan IV, or Timurlane. But I can sort of understand why they did what they did, even if it horrifies me.

Humans are amazing creatures who do beautiful and horrible things. We created Gothic cathedrals and symphonies and Chinese brush painting and Persian carpets and miniatures. We extirpated entire classes of people (end of Tang Dynasty China), eliminated entire tribes, had tens of thousands of people killed to eliminate opposition to our will. We’re a rather scary species and complicated as all get out. I love it and I fear it.

Now, if only we would stop re-interpreting it, and discovering complications, so I could stop being tempted to buy new books and go to re-worked museums and . . !

Breaking Summer’s Back: The August Norther

Earlier in the month, Dorothy Grant and I were commiserating about hot weather and maybe the big rain maker that was chugging along would break the heat for a while. Alas, it wasn’t the one, although it did drop temps from 104 F to 84 F, which was a welcome change. The rain was even more welcome, for those who got some.

The big August system came in last weekend up here, and dropped things from the upper 90s to the upper 60s. For high temperatures. That’s the sign. Indeed, temperatures have stayed below the 30-year average for the past week, and seem to be remaining low. Oh, they’ll bounce up again in September, because they always do during the Tri-State Fair (just like it used to rain during FunFest every May when that was still held), but the worst seems to be past.

The August Norther, or Grey Norther as I sometimes call it, is the first really strong cold weather system to come down the plains during late summer. It starts as a wind shift, from the common southwesterly winds of summer, the dry, hot winds from the desert. Instead the windsock swings around to the north and northwest, sometimes northeast. Moisture comes in as well, the humidity creeping up from bone-dry to slightly damp. People start looking north, and checking the weather reports from places like Guymon, OK, and Dalhart Texas, up to the north of us. If they start getting cool, with light rain (or sometimes with heavy rain and storms), and Kansas and Colorado are also cool, then you know what’s coming. People with weather joints like my hands grit their teeth, because it hurts. Change is coming, even if we can’t see it and we don’t get restless like we do in thunderstorm season.

Clouds begin to mass on the northern skyline, low and dark or towering and ferocious. Either way, the cold air flowing south down the plains churns up the air, making clouds and scattering moisture over the landscape. Sometimes it is a cool, steady rain that lingers for hours and soaks everything slowly, perhaps flooding low places if things are just right. Otherwise it is a snarling, crashing storm line that drenches the world and sends streams out of their banks as low-water-crossing signs start to go under water in town and the usual places have street flooding. The rain is always welcome in August – nothing is ready for harvest, the winter wheat has not been planted, and the cotton and sorghum are still growing. Ranchers like the rain because it gives the grass a boost to start it growing again, or to keep it growing.*

The next morning wakens sluggishly as low clouds cling to the world, hiding the sun. The wind has faded a little but cool or even cold air continues to ooze down from the north. Instead of the 90s, 50s and 60s dominate the temperatures. Light drizzle may fill the air. It won’t soak you through, but it chills you if you don’t have a windbreaker or light jacket on. Joggers rejoice, and dog-walkers brace as old dogs gain new life from the cool air. The smell of dust is gone, replaced by mist, perhaps by the scent of drains in need of more flushing. Your glasses spot up, especially if you face into a cool, water-rich wind. Hot, spicy tea tastes very good when you come back indoors, lightly damp and a touch chilled. You can open the windows and let fresh air in without baking or getting dirt blown all over everything. The world looks greener already.

The clouds might burn off, thinning before revealing the sun. Or they might win the battle, hugging the ground and hiding the sky. People hunt for jackets long ignored. No one complains, though. The cool air is welcome. This past weekend didn’t bring as much rain to town as people had hoped, but other places got a gracious plenty, places that missed the previous round. Everyone relished the coolth. Not until two and a half days after the first clouds raced in did the sun appear, too late to heat the day.

Three days in the 60s and 70s, followed by humid, cool mornings and warm but not baking afternoons, that’s a sign. Summer’s back has been broken. The worst is past. Heat will return, but not the weeks of water-stealing desert wind, not the nights so warm the land just simmered in the darkness as people sweltered. The days grow shorter. The sun has moved far enough south that sunbeams peep into my office windows in mid-afternoon, still muted by the leaves on the neighbor’s tree, but present.

The seasons always turn. Everyone knows that in our heads. But when June fades into July bakes into August, our hearts need a reminder that the rains will return. Cooler days will arrive, easing the strain of summer. The Summer Triangle is moving farther and farther west each night, and Sirius has begun to appear in the east. Autumn will arrive. Our hearts know that now. The richest part of the year, the cool, prosperous time of harvest and warm spices and good things.**

Summer’s time is past. The wheel turns.

*Depending on what kind of grasses you have. The native grasses are “warm season” and start later in the spring, then keep going during summer and go dormant fairly early. Cool-season grasses like to die in summer, and thrive in earlier spring and the autumn.

**I’m leaning on tradition. Wheat harvest here is in June, cotton can stretch into December, but the fall seems like harvest because of the fair and other things. Winter can be lethal out here, but autumn is the time everyone waits for.

Long-Term Product Review: So-Phresh cat litters

I’ve used So-phresh™ cat litters in Athena T. Cat’s box for several years now. Clay, paper, odor-eating, and pre-shredded, pretty much everything beside the special crystal and the litter for motorized cat boxes (built-in pooper-scooper). I’m quite satisfied with all of them.

Most of the time, when it is available* I use the pellet, either with or without odor reducers. Athena doesn’t care, and I add a little baking soda to her box anyway. She is high-throughput because of her kidney-care diet, and because she’s always drunk a lot of water. This means her litter has to handle a lot of liquid output, which the pellets do quite well. They last 7-9 days in a semi-well-ventilated space, stirred at least three times a day and sifted at least twice a day. The pellet litter doesn’t scatter as much as either the clay or the pre-shredded.

The scoopable clay is your basic clumping litter. It holds a lot of liquid, and you sift out the solid waste, then collect the clump and put it in the trash. I did not notice much odor from the trash (open-top wastebasket in area with low airflow.) In theory, you can just add a little extra litter as needed and never take out the cat box, but I changed it weekly even so. Like other clay litters, it tracked, even using an anti-track mat. And you have to be very, very careful to sift all the clay away from solid waste if you flush the solid waste (some areas do not allow this, so be aware of local rules). It captured scents well, and handled her outflow.

The pre-shredded paper pellets are for cats with sensitive paws, or those that are a little weaker. I got it because it was the only thing available. Shipments have been off and on, and so I tend to grab a sack whenever I find what I use in stock (can store in garage). The local pet palace had been out of all paper litter for a while, so I saw this and bought it just in case. It works. It tracks, and it feels as if there is less litter in the box, even when I fill the box to the usual depth. It dries faster than the pellets, and the scent is no more or less than with the usual pellets. The store got a few bags of pellets in last week, so I grabbed a sack. The shredded litter seems to last a shorter period of time for the same volume in the sack, since it is fluffier. It costs the same as the pellets, so if you have a choice and don’t need lighter-weight litter, I’d go with the pellets.

I’ve used the wheat-based litters. Other than a repugnance to use food as cat litter (I know intellectually that it’s not the edible part of the wheat, but it still irks me), the dust has been a real problem with all three brands of wheat-pellet litter I’ve used. Other people don’t seem to have a dust overflow.

So, I’m pleased with all the variations on SoPhresh litter I’ve used to date.

FTC Notice: I received no benefit or remuneration for this review of the product. I purchase the product for my own use.

Fads and Angels

Does anyone else remember the fad for angels back in the late 1980s-early 1990s? It started, I think, when the “End Times are Nigh” strand of Christian thinking collided with the New Age “spirit guides and visitors,” with a dollop of free-market retail tossed in. Everyone was selling goodies with the two putti (cherubs) from the bottom of Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna”, despite multiple protests by the copyright holder. I recall angel tee-shirts, angel posters and mouse pads, and lots and lots of books about angelic spirits and summoning angelic spirits [!], and so on.

I read one or two of those books. First off, once they start presenting a list of names that goes beyond the four I’m used to – Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel – I start getting a touch curious. Meaning that my “I sense bunkum” detector goes off, along with a quiet alarm. Then the guided meditations and cautions and hints and so on make me itch. Not all of them, especially in books that start with two chapters of warnings about “if whatever shows up does this, this, or that, run,” but most. Too much New Age, too much woo. The book about how to get angelic spirits to make you rich didn’t quite make me back away and reach for the jar of crushed garlic, but it was close.

Angels seem to have fallen out of fashion in pop-culture. I don’t see random angel stuff in shops anymore. Occasionally I still see the decorative wall crosses (which don’t do anything for me, but that’s just me), but not angels, unless it is in a shop that markets to Christians, especially certain Protestant denominations. Angels appear to be Out as pop-culture goes. In a way I’m glad, because treacly-sweet winged children in white nightgowns have never really seemed angelic, aside from church Christmas plays and so on. All the angels in the Bible, when they appear as angels, say, “Fear Not” as their first words for a good reason, at least based on the reaction of the people they appear to.

(Interestingly, fluffy pop-Wicca seems to also have disappeared. Wicca-related accessories and general books are no longer common in the New Age-type shops around here.)

I’m not quite sure what’s trendy now in terms of small, decorative items and poster art. It might be all over the map, given the huge range of things available on-line. And perhaps I’m just not going into the right shops. But I don’t see books on angels in the local bookstores, again aside from the religious bookstores, and even those are sparser than they were in the 1980s-90s.

I suspect the general decline in clearly defined religion plays a role. And fear of someone at a workplace declaring that he or she is offended by anything obviously Christian of Jewish. The darker side of pop-occult stuff, however, I do see more of: divination tools, urban fantasy and paranormal romance with strong negative occult themes, very dark jewelry and fashions. I don’t think that’s a good replacement. In my experience, people can accidentally open doors they don’t intend to, even if those doors are only into their subconscious. If they are fortunate, they just spook themselves.

I’m sort of glad that I no longer have to run a gauntlet of overly-cute angel things as I shop for cards. On the other hand, they were generally harmless as long as I didn’t brush against one and knock it over. The same can’t be said for some other things.

Tuesday Tidbit: Service Work

Jude can’t not be doing something. In this case, a work of social merit. And personal gain.

He woke before dawn to the usual sounds, the safe sounds, of the woodlot. A lark announced his presence, with other birds chirping their defiance of his claim to the world. A few leaves brushed against their fallen fellows as they landed on the ground. Thump. Thud. Soft sounds of apples dropping to the ground. The air smelled of morning mist, overripe fruit, and damp soil. Jude relaxed, testing his muscles and stretching as best he could. His left hand ached a little, as did his left shoulder and right knee. The latter two would work out with movement and exercise. He sat up, waited, listening, then pulled on jacket and boots and gathered his rucksack. Oh so slowly he opened the hidden door to the half-cellar, listening and sniffing the air.

“All clear,” Shoim called. Still, Jude took his time, easing the wood and metal up, then emerging and closing it again. He scuffed a little brush and some leaves over the straight sides, breaking up the pattern. Straight lines and perfect circles attracted attention. A soft, ripping sound came from overhead, and four black feathers floated down from the old beech. Jude studied one where it lay. A grackle. Good riddance. Shoim tended to hunt nuisance birds and field pests, at least the edible ones. He’d eaten a seagull once. It had not agreed with his mage, since the harrier had smelled like rotting fish for several days afterwards. That harriers were not supposed to take birds on the wing passed without comment, like so many things.

“I need to go to town,” Jude told his Familiar. “Do you need anything?” It felt odd to ask, but seemed rude not to.

Another handful of feathers floated down. “No, thanks. I’ll catch up with you. These don’t taste good once they get cold, this time of year.” The wet tearing sound of Shoim ripping flesh off of bones came from overhead. Harriers also did not generally eat their prey in trees, but on the ground. Again, not worth mentioning. Jude nodded and started walking toward town.

He strode with a purpose, as if he belonged. Well, he did, just not the way most people would assume. He cut through woodlots and skirted pastures, avoiding farmyards when he could. Half-way to town, he left the woods and followed the new walking path along the county blacktop. He heard heavy, rapid steps behind him, and someone panting. He stepped out of Mr. Linebarger’s way. The older electrician had been ordered to get more exercise, as he had loudly complained to all and sundry within hearing distance the next day. Jude, loading fresh bread into the shelves at the bakery, had nodded and did his best to look sympathetic. He worried more about hunger than avoirdupois. He could not eat what he Hunted.

The small St. Vincent du Paul shop sat in town, not far from St. Boniface Catholic Church. Jude considered things, then went around to the back door and tapped. Brother James opened it. “Yes?”

“Good morning, sir. Do you need help sorting?”

The elderly Franciscan considered, then nodded. “Yes. Come in.” Jude eased through the half-open steel door and closed it behind himself. “Just a second, let me, ah.” Clunk the heavy switch flipped, and dim fluorescent lights flickered to life. “We have four boxes to go through, half clothes and half household goods and books. Why don’t you start with the clothes, Jude?”

“Yes, sir.” He set his black leather rucksack and jacket on the shelf for volunteers to leave things, and started to work. Brother James watched for a minute or so, then went up front to finish cleaning and getting ready to open. Since Jude volunteered whenever he had time, and had been helping for half a decade, the others trusted him to work unsupervised. He shook out an intensely pink child’s sweater and smiled a little to himself. What would he do if he stole the goods? Sell them? Devon County was too small. And he most certainly could not wear most of the garments! He checked the size and wrote it down on a tag, along with the like-new condition, then folded the sweater. He set it and the tag in the appropriate bin.

By the time the shop officially opened, he’d gotten through one large box and half of the second one by himself. Miss O’Malley and her mother had also arrived, and they did household goods with Br. James. “No, I’ve not heard anything, but that’s Robert’s cousins, not mine,” Mrs. O’Malley said.

“Mr. Harbaugh asked Fr. Gregory,” the monk said. “I’ve not seen any of that family come in here that I know of.”

“I don’t think we can sell this.” The red-headed court reporter held up a pot with a heavily charred bottom. “It’s not flat, either.” She set it on the table and watched it rock. “The last Jantzen who graduated from Devon West was Petunia, ah, no, Pauline, and she died in that bad wreck over a decade ago, Mom. The only reason I remember is because at the combined class reunion, she was on the memorial list. She graduated in eighty-two.”

Jude listened as he shook out a puffy coat. The zippers worked and it didn’t appear stained. He checked inside, and found a sales tag. It was new. He shook his head a little. Given the colors, he could see why it had not sold, and had been donated. Lime green and orange the same shade as the highway workers wore, in horizontal stripes, did not flatter many people. Martha had used blunt words to describe the marketing person who insisted that fluffy down jackets could be “slimming.” He’d kept his head down and mouth firmly closed.

“Well, the lawyer was asking around, although why he didn’t say. The Jantzens sold to Jude’s aunt and uncle at least thirty years ago.” Mrs. O’Malley turned to him. “Jude, has Mr. Harbaugh’s office called you or your aunt?”

He blinked, as if trying to recall. “Not that I know of, ma’am. She’s not mentioned a call.” Which was completely true. “Uncle Sean purchased the farm in, ah, the early eighties if I recall correctly.” He chuckled. “A little before I paid attention to farm things.” Not true, exactly, but close.

Br. James chuckled in turn. “Just a little.” He left the volunteers to continue working and went to open the shop. Jude filed the gossip away and finished sorting the box. He’d found one suspect item, a work-shirt with oil stains concealed by the pattern. He set that aside with the rocking pot and other rejected things. Most got caught at the main warehouse and distribution center, but a few slipped through now and then.

Jude finished and wrote down his time on the list. Then he went around and entered the shop by the front door. As he’d hoped, the boots he’d seen in the window were still there. They were seconds with discolored leather, in his size. He double-checked the quality and that they didn’t have any surprises, then carried them and three pair of socks to the counter. Br. James smiled again as he rang them up. “I wondered if you’d get those,” he said. “Thirty-eight forty four.”

Jude set two twenties on the counter. “I’ve gone from outgrowing them every summer to wearing them out every-other summer.” He smiled in turn, careful not to show his teeth.

“One fifty-six is your change, and if you get two years out of a pair, you’re doing better than most. My superior issued orders that it was better thrift to get good winter boots that last rather than inexpensive ones that fail before spring.” The elderly monk tilted his head to the side, expression patient. “Poverty does not mean foolish cheapness.”

“No, sir, it does not.” Which was why he haunted the St. Vincent shop, and why Martha checked the Community Thrift in Riverton for him. And the charity stores did not question cash purchases, unlike a few places he’d encountered.

“God bless you, Jude, and have a blessed rest of the day.” The Franciscan handed Jude the boot-box, socks tucked inside. “The receipt is in the box.”

“Thank you, and may He be with you as well.” He carried the box under his right arm, since it would not fit easily in his bag. He held the door open for Mrs. Mercer and her small, bouncing brood. The three children chattered and smiled as they followed their mother. Children’s clothing never stayed on the shelves for long, not here.

His stomach grumbled. He had almost twenty dollars left from his “spending” wages at the bakery. The scent of grilled meat had settled over the street outside the thrift shop, beef and something else. “Fried” also wafted on the breeze, and his stomach reminded him that he had not broken his fast except with water. Jude turned north and followed the scents to the Courthouse Café on the main courthouse square.

The rush had not begun, such as it was on Monday when court wasn’t in session, so he found a table in the back corner beside an emergency exit, where he could see the front door and kitchen door. Gretchen Schuhman appeared as he picked up the menu. “Drink?”

“Large soda, please. And fried cheese.”

“Big pop and fried cheese. I’ll be back.” With that ominous promise she hurried to the counter to harass the two deputies staring holes in the menu board. They harassed her right back. Barely five minutes passed before his drink and the steaming, batter-fried cheese arrived. “What else, Hon?”

“Double cheeseburger with bacon, no secret sauce, onion rings, and a slice of whichever pie needs to be eaten, please.”

“Double cheeseburger, bacon, no sauce, rings, and French silk pie.” She glared at him over her reading glasses. “Cook’s going to be steamed you don’t like his sauce.”

He smiled—carefully—at the ritual warning. “I like the taste. I don’t like wearing my dinner.” The sauce tended to be thin and drippy.

Gretchen gave him a skeptical glare and snapped the order pad closed as she departed. He had a sip of pop, then tried to pick up one of the sticks of fried cheese. He blew on his scorched fingertips and stabbed it with a fork. Eight years and he still missed the fresh, soft herb cheese he’d grown up with. He shook his head a little. He should miss his mother, and brother and sister, and he did. But he really missed herbed cheese, and winter sausage, and those soft ginger cookies that his aunt-by-marriage made every year at Christmas. And dill potatoes, although he’d come close to duplicating those. He ate the hot cheese and set the memories aside, as always.

When he left, Deputy Andersen stopped him. “Jude, how’s your aunt doing?”

“She’s fine, sir. The last time I stopped by, she was grumbling about the firewood stack being too tall, and the price of propane being almost as high.” Why did he ask?

The stocky, dark-featured man listened, expression thoughtful. “Huh. When was that?”

“Sunday afternoon, sir, before she left for church.”

“We,” he used his thumb to indicate the other deputy, Sanders, “got a call asking if she still lived on the farm. From an out-of-state lawyer. Under-sheriff didn’t say which state.” Andersen raised his eyebrows.

Jude guessed the question. “My father is in Connecticut, or that’s where his mail goes. He’s on submarines, so he’s probably under the Atlantic right now. Aunt Salley passed away three years ago in November, and Aunt Georgia’s in Kansas. Uncle Rob died in February.” Martha had taught him enough to pass as her nephew. And it was all true save the first part.

“Thanks, Jude.” Andersen paused. “Where’s your friend?”

He smiled, carefully. “He doesn’t do indoor dining. By popular request.” He hadn’t bothered trying to hide Shoim, and after the initial flurry of gossip everyone ignored the harrier.

Deputy Sanders rolled his eyes. “No joke. My boys love watching the nature shows where the lions and eagles are eating. The messier and bloodier, the better. No thank you, not during my supper.”

“I hope they grow out of it, sir, or they apprentice with Mr. Heinz.” The butcher was regionally famous for using every part of the animal except the moo or grunt.

“So do I. My regards to your aunt.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.”

Jude strolled back to the main road, then to the city park. “About time,” Shoim grumbled from the big red maple near the eastern corner.  “I’ll fly, since your hands are full.”

“Is there a problem?”

“Not exactly, but Martha slipped and landed hard on her dignity.” Shoim sounded a little worried. “She moved pretty slowly and didn’t finish the noon chores.”

(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Brain-Tired from Music?

No, I’m not trying to do a music theory analysis of free-form academic jazz. That falls under “These are trained professionals, do NOT try this at home.” No, I’m talking about why it felt like I was thinking through a fog after back-to-back intense rehearsals.

The group I sing with is at the point that we are moving away from “repeat phrases and sections until we can’t get them wrong” drill-n-kill practice to “what is the composer trying to accomplish?” In this case, it is a very unusual marriage of liturgical text with technically difficult music. In some ways, it’s easier to do Christian religious music from the Medieval to the Baroque because the Catholic Church had official and customary ways of setting certain texts in order to emphasize certain meanings. That started to go out the window in the mid-1700s, if the composer was good enough and if his patrons were willing.

So now, in addition to remembering the notes, the text and its meaning, and the special technique needed to do this music properly, the chorus is having to try and understand exactly what the composer wanted the listeners to feel. No, I’m not naming names, because this isn’t unique to this person. However, we, the chorus, generally don’t tackle this kind of work. We’re better known for purely vocal things like Renaissance madrigals and modern a capella pieces. Piano or organ and a few strings or woodwinds are the usual accompaniment, if there is any. The current cantata is a big mental shift from our usual.

I’ve had this feeling before, when doing some organ music as an undergrad. The organ requires both keyboard technique and an understanding of what sounds are required. A piano varies in volume, and in duration of notes, but an organ has a lot more sound possibilities. However, you can’t change the volume by pushing harder on the key. You either use the swell pedal (which changes the sound color as well as volume), or add and remove stops. When was the piece written? What sound did organs of that time and place have? How would this music be used? All those shape your interpretation as you adapt a modern instrument to older music. A Spanish early Baroque “Tiento de Batalla” is going to be hard to register on, oh, a church organ that is based on French Romantic sounds. Likewise a composition by Gabriel Faure isn’t going to work on a Bach (German baroque) instrument. It can be done, but the sound is not French Romantic, exactly.

Humans can’t change our stops, unless you count the male falsetto register. So we have to use a lot of other tips and tricks and techniques, all of which require both physical and mental effort. So I end rehearsal in a brain fog from trying to remember everything the music, text, and conductor demand. It’s a much an intellectual exercise as translating German into English, or reading an academic work in an unfamiliar field (say, geochemistry or paleo-mammal taxonomy). I’m a much better vocalist for all this work, but my brain is mush.

Book Review: The Last Day of the Dinosaurs

Black, Riley. The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of our World. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2022) Kindle Edition.

I freely admit I grabbed this because it was on sale and I wanted something completely unrelated to anything else I am working on (Scottish history, Vlad III, academic histories of various kinds). I enjoyed the heck out of all but part of one chapter. The book is a celebration of life, and of what survived the worst single-event extinction in planetary history.

Black does a fantastic job balancing hard science with very plausible might-have-been-likes. The introduction explains why Hell Creek is the main lens through which the dinosaurs’ world is studied, and gives a bit of background on paleontology, including why the K-T event is now supposed to be the K-Pg event*. Black writes very well and puts you into the places and times being discussed.

The book starts in the late Cretaceous, with a Triceratops and a Tyrannosaur. It’s hard to go wrong with that combo, at least for those of us who went through a dino-mad phase as kids. Black discusses the ecology of Hell Creek, the world of the dinosaurs, and what happens when they die. Then the camera pulls back a bit to take in the boloid aimed for Earth.

The impact and the following hours and days are described very well. You might want to read this with some ice water at hand, because trying to imagine a world that gets turned up to “broil” for 24 hours is pretty miserable. Black handles the gore, and the chemistry, quite well. The story moves around the world, considering what effect the erupting Deccan Traps had (an important one, actually), and the effects of the impact event on the seas. The author then jumps to one week, one month, one year, and so on.

This brings up what I considered a strength but others found as a weak point: the book jumps around from the main narrative to look at other places around the world at the same time. So Hell Creek is the main story, but Black will cut over to Antarctica, the Indian Subcontinent, the Atlantic (once it opened up enough), and so on. Also, Black dramatizes events, using data available through scientific papers and sources. Some people don’t like this approach. I found it useful, BUT I’m also well read on paleoenvironments and so on, so it wasn’t entirely new to me.

Black hammers one point pretty hard: nothing was predetermined. The non-avian dinosaurs went extinct because they were perfectly adapted to their world. When the world went to hell, literally, that was that. But nothing said that the meteorite would hit at that angle in that place. Nothing said that the Daccan Traps would ease the global cooling. No special gift led primitive primates to develop so quickly compared to other mammals, or that monotremes and marsupials would fade out compared to true mammals. Black’s other oft repeated point is that life didn’t stop. That’s one of the author’s pet peeves, or so it appears. Existence did not cease with the dinosaurs. That world ended, but ferns and cycads hung in there, fish, reptiles, things that could hide underground or under water all made it. Perhaps not for long, but the story didn’t end with Chixulub.

Black takes the story up to a million years after the impact, then offers a last chapter meditation on change, extinction, and the resilience of both dinosaurs and life on Earth. I admit, I skimmed this, because it brings in the author’s personal life and I’m not really interested.

However, the appendices are fantastic. Here Black explains what we do know, how we know it, what is still being argued over (99% of everything), and the sources used for each chapter. This is an excellent way to document the material while keeping the bulk of the book fun for non-experts, without resorting to long footnotes. I like chatty footnotes in academic books, but they don’t suit a semi-narrative like this one.

I’d recommend the book to people who want to know more about the death of the non-avian dinosaurs and what came after. A bit of background knowledge in science is helpful but not really needed, since the author does a good job explaining terms and concepts. Some of the authors hypotheses have already been challenged, which I’d expect. After all, paleontologists seem to love nothing more than a good argument. OK, finding an intact member of a new species probably comes first, but a good argument’s not far behind.

*Sorry, to me K-Pg is either KP&G, the power company, or the initials of what is now KPMG before they added the M. It’s the K-T line to me.

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