Looking Up after Looking Down?

On Wednesday’s post, Louraine P. observed that people will always wonder about “what’s out there,” and will get curious. I’m . . . of two minds on this. First, I agree that yes, someone will always push to learn more, even if they can’t see something. In some cases, especially if they can’t see something. But second, I am observing less and less curiosity among younger people, meaning thirty and below.

I don’t know if it is because younger people have gotten used to “I’ll ask the internet” if they have a question, so they don’t ask questions. Or perhaps because they have been overloaded with “this is the Truth” only to be told a while later “No, no, this is the Truth and that never was true,” or because they are carefully protected from “out there” and they are sincerely worried that the unknown is all danger and hazard. Or a bit of yes. I’ve met a few teenagers who were so sheltered that I almost boggled. One or two of those became curious about “what’s out there?” The others rejected intellectual discomfort.

Many of the younger people (35 and below, give or take) seem to walk with their heads down literally or metaphorically, intent on a device in hand or in pocket, eyes on the ground. Now, older people can be inattentive, and I’m always surprised by the people who never see the hawks, or who are startled when I come huffing and puffing beside them as I walk. The screen has captured their attention, be it selecting music or reading and answering texts or browsing social media or watching a video. Granted, many on-line things are designed to keep people locked onto the screen. That’s a problem for others to sort out. My concern is that “what’s out there” turns into “look online and then move on” more more and more people.

One thing that impressed me when the great conjunction happened in the winter of 2020 was how many people were out in their yards, looking up at the sky, and talking to other people about the stars. It helped that two of our regional weather forecasters are astronomers, and they’d been happily geeking out about the conjunction for a week, so everyone knew it was coming, where to look, and why it was a Big Deal*. But it wasn’t teenagers out looking. It was 30+ for the most part, and younger kids.

I’m pretty sure that LP is right, that some people are always going to be curious about “What’s out there?” even if they never get to see stars before they are older teens. But what’s the effect of so many younger people living head-down for so long? I suspect that older people fussed when printing presses made books inexpensive. And I know that older people fussed that really cheap “penny dreadful” mass-market thrillers hit the newsstands in the late 1800s, because they were morally unsound and were rotting the brains of young people, and encouraged violence, and so on. Some things never change. That the same “corrupting trash” also pulled kids into wanting to learn more about the American West, and encouraged travel and exploration, well, no one could see that in the 1890s.

Are smart-phones and screens the same, and just a temporary blip that we will chuckle about later? Or is there something different that will keep people from wondering about the world and what lies beyond us? I have no idea.

*I know. They happen fairly often but they are not as visible as that one was. I remember several professional astronomers and so on mildly scolding people for getting so excited. Which strikes me as exactly the opposite of what you do if you want to encourage a Sense-o-Wonder!

“The Moon Was a Ghostly Galleon . . .”

” . . . tossed upon cloudy seas.” Alfred Noyes’ poem “The Highwayman” was one of the first long ballads I remember reading. Louis Untermeyer included it in the wonderful anthology for young readers that I still have. Even before then, I remember hearing my mother and father quoting the lines when winter winds blew and shreds of cloud dimmed the moon.

“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.   

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.   

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

And the highwayman came riding—

         Riding—riding—

The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.”

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43187/the-highwayman

Loreena McKennitt arranged parts of the poem, not the full ballad of doomed love and blind fury. I was reminded of both ballad and song on the eve of the Harvest Moon, when I glanced out a window and saw the above. And below.

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,

When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,   

When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

A highwayman comes riding—

         Riding—riding—

A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.

He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.   

He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there   

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Fair in the Air

The smell of fried, and of animals. Rows and rows of home-canned goods and cupcakes and Pumpkins of Unusual Size. Flashing lights on spinning rides, and excited voices trying to persuade you to buy a new gadget, or upgrade your storm windows, or to plant native plants, to wear more cotton, and to find Jesus (preferably at their place.)

Yes, it’s fair season!

Pro-tip (especially if you have kids): Eat a little, ride the whirling things, then eat the fried stuff.

Pro-tip (especially if you have kids): Eat a little, ride the whirling things, then eat the fried stuff.

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“You Darkness that I Come From . . . “

Darkness, night, dark nights of the soul, following a star in the heavens, comets as portents . . . What does it mean if all of that goes away? Both in terms of astronomy and interesting people in star-gazing and studying the heavens, and in the sense of culture and religion? Those were some of the topics batted around at one of the FenCon panels.

The title phrase comes from one of Ranier Maria Rilke’s letters to a young poet, in which he (Rilke) muses about preferring darkness to firelight, because night includes everyone, while light shuts out those beyond the glow. I confess to having always been one “acquainted with the night,” as Robert Frost phrased it. I grew up star-gazing, taking walks after dark, going on Owl Prowls at the nature center, and so on. I prefer to keep lights dim, even as my aging eyes are less sensitive to light in general. I grew up understanding all the star references, and learning celestial navigation, and so on. But what about generations that can’t see stars, or anything dimmer than the quarter moon, because of city lights?

For astronomers, to lose the stars is both sad and a professional problem. Who will pick up the mantle after the current generation retires, if younger people don’t learn to look up, and are not fascinated by the wonder of “what’s out there? Why does it look like that?” Light pollution is a serious problem for migrating birds as well, in some cases. It can be a real pain for pilots, because finding the airport in a sea of lights is Not Easy if you don’t already know what to look for. Especially if you are not on an instrument approach with everything set to get the radio beacons or GPS fixes. There’s a runway down there. Somewhere. Or is that I-80?

Some people reply to the plaints with “There’s an ap for that!” You can point your phone or tablet at the sky, or ground, and get a star chart for whatever you are aimed at. Hubble and Webb telescope images are far more colorful and detailed than what you can see through a 6″ backyard telescope or binoculars. And some places still have a planetarium, to simulate going out at night without the bugs, traffic, light pollution, stiff neck, or risk of mugging. Who needs real stars?

We humans do. We need darkness to properly rest. We need to be reminded to things outside of our ken, of worlds greater than ourselves. There’s a sense of wonder and amazement kids and adults get from seeing the stars and identifying the patterns and shapes, the nebula and galaxies and planets, that even a great planetarium can’t quite match. There’s no ap that will reveal the heavens in their glory on a cold October night in Yellowstone, when so many stars filled the sky that I couldn’t identify constellations or planets. The Milky Way cast shadows, it was so bright. Or out at Black Mesa, Oklahoma, as the summer stars marched across the peak of the heavens and a coyote or ten called back and forth.

Darkness stands for evil in many religions. Darkness is when bad people lurk, and thus when heroes do their thing. Humans generally don’t see as well at night as by daylight, although there are a lot of variations on “not as well.” We don’t see color, and discerning patterns and “is that a shadow or a hole” becomes a bit more challenging. Not that it stopped people from working, traveling, or doing things at night in the past. Today, we flood the night with artificial light to make travel (in vehicles) safer, to discourage footpads and robbers and other mischief makers. We fear darkness more than in the past. Which came first – not going out into the darkness, thus leaving it for evil to use for shelter, or evil growing in the shadows and chasing “good people” indoors when the sun sets? Yes?

St. John of the Cross reveled in night, in his extended poem and meditation “Dark Night of the Soul.” Night brought the lover (G-d) and the beloved one (the mystic) together. Night is for lovers, for philosophers, for socializing. Night holds sweet secrets, conceals private pain from those who would mock or minimize what is very personal and real. Night is greater than we are. Darkness and stars, the moon and planets, remind us that we are tiny creatures in a big, mysterious, wonder-full universe. Who made the moon and hung the stars? What are the stories of the shapes in the night sky?

Without stars, we humans lose both astronomy and spiritual wonder. At least, that’s what the panel and those present eventually drifted toward, although no one said it in those words.

Apple-Crisp Days

No, not for baking, although right now I’d really like a plop of apple-crisp with vanilla ice cream, or apple pie with vanilla ice cream. No, I’m thinking about the sort of day that starts chilly, turns crisp, and is full of smiles, laughter, kids doing kid stuff, and signs of the turning season. It might not be perfect, but it’s worth savoring.

Most days, I still can’t go out for a walk unless it is early morning, because the sun is still too intense, and the weather too warm. However, more and more strong cool fronts are coming through, dropping temperatures and warning that winter will ease in (or roar in) sooner than we’d like to think. The berries on the hawthorn are half-turned, green shifting to blazing orange. The leaves are also starting to shift color, soon to be crimson. The sweet gum trees are also turning, brown crisping the edges of the large green leaves. Acorns have begun to drop, to the delight of doves and other birds that wait until a car rolls over them, then feast at ease.

Soon, fireplace smoke will start to replace the perfume of smoking meat in the evenings, although not entirely. When the weather permits, grills and smokers remain in service all year around out here. Piñon firewood and other specialty woods are starting to pile up here and there with prices posted by the bundle, half-cord, and cord.

The Mississippi kites have gone south. Autumn is here.

The End User Should Have the Final Say

It is my opinion, and an increasingly vehement opinion it is indeed, that certain products should not be designed by males without final say by females, and vice versa. This vehemence is inspired by a product that I use on a regular basis. It was “improved and redesigned!”

As with most things, this phrase served as a warning. The warning was well merited.

Said “improvements” reduced the comfort and usefulness of said product, moving it from “useful and about as comfortable as possible given the usage” to “uncomfortable, borderline impossible to use, and prone to self-destruction during removal from wrapper.” Happily, I was able to find a supply of the old version, and used up the last of “new and improved” with a feeling of delight at having rid myself of the odious item.

I have a strong suspicion that it was designed by an anatomical male, perhaps with the assistance of a female who did not think that other women might, perchance, wear underpinnings of a design that varied from her own. Delicacy and a certain respect for the feelings of my male readers forbids me to go into further detail. Suffice it to say that “one design works for all” failed in this case, as in so many.

Likewise, women should not design certain products used only by anatomically male individuals without having said item tested by a variety of men.

In fact, there are a number of things that obviously never, ever passed into the hands of an end user on the path between design and sale. Overly gee-whiz cars with computer displays that reduce safety by having more warnings and alerts than does an airliner, with less logic in the presentation. Certain types of packaging that require a dedicated tool to open, or the strength of Superman, or a very sharp knife that tends to slide on the plastic. Sofas and easy chairs that swallow anyone shorter than 5’8″ tall. Which also applies to movie theater seats. Overly-sensitive side airbags on pickups designed to be used in places where brush might brush against the door while the truck is in motion. Foomp! That led to the addition of a deactivation switch in the next year model and subsequent.

The statistically perfect person does not exist. Would that designers of all types remembered this.

And leave my preferred product alone unless you ask women of all sorts, who wear all different types of clothing, to test it and provide feed-back!

Made on Friday at 4:55?

There was one too many spent casings on the shelf at the range. I knew how many rounds I had shot, and here was an empty casing. I picked it up. It had never been crimped. I didn’t find a spare bullet in the bulk box, nor did I find powder.

People used to joke that “lemons” among cars had been assembled on the Friday before a three day weekend, just before quitting time. I think I found the .22LR version.

That, or someone in the quality control department originally worked for Lesters.

The sign/design has been around for at least 40 years. You can buy them in lots of places. The above is the most common version in the US.
I really like this one. Subtle . . .

[Full disclosure – one bad round out of over three hundred is not a surprise. This makes two duds in three boxes I’ve gone through thus far.]

Things No Longer Advertised

Or at least not on TV. Perfume, unless Macy’s is sponsoring the commercial. Doan’s Pills (who knew folding fitted sheets could be so painful, if not dangerous?) Ex-Lax (OK, but it’s descendants are advertised, far too often during meal times, in my opinion.). Calgon water softener (“Ancient Chinese secret, huh?”). My first exposure to Edgar Allan Poe was through a commercial that used the cadences of “The Raven” to sell Roto-Rooter’s services. And I can still sing the jingle of the Runza Huts fast-food chain, although it’s been three decades since I lived in a place that had a Runza hut.

Perfume seems to have faded from public interest, at least the broad general public. I remember very romantic commercials with a woman standing above a wind-swept, cloudy sea-shore remembering her far-away lover, and he remembers her by her perfume. “Promise her everything, but give her Arpége.” That one aired during the classic movies on Saturday afternoon and evening, things like The Three Musketeers, or The Man in the Iron Mask, and so on.

Doan’s Pills ads were on during weekday afternoon shows, when women were likely to be at home with kids, doing chores, and so on. The Calgon water softener ad – it would make your whites whiter and all clothes cleaner! – aired then as well. Doan’s Pills were specifically for back ache, something that appeared to be caused by doing battle with a full-sized fitted sheet, according to the graphics on the commercial. I tended to hide under the fitted sheet, pretending to be a ghost or something until I wrestled it onto the bed, so I never had a back ache that required the use of the pills.

The commercials weren’t any better than they are today, although I’m not sure they were much worse. I don’t remember as many for prescription medications, or for financial products (retirement funds and so on). Car commercials, Coca-Cola™, dog food, Meow Mix™ cat food and Purina products (the miniature chuckwagon leading the dog to the food dish, anyone?), Schlitz, Pabst, and Busch beers, and Coors (this was in the Midwest). And local businesses and so on. IBM, too, although it was for office machines and copiers, not computers until after Apple exploded onto the scene, with Dell, Gateway, and others not long after.