Role Models

Besides my parents and a few other adults, I’m not sure who my role models were when I was growing up. Han Solo, perhaps? Then I locked onto military history, and while there was not one single individual I declared, “I want to be like that person,” I found a lot of values and ideas I tried to live up to. Ditto in certain fiction, because I was in a place where I needed inspiration along the lines of, “If she can survive that stuff, then I can get through High School.” If William Slim could reorganize and rebuild an army and then start fighting back, I could survive High School. And so on. Reading about Marie Curie and other women in medicine and science was interesting, and I remember all the big news about Sally Ride, but the fact that they were women wasn’t so important to me.

Later, I also had someone serve as a horrible warning as far as how not to treat coworkers and associates. He was an anti-role-model of sorts.

None of my role models looked like me. None were nerdy, overweight girls growing up in the Midwest or High Plains. Perhaps Lessa of Pern and Talia from Valdemar might have been close. William Slim certainly wasn’t, neither was Admiral Chester Nimitz, nor “Pappy” Boyington. Nor Erwin Rommel, not all the submarine commanders whose books I devoured. But there was something about what they did, and their approach to the world, that made sense and that made me want to behave like them, even though my circumstances were very different from theirs. The fact that they were military men, or fictional characters, didn’t matter to me. It wasn’t important that I have a role model who looked like me. Since my Mom was in a science field, I knew that girls could grow up to do science, or anything else.

I was thinking about this as I read a new military biography of Prinz Eugene von Savoy. His private life was . . . private, much to the frustration of later historians and writers. He didn’t have any flamboyant affairs. His wife was not well known (too well, in the end) in the royal court like John Churchill the Duke of Marlborough’s, in part because Eugene never married. He might have had a mistress, or he might have looked at his mother’s adventures in the court of Louis XIV and have decided that power and military campaigns ranked far higher on his list of interests than did physical intimacy*. No one knows. However, since his enemies accused him of, to use today’s term, being gay, he has been lauded and praised as “the first great gay general since Alexander the Great or Richard the Lionheart.” Except Richard has been dropped because he was an icky crusader. Funny, no one claims that Tilley, the great general for the Habsburgs during the Thirty Years War, was gay even though HE never married.

The argument seems to be that “because this historical figure never married, and was accused of being [whatever], therefore he/she/it is the role model needed today by young people who might be [whatever].” Role models are people who accomplished a great deal, not people who accomplished a great deal and look just like or act just like [characteristic]. At least in my world. If kids are told “Oh, no one like you can be a pilot,” well, the adult is to blame unless there is a solid, physical reason for the denial. For example, anyone who still tells girls, “No, you can’t fly the plane, but you can be a flight attendant if you want!” should be thumped with a wing spar, or landing gear leg.

I grew up in the benighted years of the patriarchy, and Reganonomics, and it didn’t matter that I was a girl. I’ve had people turn me down for a job because I’m too small (valid in one case, not so in another), and in one case because they couldn’t take the legal risk of hiring another women after a Spectacular Horrible Warning soured the chances for a whole lot of people. [No, I was not informed officially, but tell-a-pilot and the flightline grapevine are very effective. I wasn’t surprised, just peeved at the Horrible Warning.] Girls, poor kids, kids who don’t look like their heroes, it doesn’t matter – kids need role models who can inspire and encourage, who show how to do it. That’s what society needs to be teaching and showing.

*The more I read about his childhood, the more convinced I become that Eugene von Savoy preferred power, wealth, and military success to marriage. Once he made a name for himself, his mother trying to match him up with various noble women in order to advance her own position probably just iced the cake.

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Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dates to 1620-21, and the harvest festival celebrated by the Plymouth Separatists and their Indian neighbors after both groups managed to survive a rough year. The Separatists were not the rigid, stereotypical “Puritans” that most people associate with New England. Those folks arrived later. The first group were more mellow in their understanding of religion and tolerance, and the group included Strangers as well as “Saints.” Miles Standish, for example, was a Stranger, who worked as hard as anyone and helped nurse and protect anyone who fell in the disease outbreak that winter. Giving thanks for the harvest and the One who provided it was natural, and an English as well as Indian tradition.

“Harvest Home” is not longer something most people in the US, Canada, or elsewhere do unless you are part of a farming community or follow a certain cultural tradition. If you are in a city, you probably don’t farm, so it doesn’t apply. “Harvest Home” was the bringing in of the last sheaves of grain or sacks/baskets of root crops. It led to a community celebration, or at the very least to the land owner treating his workers to a good meal and good beer/ale. The work wasn’t over, not at all, but the time-critical harvest was done and the grain and other things had been brought safely home. “All is safely gathered in/ Ere the winter storms begin.”

Today, Harvest Home means grain is in the bin or at the elevator, the root crops are gathered, and the combine or digger can be put away for a while. No more working from can’t see until “so tired I’m hallucinating” in order to save what can be saved. Farm wives no longer have to shuttle meals out to workers at all hours of the day and night while taking care of the kids and running into town for parts and supplies if needed. There’s time to breathe, to rest, to prepare for cleaning equipment ahead of winter, to take inventory of the harvest and the crop year.

Today, in the US, we give thanks for food and shelter, for health and well-being, and for the opportunity to give thanks. Some of us are with family of blood, or family of choice, or are working so that others can have a little time away. Giving thanks reminds us that we are not the center of the universe (unless you are a cat, in which case I congratulate you on your good taste in blog reading). Other people make the good things in life possible for the rest of us – farmers, power-company employees, physicians and EMTs, soldiers and sailors and airmen, the folks working at the grocery store . . . Whether you believe in a higher power or not, stopping to give thanks is a good way to keep a proper sense of proportion about the world.

I hope you have something to give thanks for, and that today is a good day for you and yours, wherever you are.

“What Is the Meaning of Life?”

My first two answers were “A Monty Python movie” and “42.” Neither of those where what the speaker had in mind, so I kept my trap firmly shut. I can act like a grown-up, on occasion. If there are a sufficiently large number of witnesses.

Then me being me, I ran through three of the catechism answers that I remembered (none of which apply to the church where I currently sing. Of course.) Personally, I’d argue that meaning is personal, not collective. The speaker went along the chosen topic and my mind wandered off into the weeds, then over the river, through the woods, down the primrose path, past the Slough of Despond, and drifted back toward the official topic when the phrase, “What were his last words,” came along.

And again, my mind wandered, this time to Randall Thompson’s “Last Words of David.” David’s last words were a command and testament, in the sense of testifying about something. “He that ruleth over men must be just; ruling in the fear of G-d” That’s the charge, the command. And if the ruler is just? “He shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even as a morning without clouds when the tender grass riseth out of the earth after rain.” The obedient man will be blessed and will prosper. During the middle ages, someone’s last words were very, very important and people gathered to hear them.* Often, final disposition of property happened at that point, and the individual was thought to be closer to the divine, and so might offer a warning or revelation. If the person was dying in public (i.e.executed), then it was anticipated that he or she’d have a speech, sometimes humorous, sometimes dramatic, occasionally a confession “Yes, I was terrible and I deserve this and don’t do what I did.” And of course we have modern jokes about “Here, hold my beer!” or “What could possibly go wro—” and so on.

Death used to be a community matter, too important to happen in solitude, if possible. The meaning of life used to be a community matter as well, although I suspect the majority of people wouldn’t phrase it like that. Having relatives in the church yard meant that you belonged to the place. Going back much farther, having relatives in the chamber tombs and mounds surrounding Stonehenge also meant that you and your people belonged. The ancestors watched as the transition from life to death concluded for the individual, and the community feasted to honor the dead and the living. Life was family continuity, blood-kin or faith-kin, and the meaning of most people’s lives was to ensure that another generation or two had property and a good model to build upon.

What is the meaning of life? What is a good life [insert Conan quote and all it’s myriad variations here]? No idea, but a lot of other people have ideas about it, some I agree with, some I boggle at, some that make me want to take a long shower after I apply automatic weapons fire to the idea.

*No, it was not good for public health when infectious disease was involved. But germ theory hadn’t been invented yet.

Why Follow Someone?

Granted, sometimes it is a case of following someone out of morbid curiosity to see what disaster is about to ensue, so that either plausible deniability may be ensured, or to see just how bad it could possibly be . . .

[Speaking of which, NO POLITICS! Please.]

I was thinking more about “What motivates the Hunters to follow a certain leader?” When you have a generally merit-based society, what causes some people to start turning to a particular individual and treating that person as a leader? I do not think of myself as a leader, but other people do. I freely admit, I’m not entirely certain why, save for the “morbid curiosity and entertainment value” aspect of things. But why do the Hunters follow Skender and Arthur? Why do they follow Danut Adrescu? What motivates people to follow, when other options are available?

In Danut Adrescu’s case, blood ties play a role. He’s the clan leader, descended from clan leaders (or their sisters, depending on who was born first and who outlived whom) going back a long way. He and his half-brother have been trained to be leaders, and the others in the larger group have a set of expectations about what the clan chief is supposed to do, how he’s supposed to behave, and how he will reward virtue and punish vice. Adrescu’s going to have to do a bit of the latter, assuming he survives whatever the Ottomans seem to be hatching, assuming that Codrin’s vision is truly precognitive. Radut has also earned the respect of the other men and women, in his case partly because he refuses to allow a crippling injury keep him from doing what needs to be done. His skill as both a horse trainer and horse rider also play a role. Kinship as a tie of military service was found in feudal Japan as well as other places. When in doubt, follow your kindred, circle around the center of the larger family’s property, and protect those related to you – that’s one of the oldest loyalties in the books, literally.

There’s not as much opportunity for loot with the Hunters as in traditional armies. You could argue that the Fruits of the Hunt are loot, and it’s true that the Hunters in Adrescu’s time were not averse to confiscating the goods of people who were proven to be getting into mischief, be it mundane or esoteric. Should Adrescu have to face the Ottoman Turks, his soldiers and Hunters will grab what they can if they win. It’s tradition, and a good reward. In our world, even into the early modern era, there were people who fought with, oh, Prince Eugene of Savoy, because he had a record of winning and rewarding his men very well. Or of letting them reward themselves from the enemy. When the monarchs and princes couldn’t pay their hired soldiers, the men found loot on their own – see Rome, 1527, and Charles V’s problem with losing control of his troops. In Eugene’s case, it also tied into charisma. He took care of his troopers, even when he considered them swine. He tended to win more often than he lost, he ended up with loot at some point during most campaigns, and he tended to be impartial when it came to discipline.

Skender and Arthur proved themselves to the Riverton clan as Hunters first and foremost. Then Skender began quietly taking on more and more duties, especially the lesser duties of the senior Hunter. The then-leader was old, in poor health, and couldn’t do those things. Skender showed that he had the needed skills, sense of duty, and training to lead, should the opportunity arise. Arthur supported his brother, and may have on occasion dealt with other Hunters who might have posed threats to Skender. Perhaps. Maybe. No one ever admitted to doing such, and Skender could more than take care of himself. So when the old clan leader died, the Elders and Hunters agreed that Skender was a reasonable choice. It wasn’t without challenges and fights, as series readers have probably surmised. And every so often a Hunter would push things, leading to injuries.

Now? Skender and Arthur have both proven themselves, and no one is suicidal enough to take them on as a pair. Arthur served as head of the Hunters, overseeing training and ensuring order more-or-less. The other Elders and retired Hunters knew about Arthur’s injuries and how hard he pushed himself, and admired him. The younger Hunters respected him profoundly, feared him, and occasionally challenged him. Once or twice, a younger Hunter went to Arthur for counsel, and he provided it without demeaning the younger man or telling others. When it appeared that he’d been mortally wounded on the Hunt, it hit the “puppies” hard. Skender was the senior Hunter, true, but Arthur was their leader. At the same time, when Skender took full responsibility for his brother’s injuries, Skender gained more respect as well (although it didn’t stop some of the youngsters and Elders from growling about it, well away from the rest of the clan.)

Why follow? There are a lot of reasons. Experience, family ties and tradition, the hope of reward, the desire to be present when the dreadfully creative disaster unfolds (because great stories sometimes start with, “Ya’ll won’t believe what Bubba did this time.”) Me? I like a leader who gives me a long leash and who states clearly what needs to be done, what is being done, and why (when possible), and who supports subordinates when the chips are down.

Veterans’ Day, Armistice Day, Martinmas

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour, the guns fell silent on the Western Front of WWI. It would take far longer for the African and Eastern fronts to quiet down, and one could argue that the war continued with some pauses until 1945. In Europe and the Commonwealth (England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, other nations), this is a day of solemn remembrance. In the US, we save that for Memorial Day (or used to), and today we honor all veterans who served in the US armed forces.

I raise a glass to Dad Red, Uncle Red, Grandpa Carl, Uncle W., Uncle K., Jim E., Dr. M., Peter G., Carl R., Fr. Martial, Fr. Gonzales, Old NFO, Tom R., Jon L., John v. S., LawDog, Fox and Mr. Fox, and all my readers who served in militaries around the world.

Thank you, G-d bless, may your Martinmas goose come out of the oven perfectly roasted, and may today be as wonderful as possible. Prost!

The Pleasure of Finding: A Lost Joy

Dictionaries. Thesauri. Encyclopedias. Card Catalogues.

I used to have a large dictionary in my classroom, one that I inherited from the previous resident. The students disliked when, after they asked to use their “device” to look up a word, I’d hand them the dictionary, then teach them how to use it. That was work! It was so much easier to have $SEARCHENGINE$ do it. The dictionary vanished last year. I don’t know if one of the English faculty borrowed it and accidentally added it to her reference shelf, or if a student smuggled it out so that later generations might be spared the pain of looking up words in a heavy book.

I suppose link-hopping or WikiWandering are how the curious spend time, instead of reading what is around the desired dictionary word, or encyclopedia article. Both waste time, sort of, although learning isn’t always time-wasting. I suspect most of my readers grew up occasionally browsing dictionaries and encyclopedias and wandering through card catalogues out of curiosity. How much did we absorb as we drifted from the officially-sought topic to other intriguing (or useful “ooh, I can call someone this and he won’t have a clue that it’s an insult”) information. Grab a random volume off the shelf, or open the tome to a random page, and start browsing away. Yes, the information might be out-of-date. In a few cases, that’s the strength of older reference books. If you can get your hands on a pre-1920 set of the Encyclopedia of Islam, you have a goldmine of accurate information. After that? Well, there’s been some selective alteration and gilding, let us say. Likewise certain other encyclopedias and reference works. And people seem to retain what they read on page far more than what they read on screen.

I’ve written before about the advantages – for some things – of card catalogues. Those who had to maintain and update the files would disagree, as would most modern librarians. Especially in the early days of electronic library catalogues, the old system was far more forgiving of error and uncertainty than the hyper-precise systems. A keyword might not be enough – you had to know Boolean systems and terminology in order to enter what you hoped might lead to the book or journal that you sought. Some of us were not taught that, making finding things an exercise in unproductive frustration. Most modern library catalogues are better, or at least easier to start using, but it depends on how things are searched for and logged. One example: I was looking for books on Gypsies, or Roma. Using Roma led to romance novels, not the Library of Congress Subject. Romania? Also romance novels, or Roman history (and historical novels about Rome). I told the reference librarian, who sighed and added it to the list of complaints.

I don’t want to go back to the world of “we have to go to the library to find that,” not really, no matter how much I enthuse about things. And the electronic search systems are faster, and can lead to things not usually found in the older versions (like magazine and journal articles). There needs to be a balance, one I’m not sure we can easily find. The genii is out of the bottle, and making younger people go back to the paper versions of Dictionary DOT com could lead to rebellions. But I think some kids are missing a true pleasure, the thrill of discovery and exploration some of us get thumbing through reference books, never knowing what gems we might find.

Peak – Sylphium? Tree? Whale? Oil?

A fellow environmental historian noted the other day that no-one really talks about “peak resource” anymore as part of their arguments for conservation and moderating use of natural resources. That was a big thing in the mid to late Twentieth Century – the world would run out of iron, or oil, or aluminum, or copper, or coal, farmland, or other things. Thinking about it, I’ve not heard that argument used for at least a decade, I think since global warming/anthropogenic climate change became the greater concern. As is my wont the idea sent me down a bit of a research rabbit-trail. Have we humans, globally, ever run out of a resource completely? Not local shortages or failures, but the entire world?

The Roman plant called sylphium (or silphium) might be one of the few resources that westerners used to extinction. And that’s a maybe because a Turkish botanist thinks that the plant might have survived in Anatolia. (Not the genus, but the specific plant). The plant contained chemicals in its resin and sap that affected female hormones, causing abortions or temporary infertility depending on the woman’s condition when she took it. Given what Roman patriarchs did with unwanted children (ordering them exposed after birth) and the risks of pregnancy and maternal death, it’s easy to see why the plant – per tradition – got used up and vanished.

When I came through school the first time, I was taught that the reason for the Industrial Revolution and the switch to coal was because England (and the rest of Europe) ran out of trees. They’d reached peak wood, forcing the shift, which led to the first Industrial Revolution. Or, they ran out of big trees for building and looted North American forests, then ran out of fuel wood, and so on. Well, it turns out that the first one wasn’t true, and the second one was partly true. Managed woodlands in England and Wales provided wood for iron smelting and other uses well into the 20th Century, as it turns out. Cost had more to do with it, both the cost per ton of hardwood charcoal vs coal, and the cost of transportation. Coal measures and seams near water were far cheaper, and provided a steadier, more intense heat, and could be worked more quickly than waiting for wood to grow, season, and then be converted into various fuels. The English had been using coal since at least the Tudor days (1400s), to the point that London passed rules about burning coal in order to preserve air quality. Ship timbers were a slightly different story, because the Royal Navy wanted live-oak and other timbers that had grown in the proper shapes and didn’t need to be pieced, carved, or spliced. England and Ireland were running out of those, and with the mess in the Baltic [thanks Sweden and Russia!] that supply of mast timbers had gotten both expensive and somewhat precarious. So off to North America they went. If the government owns it, you don’t have to pay for it, if you’re part of the government, na ja? And in theory, there was no competition or risk of wood theft.

Whale oil was another resource that almost disappeared. Whale oil and oil lamps were better and cheaper than candles, were more reliable than olive oil lamps, and whale oil could be used for mechanical things that required a very light oil that wouldn’t go rancid as quickly as walnut, olive, and other plant-based oils. It was lighter and less viscous than olive oil, so it could be used in much colder temperatures. Whale oil had a distinct scent (bad) and the odd knack of bleaching fabric that it got on – sort of the opposite of used engine oil. [Or so I’ve been told. Really.] Baleen whales had a different chemical composition to the fat in their blubber, making it much better for most purposes than the blubber of toothed whales. This led to the hunting-out of many whales, to the point of near extinction. However, the search was already on for a replacement for whale oil, preferable something as good as the oil but without the stink-and-stain properties. Rapeseed (canola) oil, petroleum oil, and other things also came into use, and peak whale became less of a worry for everyone except corset makers. They needed the baleen, the ling, flexible filters baleen whales used to separate krill and larger fish from seawater. Then cheap, thin steel appeared on the market, and corsets also switched from baleen to metal for stays.

Then it became peak petroleum, and peak aluminum, and . . . Humans keep finding replacements, or work-arounds, or new sources, or what have you. I suspect that’s partly why we don’t hear about “peak resource” anymore. It doesn’t sell what the environmental activists are trying to do. I firmly believe in recycling what can be recycled, and not wasting things. But I also believe that people will find a solution.

Wise Choices

The word went out a few weeks ago that the buddy system and security would now be in effect after evening rehearsals. Potential trouble had been observed on the property, as had an unwelcome presence, and so security was increased. Those of us who prefer to go armed have mostly been doing so already, but now we are even more aware of the need for heightened situational awareness. Which is unfortunate, because this has never, ever been needed before, but things have changed and not for the better.

Some group members prefer not to go armed. One is a Quaker and a vehement pacifist who knows the possible results of that philosophy. Another has a medical problem that affects fine motor control, making the use of power tools, knives, and other tools somewhat hazardous. Others trust the security presence to prevent the need to personally deal with danger. I don’t necessarily agree, but all these people know the possible effects of their choices and are willing to live with them.

Wisdom and knowledge are different things. It’s been a long-standing rule in certain tabletop role-playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, that you can have a character be very, very smart but not wise. I think most of us have encountered the real-world analogue of those characters. Brilliant, focused, but not overly blessed with common sense, they seem to congregate in academia and certain science fields. I knew one in grad-school, and the rest of us boggled at this person’s store of knowledge and insights into their specialty. We also had to peer-counsel the person about bathing, dress, dining manners (once explained to that “you won’t get a job if you don’t learn how to dine,” the person studied hard and mastered the finer points of eating with colleagues and potential superiors.) Lots and lots of knowledge, but not a lot of wisdom. The other extreme probably also exists, but I’ve not met an individual like that yet.

Wisdom comes from being bumped around in the world, or so it seems. Solomon got it as a gift, but most of us aren’t Solomon. We have to learn that that brilliant idea has been tried before, and has yet to work, that sometimes backing away slowly and letting the other party (two legged or four legged) very much alone is a good idea, that buying someone a vacuum-cleaner for her birthday isn’t a great idea, unless you have asked her if that’s what she wants. [My great-uncle meant well, he really did. He was just a wee bit too practical sometimes.]

The world is full of knowledge. Wisdom seems to be lacking at all levels. Part of it, I think, is that we are often sheltered from the consequences of folly. In part, it is easier and easier not to experience hard reality, so there’s no need to learn. Over-protective parents, over-litigeous societies, fear of offense, preferring to live in a sheltered reality . . . And then come the extreme risk-taking and other behaviors that leave some of us shaking our heads. Yes, wing-suits may be fun, but gravity will have the final say (even if the wing-suited individual does get the last word. Ahem.) Those of us who discovered for ourselves that just because the glass is no longer over the Bunsen burner doesn’t mean that it’s not hot, well, we shake our heads and wince, because we are not surprised by the literal or metaphorical splatification of society.

People have been decrying the lack of wisdom in society since, well, since the little produce problem and the Serpent winning the Apple Salescritter of the Year award. But society seems to be racing away from the traditional sources of experience and wisdom – religion, grandparents, studying the past. “Learn from the mistakes of others, because you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself,” one of my aviation mentors commanded. In aviation, sailing, and similar, you will become postmortem if you screw up badly enough. The gene pool got chlorinated rather quickly, back in the day. Even now, Otto Pilot will lose to gravity, thunderstorms, and so on. Beware the clouds with the crunchy middles, especially when GPS and printed map vehemently disagree.

I’ve been bitten by reality often enough that I’ve made certain choices about personal conduct and situational awareness. I have the knowledge of what is possible and legal, and the wisdom to know that legal and smart do not always overlap by much (aviation once more).

Knowledge – tomato is a fruit.

Wisdom – you don’t put tomato in a banana split.

Charisma – convincing people that salsa is a fruit salad.

“Cry the Swans Down

the white swans and the black.” So wrote William Butler Yeats, talking about the wild swans leaving for the winter, taking summer and it’s youthful pleasures with them as they passed. I was reminded of the line as I left work yesterday. I heard the burbling call of sandhill cranes somewhere around the school, so I stopped, tossed my gear into my pickup, and listened hard, scanning the skies, trying to see them.

It took a few minutes, but at last, if I hid the sun with my hands and peered straight up, I could see them in the mild blue sky, far, far overhead. A pair of cranes flew south-southeast. A glance to the north showed a bit of haze and dust but no clouds or other storm sign. Perhaps the front would arrive as forecast and not earlier? Again the burbling calls, soft but insistent. More gazing, looking with unfocused eyes for movement, black specks against the blue, and four, then another four appeared, tracking a heading of 250 degrees (west-southwest). I’d not seen so many in three or four years. Last year I don’t recall seeing any cranes, although I think I heard some one morning. These were probably headed for the marshy wildlife sanctuary about 50 miles southwest of Amarillo. The lakes around the city have gone mostly dry, and the cranes are wading birds.

Cranes are ancient creatures, like Canada geese. They even look a bit like dinosaurs. My part of the world is a bit west of their main flyway, but sometimes they will come through. If I’m very lucky, a whooping crane will be tucked into the formation of sandhills as well. They sound wild, their burbling, trilling call so different from anything else in this area. To hear thousands of them at once, as happens up in Grand Island, Nebraska and other Midwestern refuges is awe inspiring. They belong to a different time, somehow, and yet they continue today.

The year is turning, seasons changing. Gold has touched the trees, and the hawthorn berries are orange-crimson, ripe of the taking. The kites departed a few weeks ago, replaced by a flicker, robins, cedar waxwings, and others moving south for the season. The lurking cold front coming toward this area is chasing them, just as the last one did. Butterflies have been numerous, but almost all have passed to the south, taking summer with them. Instead of 90s we are in the 60s by day, 40s by night. Low clouds roll in, sometimes with chilly, slow rain, then leave hard-edged blue skies almost as dark as indigo, sharp enough to cut the horizon like a knife. The hot dust scent has left the air, replaced by thin wisps of woodsmoke and cinnamon grass, touched with hints of sour cottonwood as the leaves flash to gold, then fall.

Summer is passing “with the white swans and the black.”

Desert Island Stuff

It’s one of those questions that interviewers toss in every so often, usually when interviewing a cultural figure. “If you were trapped on a desert island, what music/book/painting would you want to have?” I was thinking about that, because I loaded a new-to-me recording onto this computer, and found myself listening over and over to a few songs. It is an album by the a capella group Voces8. Mostly a capella – no piano or organ or orchestra, just an occasional cello and saxophone. I put Morten Lauridsen’s “Magnum Mysterium” and Bruckner’s “Os Justi” on loop as I wrote a scene.

If I were stuck with a limited amount of music and books, also known as “being in the real world for most of human existence,” I’d want the Mozart Requiem, Gjiello’s “Luminous Night of the Soul” and Lauridsen’s “O Nata Lux,” along with Lauridsen’s “Sure on this Shining Night” and Bach’s B-minor mass. In other words, things that lift the soul, or at least lift my soul, and speak of eternity. And that I can’t sing that well on my own. Maybe Avantasia’s “Raven Child,” just because it so shaped how Arthur’s character ended up developing. Maybe.

Purely instrumental? Ralph Vaughn-Williams “Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” and some medieval and Renaissance compositions. I’m not sure about which classical compositions make my “desert island list,” because there are a lot to choose from, and I’ve not had (or not taken) the time in years just to sit and listen to instrumental classical music. My selection for that used to be the Brahms German Requiem. Which is vocal as well as instrumental, so it doesn’t count.

Books? King James translation of the Bible. The Blue Sword. Wilson’s The Thirty Years War. One or two other great histories, perhaps. Rudyard Kipling’s Complete Poetry. Novels? I’m not sure. I’d have to go digging in my list. An art book of great works of Western art would also be good.