"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Cosmos Clearinghouse for May

Another Great Night Shot from the ISS

Photo Credit: NASA

An ISS photo I posted back in January revealed the veiny sprawl of urban culture in Florida. In a similar vein (Ha!), the above photo strikingly depicts human dependence on water. In this case, we are looking at how Egyptian society clings to the Nile River. And though I'm guessing at the exact locale, it also appears that one heck of a house party was taking place up on Cyprus when this photo was taken.

An Exciting New Asteroid Sample Return Mission

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

A while back I did a post speculating on which proposed mission would be NASA's next Cosmic Idol champ. The winner is OSIRIS-REx. If you really want to slog through the translation of that acronym, you can read my previous post. Expected to launch in 2016 (pending the continued functionality of Congress's tiny fiscal balls), OSIRIS-REx will fly to a nearby asteroid and scoop up samples. After literally dropping the samples off in Utah, OSIRIS-REx will continue on for more cosmic groping. Also, the Planetary Society will be playing a direct role in publicizing the mission. Click here for the details.


My apologies for the parenthetical testes joke above. (The parentheses were uncalled for.) The joke came to me as I was typing and I lack the couthiness to delete it. Besides, I'm too busy grinning because I just noticed how this post has taken on a nifty Egyptian theme. But now I'm feeling sheepish for not realizing that earlier in the writing process.

A Childe Can Dream

While checking my links for this post, I was invited to take a web survey at www.nasa.gov. My one suggestion was that they hire Kate Beckinsale as a spokeswoman for new science missions. Not sure that one is gonna make it up the ladder to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, but y'know, nothing ventured...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Best of Facebook Status Updates: Volume 3

For the Enjoyment of Those Left Behind

  • SCOPING UPDATE: From my seat here in the library I notice this gal about ten yards away. She appears to be made almost entirely of scarf and parka. Her hair is pulled up, little or no make-up, just cheeks made rosy from the chilly breeze outside. Nothing in her appearance says pretense or show. And she is leafing intently through a "Fables" graphic novel. Damn that is sexy.
  • It happened to me again. After a night of fretting and worrying, I woke up this morning in combat boots, green fatigues, and I was chomping on a cigar. I need to reduce my stress because I'm tired of waking up in the Fidel position.
  • Watching Jeopardy...Very unsettling. Ken Jennings has this expression that could best be described as Open-the-podbay-doors-HAL! But IBM had to have an engineer share a funny anecdote on Watson's behalf. So I feel superior again.
  • In Egypt, citizens have risen up en masse to demand civil liberty and human dignity. In the U.S., our House of Representatives has taken up a bill to defund access to Cookie Monster.
  • Dear Orphaned Puppies, While doing my taxes I threw some extra sugar in the state treasury for animal shelters. If that $10 contribution doesn't make it to you in next fiscal year, you have my blessing to bite the nearest elected official on the
  • Thought I prepared. I have flashlights, canned food, juice, water, chips, a frozen pizza, a backup frozen pizza, and candles. But I forgot to check my supply of Frank's Red Hot Sauce. Does anyone have four-wheel drive?
  • In Holy Writ it is said that a little child shall lead them. At the coffee shop it is shown that a little child can get a table of grown men who are strangers to play with blocks.
  • Jeff Bridges briefly popped into my dreams last night. I asked him if he had fun making the Tron sequel. He gruffly replied, "Well obviously it didn't turn out too well!" Awkward.
  • Gearing up for hike #2 of spring. Backpack loaded, except...where's my Lord Byron anthology? I can't find it. Serious problem! Might have to postpone the hike...Oh, there it is. Under the bills. Nature! Here I come!
  • Jarring the tranquility of the library, an old guy sitting alone at a computer just exclaimed, "Bullshit." I snuck a peek at his monitor. He's doing genealogy.

For my previous collection of pathetic, but successful, attempts to get attention, please read Best of Facebook Status Updates: Volume 2.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Notes on Everest Before the Summit Push

For the most up-to-date information on climbing and Alan's support of Alzheimer's research, visit www.alanarnette.com

UPDATE ON ALAN ARNETTE'S CLIMB of Mount Everest, In Progress

Those of you who check in regularly know I've been following Alan Arnette's climb of Mount Everest. He is doing so to raise funds for Alzheimer's research. At this moment, he is waiting for a break in the weather prior to pushing for the summit of the world's highest peak. Here is a link to his most recent blog post from Everest Base Camp in Nepal:

A Review of A Great Everest Book

Touching My Father's Soul: A Sherpa's Journey to the Top of EverestTouching My Father's Soul: A Sherpa's Journey to the Top of Everest by Jamling Tenzing Norgay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I read this book, I kept feeling sorry for people who only know Mt. Everest through Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. They are missing out. It's not that Mr. Norgay's book is better, only that it offers a sharply different perspective. Put another way, this book taught me that a true understanding of Everest cannot be achieved from the perspective of only one nationality or ethnicity.

Like so many people, I thought the term "Sherpa" was just a job title, not the name of an entire people with a history and culture independent of their iconic vocation. This book takes a deep and personal look into the life of Sherpa through the eyes of one of their prominent sons. It is also a multi-generational story, because the author--Jamling Tenzing Norgay—is the son of the Sherpa who successfully climbed to the summit of Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953.

In particular, I enjoyed Mr. Norgay's exploration of Buddhism, and especially how the climb helped him make peace with his late father. The author describes Buddhist rituals that all climbers participate in, whether out of genuine faith or obligation. He describes frankly the tension created with his wife when deciding to climb. And most touching is the seamlessly woven story of his father's summiting Everest almost a half-century prior.

For anyone wanting to understand the international culture of Mt. Everest, this book is a must-read. It also offers a fascinating discussion on Tibetan Buddhism. And if Mr. Norgay's devotion to his faith sometimes results in an unbalanced, less-objective rendering of the Everest experience, this is forgivable. He writes with an awareness of this bias. In the end, he hopes that the culture of Everest will bring all people together, as it brought together a father and son.

Kudos also to Broughton Coburn for his role in bringing this story to print.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 8, 2011

I Claim No Tears for Monsters, yet...

A Post Before I Celebrate Mother's Day

“For pleasures past I do not grieve,
Nor perils gathering near;
My greatest grief is that I leave
No thing that claims a tear.”

-Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto I, ll. 178-81
Many have passed away this week--some who deserved more mention than they received. But that is not what I mean to critique. It is fit that the death of a single monster draws our fascination, gives us pause, and causes our deeper nature to surface. We can learn from this. We might not. But we can.

Like millions, I listened as President Obama announced the death of a monster. Immediately I felt mixed emotions. It took days for me to hash out how I really felt. When I did, I summed up my reaction in a text message to a friend. She asked how my life was going. Here was my reply:

“Well, nothing too noteworthy. ...Got some good TV reception and started to watch CSI: Miami, but then something happened in the world y’know, and Horatio Caine got preempted for a speech that felt strangely like the ending of a good CSI episode.”
The police procedural is one of the most entertaining and simultaneously trite forms of storytelling. That is why we relish cop shows, even finding them comforting. We need to believe that tough cases can be solved and villains can be defeated.

Still, as I watched the President announce a monster’s demise, I did so with a seasoned admiration. He spoke as a proud American. Yet he spoke soberly, suggesting we had won a single round in an ongoing fight. He also spoke as one who knows what it means to order death. And so his speech, rich in somber nostalgia for 9/11, was darkened by the shadow of having employed reciprocal brutality.

Why does any person aspire to be president? Especially when one of the few guarantees of the job is that you will be called upon to order the killing of other humans. Why would anybody want such a position? Why would they seemingly thirst for it as candidates often do?

Perhaps it is a generic urge for power and success, a desire to be the center of attention. I have to think it is related to the same urge that led many college students to hustle over to the White House gates and hold a football-style pep rally. Waving uncouth signs and chanting trite cheers, they looked like fools to me. Only fools would revel after just hearing that our military had invaded a sovereign nuclear power and initiated hostilities with residents there.

I confess feeling a bit of pleasure after hearing the news, even as I considered how I had helped pay the wages of the warrior who put a bullet in the monster’s brain. But this monster was also a man, a husband (several times over), and a father whose son was close by. He was not an alien. In fact, down at the genetic level, he was almost indistinguishable from any other human. That ought to haunt us. Else we risk not learning from it.

I do not claim a tear for this fallen terrorist. I--we--have shed so many for our fellow humans he murdered. But I also draw a lesson from history. Heroic gun fights, and the barbaric celebrations that happen after, are not the cessation of anything except a few souls. Rather, these events comprise the eve of whatever comes next.

Today is Mother’s Day. Like many holidays, it gets me musing about the types of lives and events we tend to celebrate. Some are worthier than others. Hopefully, more and more, we will cultivate fascination for lives spent waging benevolence, instead of lives given over to the rhapsodizing of feuds. Such are the lives which can and should claim our tears when they cease.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Returning to Waterloo-Pinckney in 2011

My Encounter with a Serpent, but first...

"I always feel like I'm repenting when I go hiking."

--Childe Jake, Oct. 3, 2010
Early spring flowers on the Lowland Trail
The poet in me had fun while taking this shot. These little flowers were positively percolating in the crisp breeze. At first, I saw them as giddy children playing for the camera. A breath later I regarded them as shivering pioneers hunkered down against the chill of a winterish breeze.

This weekend was my first visit to the Waterloo Recreation Area in 2011. I was curious to see how much spring growth had occurred. The above picture sums it up. The woods remain mostly brown and gray following a very mild April. Early spring gives the Waterloo Recreation Area a rustic beauty.

Some Political Harping and then onto Snakes

A raised pathway and skunk cabbage on the Lowland Trail
Sometimes government gets it right. Recently, the state of Michigan overhauled its parks pass system. Not only did they make it easier and more efficient to get a pass--check a box on your car registration renewal form--they made it cheaper. I paid a measly $10 extra as part of my registration renewal. Click here for more information on Michigan's Recreation Passport.

Still, as I traversed the above walkway I worried about the DNR's ability to maintain state parks in the coming year. Especially in Michigan there is a prevalent, and thoroughly overzealous notion, that any discretionary spending constitutes big bad government. Not so. The above image, showing a cherishable interplay between nature and civilization, reminds me that some taxes are worth paying.

A Snake on the Bog Trail

The Bog Trail runs about 1.5 miles round trip. I had forgotten what an enjoyable trail it is, boasting an easy-going assortment of raised walkways, gravel sections and intimate vistas. As I reached the trail's end, I encountered a snake. Can you see him?

A snake slithers away on the Bog Trail.
I suppose I'm like most folks when encountering a snake in the wild. Following an initial burst of primal fear, I find myself beset with curiosity and a keen desire to pick fruit. In any case, it must be underscored that I was not the more nervous soul in this encounter. In fact, the above photo is of the second snake I saw at the Bog Trail's end. A smaller one fled just after I arrived.

A few minutes later, literally as I was writing about the first snake in my notepad, the above fellow slid halfway onto the path. It took at least 10 minutes for the snake to convince itself I wasn't about to attack. Then, slowly and coolly, it brought its full body up onto the walkway. Perhaps 2 feet in length, it always kept an eye on my 6'2" body. When I shifted my stance to pull out my camera phone, the snake cocked its head up accordingly. Nor did it ever move toward me. When he slithered back into the tall grass, I got within five feet for a closer look at his black back and yellow stripes.

My first two visits to the Waterloo Recreation Area in 2011 resulted in hiking about 3 miles of trail. Not a bad opening weekend for a husky guy in his mid-30s. After all, I'm just repenting for too many fair-weather days wasted on the couch. More hikes are planned for May!

For more information about the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail, click here.

5/4/11 UPDATE:
Thanks to some nifty pictures and descriptions from the DNR website, I am pretty sure the second snake I encountered was either a Butler Garter Snake or a Northern Ribbon Snake. My guess would be the Butler. Click here for DNR information on snakes in Michigan.