The War for Evermore

Saturn

Saturn as you’ve never seen Saturn, in detail so rich and precise, it steals your breath. Taken from the Cassini probe. The Sun is behind the planet, in eclipse …

September 11, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Perspective

Originally seen here.

August 18, 2011 Posted by | Hodgepodge, Imagery | , , , , | Leave a comment

Rust and Ruins …

Once Upon A Dream

… and the journey starts with a vague imagining of what the day will be … what remains is to see what those dreams end up becoming in the real world  … I’m looking out over the reservoirs, northwest toward Twin Peaks … clear skies with only the hint of haze … Saturday morning, Fourth of July weekend … 2010 …

Sunrise - rivers of fog flow through San Francisco's valleys and canyons ...

… here I are … here we is … me and she, 7:00 AM, coffee brewed, dinner prepped … hop into the Buddhamobile, go larking … up O’Shaunessey, quick right and left at the top, then up the winding, bumpy track to the summit of Twin Peaks … sun’s rising, city waking up … we can see the Marin Headlands, the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge’s towers over the hills of the Presidio …

…birds flitting about in the crisp air, scattered people milling in small clumps … I yawn, take a sip of coffee … then we’re off, gliding down the other side, first north, then west … into the Inner Sunset, through the Park and the Richmond and we’re on the Bridge and across and we’re dropping again, descending into Sausalito, cruising along, sea level now, sunlight sparkling off the gentle waters …

Mill Valley – climbing again … then over and down, skirting Muir Woods , descending into Muir Beach, and then climbing yet again and we’re off, swerving north along the coast, Hwy 1, hugging the coastline of slowly disintegrating rock, the cold, deep blue color of the Pacific a framing contrast to the mix of stone and dirt and vegetation. In the distance the horizon is thinly veiled by the sea mist, and we breath in the fresh scent of the sea through the open windows.

A view of the Marin Headlands on another, stormier day...

We’re descending again, winding our way into Stinson Beach. We turn left at the market, into the parking area. It’s still early, around 9:00, and there’s plenty of open spaces. We walk out on the beach, to the waterline. The ocean is calm, its energy muted, the wet, flat sand seeming to stretch out in the distance, maybe a quarter mile, the tide is so low. The beach is empty; the lifeguard towers shut. I try to imagine this place in another few hours and then stop: if I want to think about crowds of people, I can go back to the city …

“Time to go.”

She smiles and nods and we’re gone.

Where Dogs Rule…

“Dogtown.”

“Huh?” I say after narrowly missing a bicyclist. They’re all over the place, and I really wish the roads could be a little wider.

“Dogtown.”

She points. I see the sign.

Dogtown
Pop: 30

Stu’s not going to be very happy when he finds out.”

“Don’t tell him, then.”

“You know I will,” she grins.

We cruise by a number of residences.

“It would be a bad idea. He would insist on stopping at every house, wanting to meet the mayor.”

“Yes,” she nods, her expression thoughtful. “A recipe for trouble.”

“Indeed. It would not end well, I’m sure.”

We drive on, leaving Dogtown in the rear-view mirror.

Olema is found where Sir Francis Drake Blvd intersects Hwy. 1. The impression is a comfy clump of buildings built around the intersection, with Earthquake-inspired names seen here and there on establishments.

The Buddhamobile passes through the place almost as quickly as Dogtown.

We’re on Sir Francis Drake Blvd now, and we pull into the parking lot for the Point Reyes National Seashore’s Visitor Center, found in, appropriately, the community of Point Reyes Station. Large barn, information center, gift shop and small, well-done museum. I linger by the skull of a whale and she mentions it probably is a good thing we didn’t bring the boys. I nod in agreement.

“Dogs and large bones never go well together. Likely catastrophic fail.”

“Yeah.”

We pass on the short hike out to where the 1906 Earthquake left a scar, electing to move on.

Skirting the northeast shore of the peninsula, along Tomales Bay and into Inverness and I see it. We stop again, behind a grocery store, near the shore, where the large boat lies abandoned, tilted about 25 degrees.

“Rust and ruins.”

She smiles, grabs the camera, heads out without a word, already caught up in what she’s doing. I lock up the Buddhamobile and follow, finding her roaming about a number of boats resting on trailers, focused, finding bright colors of decay, taking shot after shot.

Lots of rust.

I watch her and wonder – if Heaven were real, would it be like this moment for her?

And we’re off again and headed inland, leaving behind the shores of Tomales Bay … trees and residences thinning as we make our way west, soon giving way to wind-swept fields of scrub and grass … under the magnificent blue of the sky the world of muted browns and greens seems almost gray. The scent of the sea is more intense than earlier, fed by strong winds coming out of the north and west.

It’s a lonely land, dotted here and there by weathered structures, homes, barns, utility buildings.

“Cows,” she says. There they are, behind fences, along the roads. We discover there is a lot of bovine life residing here. We come over a rise and then down, taking in the artificial lake and the crowded set of buildings sheltered by the surrounding hills to the west, north and east. We slow, examining the quiet, wind-swept cluster of structures huddled about the road.

To the right she spies balloons.

“A party. How come we never get invited?”

“Table manners,” I offer and she nods and we accelerate, climbing up and over the next rise to see the road wind on in the distance.

At the End of the World

Finally, we arrive. In my imperfect memory, I recall my last trip here, a quarter century earlier with my not-yet-first wife, on the small 250 cc Suzuki, driving up from the city. All in all it seems the increasingly saddle-sore trip home stands out in the murky theatre of my memory. I also have a hazy recollection of being able to drive the motorcycle all the way in to the lighthouse, but maybe I’m mistaken and now I’m reminded of perspectives, of how we see the world, more specifically how we relate to and reshape the past. In my twenties, trips anywhere were to places I’d probably seen before, just a few months or years earlier. Everything usually looked the same, just as I remembered. Now, after having been absent for so long, approaching the end of another decade of life, I’m momentarily taken aback by the sense of time, the space between visits, a quick, momentary collage of what happened between,a separate, almost alien-life, all left behind just as that 25-year-ago day fades in time and memory …

We park and get out. The wind is strong and constant; we grab sweat-shirts. The temperature isn’t too bad, around mid-50s. We, being seasoned coastal residents, understand the value of wearing layers in the world of Bay Area microclimates. You can tell the tourists: they’re the ones shivering in T-shirts … we see one woman wrapped in a baby blanket; some guy cocooned in a sliver space-blanket.

The view to the east.

I look back the way we came. We’re high up here, presented with a panoramic view of the peninsula: the long, straight beach, empty, disappearing in the distance; the land, a combination of sand and soil and sparse, wind-swept vegetation, looking blasted and empty and gray; beyond and to the south the lighter blue of Drake’s Bay, hazed over with the vaguest of ocean mists, turning the distant shores to the south into a product of mirage, leaving Bolinas a shadowed rumor of land.

Looking South

Something about this is unsettling, oddly compelling. The feeling sits outside perceived things, in the shadow of unconscious awareness.

There’s a road that hugs the right side of the hills, a worn stretch of narrow, pocked asphalt; to the right of that graduating fields of shrubbery and scrub that end at a uniformly sharp drop. The ocean is far, far below us. There is no path on the south side – everything is steeper here, the drops much more shear and sudden, ending in broken rock hundreds of feet below.

The Spine

Being sensible sorts, we elected to climb the spine of the hill, up past the antenna tower with covered dishes pointed everywhere north, east and south. Toward a second series of rises we intersect the road and join the rest of the visitors as they trudge their way to the edge of the world.We make our way under cypress trees, bent by the constant winds, then past the Ranger residences until we’re at the lighthouse buildings.

The Stairs

From text borrowed from the California Lighthouse website

Point Reyes:

A Coast Guard public information pamphlet published in March, 1962 noted that “Point Reyes Light Station was established in 1870 at Point Reyes, Calif., 19 miles from the nearest town of Inverness. It is a family station with a complement of four men who maintain a first order light, fog signal and radio beacon. The light tower itself is a sixteen-sided structure of forged iron plate (the original tower) bolted to solid rock. The top of the lantern is 37 feet above the ground and focal plane of the light is 294 feet above sea level. To reach the light, men assigned must descend 304 steps on the headland from the plateau above the station where the family quarters are situated. The quarters are new, two-story, four-family units (four-plex) built in 1960. The four-plex contains two 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom units. Buildings maintained on the property, in addition to the family quarters, are the fog signal building, engine room, pump house, paint locker, double garage and a four-car carport with adjoining office and work shop. Point Reyes is, by official records, the windiest and foggiest on the Pacific Coast. The station is frequently blanketed by week-long periods of fog and few years pass that do not see violent gales of 75 to 100 mph strike the area. Point Reyes Light Station is one of the District’s outstanding tourist attractions. On fair summer weekends we often have several hundred visitors logged aboard. Escorting visitors has become a major portion of the duties of men assigned. Dependent children on the station travel three miles by station vehicle to school. Commissary and post exchange privileges are available at Hamilton Air Force Base (the nearest armed forces installation), or in the San Francisco area.”

We climb all the way down to the lighthouse, 309 steps (there are five more than the source above mentioned – and, no, we didn’t count – the stairs are numbered every tenth step, like they want to really torture you on the way back up). They – the Park Service – claim the descent is equivalent to the height of a 30-story building, but I think it is closer to 20. We spend a lot of time, all over the place, checking out the sights, the buildings, the rust.

Rust and ruins.

We’re at the edge of the continent, thrusting out into the Pacific. I try to imagine the significance of this place for someone living 150 years ago. The universe was a lot smaller then for the human species … experiments with electricity and magnetism were primative; the light bulb was years off … men (and women) had yet to visit the poles, summit Everest … travel was by steam trains, and sailing ships still graced the oceans; Clipper ships had recently astounded the world with their record 90 day trips from New York to San Francisco via the tip of South America during the California Gold Rush … Mark Twain had yet to write Adventures of Huckleberry Finn … Jules Verne was dreaming of glass towers and calculators and trips to the moon … It is difficult to touch that time, to imagine a world void of what we think of as even the simplest things …

In that world, 150 years gone, this place, much more difficult to reach for them than for we happy travelers, must have seemed bigger than life.

Now, it’s just a place to visit.

Shadowland

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
~ T.S. Eliot

We’re walking back on the path, descending the last slope to the circular parking lot. We got here at a good time; there are many more cars parked on the road leading to the lot, and beyond them the long ocean beach and near-empty desolation beyond.

“Purgatory,” I say in sudden recognition.

“What?”

“That.”

I gesture out at the peninsula.

The land is barren, looking inhospitable, lonely, desolate.

“Purgatory … a visualization of an idea, a concept. This looks like it would make a good purgatory, what with the wind and the emptiness.”

And the land is empty, the waters before the steep cliffs and sandy beaches heavy with whitecaps, the whole mass disappearing in the distance – the mist washes everything over … and I’m feeling time with a little more awareness, sensing the idea of the finite. I’m not a geologist, but I ‘get’ erosion. I ‘know’ I’m watching things play out in slow motion … very slow motion … and some time in a distant future wind and water and earthquake will win the battle, cutting and clawing their way across and into the land, until everything I see below me fades or slips beneath the waves, and the peninsula is replaced by a set of islands that in turn fade from geologic history, leaving open water in its wake.

Everything ends. All of it.

I end.

Indelible

We’re driving again.

Talking…

“My big memory of the Space Program is Challenger blowing up,” she says. “One moment it’s climbing and the next I’m asking myself: ‘Did the Shuttle just blow up?’”

We’re cruising through Limboland. I can’t shake the image that caught me on the way back to the Buddhamobile … the idea takes up residence in my imagination, hanging a creative ‘no-vacancy’ sign in my consciousness. I’m not depressed; just feeling out-of-sync with things.

It’s still cold outside, and my free hand touches hers in absent caress as we move along the road, finding soft, warm comfort in this small intimacy.

We are talking as we make our way along the hilly, windswept landscape of the peninsula. The desolation is all so cold, yet oddly reassuring, touching a place I visit more often these years …

“I cut school and I watched.”

I look sideways at her.

“More cows,” she adds, pointing.

I grunt and focus on the road, muttering something inappropriate about cows under my breath.

I never got that,” I say.

“Got what?”

“The whole indelible image thing.”

She looks at me, her expression curious. “Indelible image?”

“Yeah. The idea of the indelible image. The Challenger explosion was an indelible image etched in the collective consciousness. The concept never occurred to me. Like I said, we – my generation – we grew up with space. It was all about getting there. We’d had set-backs, like Apollo 1 – but it wasn’t something that lingered in the public imagination; there were no images, no visuals to pop up in your memory. And the Russian accidents were more rumor than conformed reality, though I doubt it would matter to the American public – they were the Soviets, after all.

“We – my generation, the Baby Boomers – we never had that: the indelible image – negative – burned into our minds when we were young that lingered with us about the Space Program – not even Apollo 1. Instead, we got the realization of the dream – photos of Armstrong on the Moon, the American Flag planted in Lunar soil, earthrise from the orbiting Apollo – all positive stuff, our indelible images, in concert with the realization of one of the oldest dreams of mankind – to get to the moon.

“And Apollo 13 making it back – that was huge. Apollo 13 washed away the lingering taint of the Apollo 1 fire, gave the sense the program was too strong to fail.

“Oh, I’m sure we knew eventually something bad would happen, but by then we understood there were going to be setbacks and loss of life – Apollo 1, again – but it was from a perspective of success.

“That understanding carried on for a long time, the sense of success.”

I’m silent a moment, smiling tightly.

“Then Challenger blew up.”

“Yeah,” she says. “And everybody was watching. It was a big thing, a teacher going into space. Everyone wanted to see.”

We slow down: some cows have gotten out of the fields and are wandering about the road edge, munching on grass, oblivious to the wind, dully regarding us as we glide past. I wonder if Hitchcock could have done something with this … after all, he’d filmed ‘The Birds’ just north of here, in Bodega Bay.

Why not ‘The Cows?’

Sick.

“Yeah,” I echo. “The teacher.” I experience that feeling where I suddenly “get” something at a core level, excited with the switch of perspective even while experiencing the sinking sense of what that understanding tells me of the current resident of the White House’s perspective of the importance of space exploration and manned missions to orbit and beyond.

And on another, unrelated ADD level I remind myself we do this all the time, forgetting the difficulty of perceiving change.

“More cows,” she observes.

“Yeah, yeah,” I reply and on the disc player Morrison sings of Riders of the Storm …

Olema

We’re hungry.

Been that way for a while, but we had things we wanted to see before the crowds got there.

In Olema, at the crossroads of Hwy 1 and Sir Francis Drake Blvd, we find the Farm House Restaurant (& Bar) (The Point Reyes Seashore Lodge) that looks more respectable than the two of us on a good day, so, of course, we check it out. We sit in the bar, order drinks, kick back and enjoy each other’s company as we’re watching the tourists lining up to sit and the help trying to seat them, young girls, looking busy and bored all rolled into one package. I sip my ale, with wistful regret remembering a time when pretty young things such as these fetching fems seemed desirable … now they’re pleasant to look at, but way too young to be all that interesting and I distantly wonder at that change even though I know what it is, then look across the table at my lovely traveling companion and stop thinking about it; I am more than lucky.

I just am.

The temperatures are a bit higher here – high 70s as opposed to mid-50s with a wind chill we were experiencing earlier. I feel comfy, sort of wishing for some place to stretch out, take a nap. The Mt. Tam Light Ale goes down, cold and refreshing, and she sips on her lemonade thoughtfully as we talk about stuff. Her BLT arrives and she attacks it with dainty gusto, while I savor me a very tasty grass-fed burger (… and how the heck do you feed grass to a burger, anyway?).

Loves me some Olema …

HIPPIE FROM OLEMA
Jessie Colin Young
Jessie Colin Young / Youngbloods

Well i’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re ragged
We can’t think of anyone to hate

We don’t watch commercials in Olema
We don’t buy the plastic crap they sell
We still wear our hair long like folks used to
And we bathe often, therefore we don’t smell

Well i’m proud to be a hippie from olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re ragged
We can’t think of anyone to hate

We don’t throw our beer cans on the highway
We don’t slight a man because he’s black
We don’t spill our oil out in the ocean
’Cause we love birds and fish too much for that

And i’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re Haggard
In Olema, california, planet earth.

North Beach

Finished, we jump back in the Buddhamobile and zip up Sir Francis Drake, a half-hour east through steadily rising heat until we reach San Rafael and 90 degrees, then south on 101 and back across the bridge past all those cars leaving the City crowded bumper-to-bumper and then we’re in the Richmond District for fresh sourdough french bread from Boudin’s on Geary and whatever, and then downtown where we park the transportation and hoof it into North Beach. Temps are lower, high 60s with wind. Comfortable in the sun, not so much in the shade. The streets are alive with people. Drinks in Vesuvio’s while sitting in the upper section, looking down on Jack Kerouac Alley and at City Lights Bookstore and the mural painted on the side.

There’s a street vendor selling ‘North Beach Art’, a slim woman in her 50s or 60s, pretty, tall and thin, wearing the living of her life in her features, gray shocks of hair above her forehead, gray-blonde everywhere else, like Rogue later in life. She sucks on a cigarette, the cancer stick seeming a perfect and appropriate prop, chatting with an older street musician, who absently picks and strums at his guitar while talking with her.

Vesuvio

My companion suggests she’s probably got her act together, and I nod in agreement. Something about the woman looks strong and determined. But I wonder what lives beneath the shell we see. A younger woman appears, turning the corner, headed up JK Alley, looking self-assured.

“She looks like she has it together, as well,” I remark.

“Not as much as the older one.”

I nod, looking at the older woman, then back to the blond with the sleeveless t-shirt and jeans with shredded knees who has stopped and now is lighting a cigarette. “No. But she could be a younger version of the vendor.”

My companion sticks her head out the window, scrutinizing both women. “Yes,” she says after a moment. “But the older one has got more going on.”

“Yeah,” I nod. “Living a while does that. Sometimes.”

We watch a while longer as the vendor packs up and leaves, a short lesson in compressing what looks to be a lot of stuff into a manageable, movable package. We finish our drinks, settle up and cross the alley and enter City Lights and exit a little later and a little poorer and happier. We walk northwest on Columbus on crowded, table-lined sidewalks, passing restaurants, mostly Italian, emitting rich, garlic-laden scents, warm and sweet and mouth-watering enticing. At Union we turn right and walk east to Grant, then turn right and south. More window shopping, past drinking establishments, loud with late-afternoon inebriation.

There’s a blues band playing in one, and we take a moment to sample.

Very sweet.

And we meander back to the Buddhamobile and head home to BBQ, salad and thick, tart San Francisco sourdough bread …

I should probably close with an “And it’s all good,” but you already know that … after all, I live in a region of dreams, on the faultline at the edge of the world …

~Originally published July 6, 2010 at Dark Puppy.

August 10, 2011 Posted by | Hodgepodge | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stuff

Travelers’ Tales

It’s the journey.

That’s the place where things really happen for us.

Not that beginnings and endings aren’t important.

Beginnings set a stage, give us frame of reference, context … think Bilbo Baggins, there in Bag End, getting himself hustled into a trip he never intended to take.

Endings, of course, are where we finish, places we know we’re to go. The end of a journey, where we find ourselves, safe, together. Happy. Or not so much. Years after Bilbo’s departure, Sam Gamgee returns to Bag End after saying farewell to his beloved friend, kisses his wife, takes his child in his arms.

“Well, I’m home.”

The end.

Tells you everything you need to know.

Right?

When I first started this blog I was thinking to create a platform, a way to advertise and get word out something I am doing, something I think is marvelous. But that’s just me – no objective perspective. More and more this has become a discovery tool, speaking to me about where I am going, what I am doing. Influences, impressions tease themselves out, finding substance in the particular ideas that play about in my imagination,

Conversation works, too.

Random Things

… Wherein caffeine, free-association and attention deficit disorder kick in and ruin the rest of the story.

It’s all good.

Conversation: We were talking about the Iliad, my daughter and I. She’s just finished the final chapter tonight.

“It ends oddly,” she remarks. “Funeral games. Nothing about the fall of Troy.”

“Yup,” I agree. “From our perspective, it would seem that way. Odd. But a perfectly reasonable closure from the perspective of the story. Homer’s audience wasn’t listening to the story for Troy’s fall because that isn’t what it’s about.”

“I know. Everything starts over a feud …”

“Yes. No. The feud is the spark. What this story is about is Achilles’ and his passion, his rage. It’s the journey that rage takes us on, the series of events it sets off and play out over the dramatic arc of the poem. We see the birth of that rage, watch it evolve, see it grow and touch everyone around Achilles, the kings and Captains of the Greek and Trojan armies, eventually even the Gods themselves. Through it we witness deaths of fine and noble men on both sides, see its madness betray love and hope. We experience the world set out of balance. And the rage doesn’t end with the return of the girl Chryses, the woman that sparked that rage, or with Achilles final revenge on Hector for Patroclus’ death. If anything, the fall of the city’s Prince throws the world all the more out of order. The restoration of balance comes only by Priam’s suppliance, and Achilles’ reawakening to his place amongst men, as a man, no longer an instrument of fate. Only then can there be order to the world.

“And through it all we live the adventure, stand beside the narrator and witness as the tale unfolds…”

Well, that’s kinda how the conversation went. Things tend to get polished up over time. It’s a writing thing, I think.

Never really sure.

“The only good writing is intuitive writing. It would be a big bore if you knew where it was going. It has to be exciting, instantaneous and it has to be a surprise. Then it all comes blurting out and it’s beautiful. I’ve had a sign by my typewriter for 25 years now which reads, ‘DON’T THINK!’” ~Ray Bradbury

It’s the Journey

I always had this conception in my head that a “serious” writer knows what he or she is going to write. This perception was influenced by accounts and how-to-be-good-at-something self-help books I browsed on the shelves of bookstores before and after I finally got a wild hair and dived in. For the most part those books tend to mirror one another. I think, in the end, their value is primarily found in discussion of genre and type, and not so much the technique, the how-to of the technical end of plotting. Character development. Questions of whether a chapter should be part of the ebb and flow of plot, dependent upon subject or events to delineate from the chapter before and after, or should it be a short story, a unit unto itself, with a beginning, middle and end that advances the story while maintaing a unique (not sure that is the precise word I want here) separation from the overarching story’s plot.

And then there’s that whole thing about the soul that communicates the story, and the soul that reads it.

Upshot: I have no idea what a serious writer is. Oh, I know which books demonstrate serious/great writing, those we’re told are examples, and those we know innately, and so I have my own list of great writers, just like everyone else. But what I like doesn’t necessarily translate into wanting to echo what they’ve done or, more to the point, how they went about doing it.

I think, at the heart of things, it comes down to the story you want to tell, that thing that evolved out of the random imagining of your daydreams. A small kernel of an idea that, ultimately, might not have anything to do with where you eventually find yourself going. A mystery the builds in fits and starts, revealing itself in sudden – and sometimes seemingly magical – fashion.

Evolution. A wonderful, wonderful word, a functional description of how stories become themselves. You start with that random thought, that daydream, that idea. One day another idea comes to you, maybe another daydream-inspired fantasy or situation and you think, “hey, that other idea … I wonder …” and then things build,connect, sometimes in rushes, other times in fits and starts stretched out over months and years and, after a time, there’s this amorphous world taking shape in the landscape of your consciousness, a ghost of a place you are aware of, connected to, but absolutely vague on exactly what is going on, what it all means. And the stimuli continue to input.

And then, another day, someone asks you to write something. It has absolutely nothing to do with that place that lives in you (And it is a place, by now there is no doubt.). So you write, and what you write gets more complicated than you thought it would be. Well, not really. You’ve never done this before, so you had no idea. But you stick with it, making all the mistakes, and then working them out, some early, others down the line.

The story ends. Now what?

Write another …

What Did I Want?

“I wanted a Roc’s egg.

“I wanted a harem loaded with lovely odalisques less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels, the rust that never stained my sword. I wanted raw red gold in nuggets the size of your fist and feed that lousy claim jumper to the huskies! I wanted to get up feeling brisk and go out and break some lances, then pick a likey wench for my droit du seigneur–I wanted to stand up to the Baron and dare him to touch my wench! I wanted to hear the purple water chuckling against the skin of the Nancy Lee in the cool of the morning watch and not another sound, nor any movement save the slow tilting of the wings of the albatross that had been pacing us the last thousand miles. 

“I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, “The game’s afoot!” I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and the Lost Dauphin. 

“I wanted Prestor John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be what they had promised me it was going to be–instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.” 

~Robert A. Heinlein (Glory Road)

Write

Write!
If it makes you smile, write about it.
If it scares the crap out of you, write.
If it pisses you off, makes you laugh,
Makes you cry, sigh, want to die…
Write!
If love awakens, write
And if your heart breaks…
Oh, yeah, especially then.
But whatever you do …

WRITE, DAMMIT!!!

Dark Puppy

Just so we’re clear (as we say in the intro to our sister site), Dark Puppy is not a semi-psycopathic canine demonstrating serious anger issues who dresses up like a flying rodent with the intent to strike terror in the hearts of evildoers.Stu - Associate Editor at D.P & all-around lush ...

Dark Puppy is our sister blog edited, more or less, by our resident Gang of Four where everything runs a little less sexy, ranges over a variety of subjects, and offers a different flavor of introspection.

Whereas The War for Evermore exists as an ongoing commentary on what we’re writing, the stuff influencing that writing, and the varying impressions derived as the process winds along its merry way, (as well as riffs on the aspects of popular culture that inform what’s being written) Dark Puppy takes a more cynical and pragmatic look at the world around us.

Not that there isn’t talk of things like writing or sci-fi or even an urgent bosom or two over there, but it’s done in relation to other things, like science, the state of the world, interesting people, that sort of thing. Occasionally you’ll find a piece there that we’ve put up here, ’cause it speaks to both blogs.

So if you find what we’re doing here interesting, check us out at Dark Puppy. And, yes, while two blogs, (one run by imaginary critters, no less) might seem a tad weird, it helps to remember the atmosphere here at Dartmouth Manor is a touch insane, and we happily wallow in that merry state …

Good Art

“Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong—and in life, and in love, and in business, and in friendship, and in health, and in all the other ways in which life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid, or evil, or it’s all been done before? Make good art.”
~Neil Gaiman

The Journey

“… in the end, the rage of Achilles is stilled only in the bed of Penelope.”

~ Thomas Cahill, commenting on the narrative arc of Homer’s two great poems in Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea …

4000 years ago, under a bright canopy of stars, people gather on a hillside, or in a hollow, fires burning all around, creating dancing shadows that wild imaginations watch play out the telling of the story being shared by the bard, the dreamer of words. They hear of Achilles and Hector, Agamemnon and Odyseus, Priam and Ajax … Paris and Helen. And they all know this story, how it starts, know it well, who is in it, and what will happen to everyone within. They know the plot points, know the twists and turns of the story’s telling, have a innate understanding of style and character types. They all do. But they listen, entranced, dreaming, their imaginations filling in and fleshing out the details as the storyteller works his magic, weaves his mystery.

2500 years ago, Greeks, as a city, gather on a sculpted hillside, an architectural construct named for their God of Pleasure. They gather in the pre-dawn gloom to await and greet the rising sun and, with it, the start of a journey to far off and wondrous places and times, to listen to tales of great heroes, great and awful deeds, and greater ideas that will work themselves out on the stage below. Much, much later, after the high sun has disappeared behind the bulk of the Acropolis upon whose steep hillside they have gathered, the cycle of stories will end. They witness the characters brought to life before them, hear ideas and themes played out, watch as growing mysteries are revealed and witness fate unravel. All the while they sit, entranced, watching and living the journey.

And so it continues through the ages, this need to know. We want to share the journey, know it – there is an innate need for it in us.

We want the world of the journey to live in our imaginations. We want to know the characters who populate it, who breath life into the journey.

That’s what grabs you, their journey, the mystery you know awaits in some form unguessed at. They are the vehicle by which your journey through this world operates, the well you must go to in order to quench your thirst for more detail, more imagination. A world can be imagined, but it doesn’t exist – can’t live – without characters to populate it. Characters who live the story.

In another place I talk about the two types of hero, the modern version, a defender of ‘right’, defined by relationship(s) in varying degrees to the concepts of good, or reason, or sacrifice … and of the classical hero, a man or woman labeled so not by their morality, their dedication to proper causes, their selflessness, but instead by their journey. These heroes could be corrupt, cowardly, even evil, because what was of interest was not their striving for moral perfection.  The ancient audiences didn’t hold such illusions – they knew all great men – just as all men – were flawed.

The writing of the journey is, of course, a journey itself. Just as the reader experiences it, so, too, does the writer. And that is what this blog is, though it may not have started that way, the journey, my adventure, my journey – my exploration of a war whose beginnings are vague, and whose end is as final an end as there can be … if it really is an end. Knowing the destination – the real adventure is finding the way there. As the reader, you see what I discover along the way, watch as I watch characters grow, come into their own, watch them as they love, hate, war, care. But the genesis of these things, not so much. That’s a different journey, a different discovery.

August 5, 2011 Posted by | Hodgepodge, Imagery | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Running a Business

“In 1990, the Government seized the Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada for tax evasion and, as required by law, tried to run it. They failed and it closed. Now we are trusting the economy of our country, our banking system, our auto industry and possibly our health plans to the same nit-wits who couldn’t make money running a whore house and selling whiskey.” ~Anonymous*


… the story sounds good, but in fact the government did okay. That’s the problem with these sharp little nuggets of wisdom that seem to tell us all we need to know about anything … they may reinforce preconceived notions, but that doesn’t mean what they tell us is true.

August 5, 2011 Posted by | Hodgepodge | , , | Leave a comment

New Superman

… ’nuff said …

August 4, 2011 Posted by | Hodgepodge, Imagery | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Last Landing

Atlantis touches down at the Kennedy Space Center, July 21, 2011. One day and forty-two years ago we landed on the moon for the first time.

For the first time in 50 years a manned-space flight program has ended and the United States has no successor project to replace it.

A moment of silence, please, for the passing of an era unlike any other in history


‘Anon rush’d by the bright Hyperion;
His flaming robes stream’d out beyond his heels,
And gave a roar, as if of earthly fire,
That scared away the meek ethereal hours
And made their dove wings tremble. On he flared…’

~John Keats

July 21, 2011 Posted by | Hodgepodge | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sasquatch Deconstructions: It’s All Here … An Interlude

Sasquatch Bob holds my iPhone.

“It’s all here?”

“All my music – except classical and Christmas.”

“Books?”

“I can load them in. Same thing with TV shows and stuff.”

“Stuff.”

He contemplates, rolling the thing in his fingers, absently examining.

“Pretty soon everything you have, all your stuff …” He looks at me, holding up the small device that resembles nothing so much as the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. “… right here.”

“Pretty soon,” I agree.

“Then you go for a long drive and somewhere on the journey you take it and toss it out the window.”

July 20, 2011 Posted by | Hodgepodge, Sasquatch Deconstructions | | 1 Comment

The Sasquatch Deconstructions: Heinlein’s Women

“All you fuckers are going to die anyway, so you might as well write the truth.” *

—–

So Sasquatch Bob and I were returning from an early morning constitutional in the Sierra foothills. We were discussing our favorite subject: Women …

“Heinlein’s fault, of course, exposing us to all those incredibly smart and self-sufficient women who were more intelligent and talented than the males they chose to attach themselves to. He ruined us.” His expression became thoughtful.

“In Stranger in a Strange Land, the section of the book after Gillian kidnaps Mike and takes him to Jubal Harshaw is probably the best part of the book for me, and perhaps his best sequence of writing in any of his books. This is where we get the real sense of Mike’s alien-ness, and where it lives in him, and how that alien perspective reacts to the new reality of his existence … and to the women who inhabit that reality, four incredible females of varying talent and abilities, smart, competent and opinionated.”

(And, yes, before we go any further, we are discussing characters using their first names, as one would speak of old friends, because in many ways, that’s just what they are: old friends.)

Russian edition of “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”

“Look at the juveniles,” Sasquatch continues. Heinlein wrote a number of what were termed ‘juvenile’ sci-fi novels in the 50s. “All were populated with strong females. There are three that particularly stand out: Tunnel in the Sky, Starman Jones, and Time for the Stars. Tunnel in the Sky featured memorable female characters. Two in particular, Caroline and Jacqueline, are as competent – often moreso – than their male counterparts.” He looks at me. “Caroline is definitely cut from the same cloth as a couple of your girls.” Sasquatch has read my drafts. “A real warrior, fierce and loyal. And Jacqueline has her own brand of kick-ass, just softer, a little more of a … thoughtful … brawler.”

I nod. This is not a point of contention, but a statement of fact: Heinlein permanently marked both of us in the sense he nurtured the perception that females are the stronger, dominant gender. Kidding aside, (if you actually think I’m kidding) there was this subversive and pervasive view of gender roles woven into the stories he told, one where women are rendered as equals, capable of rising to the occasion with a competence and ferocity that rivaled and surpassed their male peers.

No one individual was necessarily dominant amongst his characters. All had strengths and flaws. When he wrote in the first person, as in the case of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the narrator, technically the ‘hero’, reluctantly so, operates more as a participating witness to events than as an initiator of action. Everyone could – and would – be wrong, mistaken, surprised. Everyone contributed; male, female, young, old, everyone acted as part of a team.

Seriously, this was a powerful message, with the added benefit of being threaded into a well-told adventure. Powerful Juju for a young adolescent male.

Slight aside: The hero’s reluctance was another element that peppered Heinlein’s plotting, the desire of the protagonist(s) to stay out of trouble and mind one’s own business, guided by a general philosophy that often the worst outcomes result from the best of intentions – and have a way of getting your ass shot off in the process. Put another way, he understood the principle that ‘Good deeds do not go unpunished’.

“Greatest female characters?” I ask.

He looks at me, then swerves to avoid slower moving traffic. Bigfeet (Bigfoots?) have depth perception issues. At least, that’s what Stu says. No profit in arguing with one imaginary critter about another.

“Wyoming Knott at the top.”

“Yeah, no question.” Lots of strong fems in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, like Hazel Meade, the girl-child who would grow to be the matriarch of the Stone Clan. (See The Rolling Stones)(Not the group; the book.)

But Wyoming is head and shoulders above the rest, probably top three all-time, if not number one. Smart, driven, a valiant woman of honor.

“Also the quartet from Stranger.”

“Uh-huh. Podkayne?”

“Ugh.”

“Yeah. Eunice?”

“Now you’re talking his ‘crazy period’.”

I drop back a book. “Maureen Smith?” He nods, but doesn’t say anything. Maureen is difficult, as is Time Enough For Love, the book where she appears. While there are varying arguments about when Heinlein decided to make his females as sexually self-assured as his earlier fems were in all other aspects of competency, it is fairly obvious Time Enough For Love takes this self-assuredness to a new level in a variety of characters and situations. It doesn’t help that Maureen ends up opting for a roll in the hay with an immortal time-traveler from 2000 years in the future who also happens to be her son. And that is not the only neo-incestual relationship in the book

We pull up to the house. The conversation ends and we go inside to prepare for the day.

An hour later I send a message to Sasquatch at his Real Estate office.

“We forgot about Star.”

At the end of the day, we’re barreling down the road again, this time to Auburn and dinner. CJ, (Mrs. Sasquatch), sits in the back, eyes closed, relaxing. He picks up the thread of conversation.

“You’re right about Star.” Sasquatch goes silent. “I think she’s closest to the archetype your girls represent.”

“Some of them.”

He nods.

Glory Road is a light-hearted, sexy swashbuckler of a Sci-Fi Fantasy if ever there was one. A satire laced with irony. As a character, Star is tough, weak, beautiful, sensual, sophisticated, a genius, a clotheshorse, sexpot and spoiled brat who could – and would – brawl alongside the boys … and who also happened to be the Empress of Twenty Universes. HELL of a character and, like all Heinlein women, in control even when she didn’t appear to be, always one step ahead of her leading man.

There is one particular irony that really stands out at the end of Glory Road – the Hero gets the girl and discovers … she has a career! And while she loves him and cares deeply for him, two things are very clear: career comes first, and he isn’t necessary to her success … at least, not any more – his job was completed once he insured Star could retain her title. As written, she’s not being a bitch, and she’s not ‘miming’ male behavior. She’s a creature of choice and duty, not a stereotype informed by some myth of hormones and traditional gender roles acting against her best interests (riding off into the sunset with the Hero), but instead someone – someone female – acting as an individual with priorities that don’t necessarily include the Love Of Her Life.

Eventually the Hero gets a clue, accepts what can’t be changed, lets go and gets on with his life.

Neat role reversal.

As I said: powerful juju … heap big medicine. Maybe not from the perspective of 2011, but in a 1963 world, this was a pretty out there concept, even for science fiction that wasn’t trying to be heavy or epic, but fun.

* = Overheard at a writers’ conference.

Next: Urgent Supers.

July 10, 2011 Posted by | Hodgepodge, Sasquatch Deconstructions | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Goodbye To All That …

The Shuttle Atlantis launched yesterday, that last such launch that will ever occur. For the first time in 50 years, the United States has no real manned launch vehicle or a serious plan to utilize one. More important, for all intents and purposes, it seems increasingly apparent the United States is putting a lower and lower emphasis on science funding, research and exploration, in particular manned exploration of space. The following is a post from our sister blog, Dark Puppy, touching on misconceptions regarding the cost of space exploration, and what the loss of the Orbiter fleet may be saying about a country and its people who once valued probing the limits of the unknown …

=====

Goodbye To All That …

“Honorable Chairman, ladies, and gentlemen:

“Happy New Year!

“Indeed a happy New Year beginning the 11th year in the Age of Space, greatest era of our race – ”the greatest!” – despite gasoline shortages, pollution, overpopulation, inflation, wars and threats of war. ‘These too shall pass’, but the stars abide.

Robert A. Heinlein

“Our race will spread out through space – unlimited room, unlimited energy, unlimited wealth. This is certain.

“But I am not certain that the working language will be English…”

– Robert A. Heinlein, speaking before the Congress of the United States on the subject of NASA Spinoffs, August 19, 1979, later published in Omni magazine and  Expanded Universe (1980) as Spinoff.

=====

I recently lost a Facebook friend.

Everyone has hot-button issues. Two of the three that tend to get me going are

1) Creationists insisting religious writings equate with science and;

2) people claiming there are compelling arguments to dismiss Global Climate Change (Global Warming) when, in fact, there aren’t any that haven’t been thoroughly examined in the scientific court of peer review and shown to fail.

The third hot button, the one that is pertinent re the FB friend-loss, is the claim that NASA is a waste of money.

Perspective

My reply when Seamus (not his real name) said this on FB was:

“Seamus, you don’t know what you are talking about.”

*unfriend*

Okay, so I could be called for being mean and rude. It was a thoughtlessly flip comment responding to another flip and very, very tired cliché that people use when they want to say they don’t like NASA or space exploration in general but really don’t know the first thing about why they don’t like it beyond the unqualified assertion it is a money waste. In a series of polite emails following-up my extraction from Seamus’ personal universe of social media connections I pointed out that if he felt I was being rude, he should call me on it, and I would apologize immediately … and then gone on to point out why he didn’t know what he was talking about. (Tact was never my strong suite, in case you hadn’t noticed.) Anyway, he’s not talking to me, which is too bad: Seamus is generally a good guy and I do kinda miss him. But things be what they be and we carry on.

Ironically, at least in the spirit of making the best of an otherwise bad outcome, the incident provided me with a nice little lead-in to something I did want to talk about, to wit:

President Obama is canceling the Constellation Program, his predecessor’s initiative to get the U.S. back to the Moon and to Mars while providing a replacement to the Shuttle Program, which will be retired after this year.

To start, I really want to concentrate on how the “too expensive” tag underscores a fateful problem we seem to have as a species … we don’t look too far down the road. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not being a Pollyanna about things; I fully understand space exploration is a huge, frightfully perilous undertaking, demanding a commitment of resources, fiscal and material, which even in the best of times can be unsettling and during a deep recession that may be permanent for many, downright insulting – at least in terms of apparent short-term outcomes. These are certainly not like the good old days when a Queen Isabella could pawn a necklace and start the greatest adventure of the Western World to that time, the Age of Discovery, a development that in many ways spurred the Age of Enlightenment. The Queen’s was an investment that resulted in untold wealth that to this day continues to be realized.

And, yes, I know it’s a shitty comparison. The exploration of the Americas also coincided with one of the nastiest long-term genocides in recorded history, as well as the virtual rape of the American wilderness – the former born out of an innate xenophobia that seems to reside in us as a species, and the latter from a general ignorance of how the biosphere sustains us and a misplaced belief that we “own” things. (We don’t, of course. Ownership of nature is a non-sequitur; if anything, nature owns us. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself a simple set of questions. Could nature survive without us? Could we survive without nature? Unless you are an idiot or willfully ignorant, you get it.) These are ugly aspects of human history, and of our evolutionary behavior as a species … and certainly not unique to this one example. But this is who we are. It’s up to us if we want to be better.

The Constellation Project

There’s another, more positive commonality about exploration that seems significant … it tends to coincide with the growth and vitality of a population … a nation. It is, in part, a reflection of the inspired genius of a people, perhaps even their spirit.

The previous administration’s proposal for going back to the Moon – the Constellation Program offering the vague promise of using our satellite as a jumping-off station for Mars – wasn’t necessarily an idea I was a huge fan of, given as the project was underfunded from the start and, likely, more an invention of cynical election year politics than any desire to open up the final frontier. Besides, I’d seen the mess the president made of his two invasions and the New Orleans disaster, so I wasn’t too encouraged …

Then again, the Shuttle Orbiter program was not funded as well as it could have been. That inconvenience led to delays, increased expenses, and cutting of funding to other space science. NASA, for example, has miles of tape from space missions that have never been analyzed because the money isn’t there, and those tapes are deteriorating – data we paid for lost because of underfunding. It’s all rather unfortunate.

Yet despite being underfunded, the Shuttle built the International Space Station. Not just that: the Orbiter put satellites in orbit; countless scientific experiments were conducted that benefited scientific and medical research; methods of working in zero-gravity, often involving complex tasks, were developed. Invaluable experience was gained for the future.

Perhaps most pleasing and important of all, the Shuttle put up and maintained the most wonderful invention in the history of man: the Hubble Telescope. Nothing … and I mean NOTHING … has brought us closer to seeing the immense, intense beauty of the reality we inhabit as we ride this infinitesimally small piece of flotsam adrift in the celestial ocean. That perspective alone is almost worth every penny spent on space from the very beginning of space exploration.

In spite of obstacles, the Shuttle was a success. It was what it was supposed to be, a workhorse that delivered and assembled payloads in orbit, conducted repair and resupply missions, and generally did more to maintain mankind’s regular presence in orbit than any other launch vehicle in the short history of space flight. Maybe the question that should be asked is if could it have been a greater success had it been funded like the moon project?

Nuts & Bolts

First the earth was flat
But it fattened up when we didn’t fall off
Now we spin laps round the sun …

2-1, Imogen Heap

There are very basic things our forays into space have brought us, weather satellites being amongst the most obvious in terms of what they provide us regarding preparedness and protection for populations. As bad as New Orleans was when Katrina hit, imagine how much worse it would have been without the solid data provided by the orbiting observation posts. That’s just a small portion of the payoff. These orbiting instrument platforms – and their cousins, the scientific research satellites – provide us with a copious amount of data regarding the state of our planet, data that invariably profits us.

I mention elsewhere E.O. Wilson’s comment that to sustain the planet at a level the U.S. consumes goods would require 3.5 to 4.5 planets. Here’s an irony to chew on – a committed effort to expanding out into the solar system would likely provide us with a significant source of raw materials we’re going to need if we are going to survive long into the future … and maybe even a place to escape to.

Hurricane Katrina

“In all scientific research, the researcher may or may not find what he is looking for – indeed, his hypothesis may be demolished – but he is certain to learn something new . . . which may be and often is more important than what he had hoped to learn.

“This is the Principle of Serendipity. It is so invariant that it can be considered an empirically established natural law.”

Spinoff, Robert A Heinlein

When compared to government funding in general, the amount of money spent on space exploration and research is insignificant. Most government cash goes to social programs, infrastructure, corporate welfare, entitlements, endless domestic and international programs … and defense budgets that burn up NASA’s miniscule funding by the end of the first day of the fiscal year … or thereabouts. In truth, if you took your time to really figure out where your tax money went, you’d be both stunned, and likely forced to reevaluate the myths of how government spending is allotted that most people accept as gospel truth.

More important: money directed at space actually offers a return on the investment. Science. Science provides potential for real return … and has delivered on that promise at every opportunity. Just look at your electric light and think about it. Every electronic device you own, much of modern diagnostic medicine, agriculture, you name it … Space Program spinoffs exist somewhere in the lineage of all of it. The work done to get to the moon altered industry and medicine as research results generated technological innovation across the board.

Consider this, as well: People who touch our lives in so many meaningful ways – friends, lovers, siblings, parents, children – might not have been alive to do so without the spinoffs of medical research developed in the effort to get humans off planet. Medical spinoffs contribute to the early detection of disease, treatment, and general improvements in quality of life for sufferers of chronic illness

Bluntly, the cost argument is bogus. NASA – and by extension all government-funded science and scientific research – at least produces results that show a potential for return on investment. It’s hard to come up with another agency that can make that claim.  And if the U.S. government doesn’t then take proper advantage of these research results is not the fault of NASA; what we’re really discussing is a failure of imagination on the part of bureaucrats, not the science. The results produced are real. Our technology, the growth of our knowledge of the Cosmos, the countless experiments performed over the years, the experience we gained in engineering and working in space … the fact thousands of people are alive because of techniques and equipment borne out of the Space Program research – these things all point to a program that gives something back.

Lost Space

Here’s the thing I guess I have the most difficulty with: trying to get people to see long-term perspective. My friend Mikey and I often puzzle at the shift when we talk of  the oddness of living in a time where people are not excited by the prospect of a growing population of humans in space and all the potential such a reality could offer. By contrast, he and I grew up in an era charged by a sense of amazement and wonder, carried by a dream that lived in mankind since we first looked to the sky and saw the moon. It was fueled in part by the real-life-fact of it, and the imagined possibilities, going back to Cyrano de Bergeracand long before.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars – Frank Frazetta

When I was a child, Mars was still an amazing and mysterious dream of fantasy. And this was well before exposure to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars novels (Bradbury got me first – what an wonderful collection of stories, imaginative, whimsical, breathed upon with deep dreams touched by both the otherworldly – and the familiar.)

Growing up, Martian canals were still big in the public imagination; heck, 20 years earlier Orson Welles got the East Coast to shit a collective cow over his reenactment of H.G.’s masterpiece. And as I grew older, I watched as the space program started undressing the Red Planet’s secrets … hers and the rest of the solar system. We peaked within Venus shroud to see the incredible geography while learning her atmosphere would eat us alive. We sent Mariner 10 to fly through the frightful solar radiance that washed over Mercury. We sent probes crashing into the moon, then landing, finally putting men on the moon.

Men on the Moon.

What a fucking fantastical statement.

Men.

On.

The.

Goddamn.

Moon.

And we didn’t stop. For all of the significance, the Moon landing was an appetizer. We had bigger fish to fry. Viking 1 & 2 went to Mars. And then, in the most exquisite of cosmic ballets, first the Pioneers and then the Voyagers – two craft each – visited the Jovian planets. I remember the Voyager flybys of Jupiter and Saturn … there were parties … Bikers and bankers, dweebs and sharp-dressed men … people hung around TVs, at home, in clumps in bars, watching the photos as they processed in, listening to mission control as the scientists and engineers monitored the great adventure light-minutes behind the actual events …

Voyager 1

… listening as we waited for the signal that told us Voyager successfully passed through the recently-discovered rings of Jupiter … and then of Saturn …

… and it was us up there … represented, yes, but it was US … YOU and ME and EVERYONE ELSE sailing the cosmic ocean … and we were  navigating the gravity wells orbiting our home star.

As a species, we were being amazing!!!

I’ll repeat this, ’cause if you don’t get anything else I say here, you really need to understand this:

WE WERE BEING FUCKING AMAZING, GODDAMMIT!!!

More fucking amazing than we ever had been in our long, amazing history.

Even with all the extra-planetary missions to the inner, rocky worlds of the solar system, after actually putting six pairs of human beings on the moon, nothing hit home like the Pioneer and – especially – the Voyager missions. We were seeing the Jovian worlds up close and personal, our miniscule craft of exploration sailing through the ring-systems, past small moons, through radiation storms, sending back images and data to the waiting humans on our distant planet.

The Voyager Missions

Jupiter and Saturn … and eventually Uranus and Neptune … were no longer points of light in the sky to be mistaken for faraway stars … these became real worlds that inhabited our local neighborhood in the Milky Way … and in the end changed how we looked at the cosmos.

We could see our future, could see where things were going to lead us.

But we never really got out of near-earth orbit.

And now, decades later, George Bush was gonna revive a listless space program and send us back to the moon.

Of course he was …

Cynicism aside, the Moon Project was the only game in town … we never developed a replacement for the Orbiter, and now we’re hitching rides with the Russians. We needed something, and this was all we had to pin our hopes to. And now that is gone, too …

Aside from a well-deserved “WTF?” owing its origins to a latent sense of pride given the United States’ participation in the history in space exploration, the news does nothing to inspire optimism regarding our – humanity’s – effort to get off-planet. And I know the whole “mankind must never flag in its commitment to explore space” thing has been done to death, and better writers than I have written enough on the subject to fill several large volumes of books. But I gotta say something.

Comet Shoemaker-Levy breaks up on its approach to Jupiter

A story … of sorts …

1981 until graduation from college in ’83, through the unintended consequences of procrastination and an odd series of synchronicities, my take-home essay tests and term papers for my ancient Greek and Roman courses were almost always due on the day of a shuttle launch. (God’s Truth, if you believe in that sort of thing.) I must have caught every early launch, and at least 80 percent of the time I was awake because I always waited until the last minute and finished those papers and tests by pulling all-nighters the day they were due. All in all, an interesting/ironic juxtaposition … regurgitate what you learned studying the cradle of Western Civilization while watching the result of the long road those ancient peoples set us on.

Atlas missile launch, Vandenberg AFB, 1962

My family had an active part in the space race. At least, my Dad did … he wired silos for missiles at Vandenberg AFB in the early sixties. We were a space town, Lompoc, California, a place at one time destined to become a Spaceport. Think about that a second. Cape Canaveral was always that – Cape Canaveral, the first U.S. Spaceport. The Russians had Baikonur. In terms of Space, they were it. Thing is, in the popular imagination, we never really considered Canaveral a spaceport. It was just a place we launched missiles from. And who thought about Baikonur outside of Russia, NASA and the CIA?

But Vandenberg AFB was something else – a declared spaceport. How audacious … a spaceport … we were on our way to the stars!

Sadly, funding was cut, the facilities at Vandenberg were mothballed … and that dream died. Being short-sighted appears to be a genetic trait in bureaucrats.

Still, Lompoc at the beginning of the 1960s was the West Coast’s ‘Space City’. The people residing there lived and breathed the space race. When missiles went up at night everyone would rush outside to the thundering roar of an Atlas or Minuteman as it started on its test run down the Pacific Range. The rockets would burn brilliant against the indigo skies, sometimes exploding, pulsing a ring of energy as the rocket blew up … or was detonated because of a system failure. And when the early Saturn 1 launches were televised, we’d have sleepovers and gangs of kids would stay up late to watch Mission Control light the candle and send the massive missile up.

Virginia and Robert at the SpaceCon 3

Much later. 1977. Like a lot of people, the whole post-Moon landing space thing had faded in importance for me as I got on with my adult life. I was working at San Francisco General at the time. I’d gotten off my midnight shift at Mission Emergency Hospital and headed straight over to the Civic Center. I was going to attend a scifi convention, Space Con 3. My primary reason for being there: a talk to be held on the Shuttle Orbiter Program chaired by Nichele Nichols, James Doohan and…

… Robert A. Heinlein.

Bleary eyed as I was from sleep-deprivation, I was wide-awake throughout. The two Star Trek alums deferred to Heinlein, and the Master made an animated hour of it.  Holding up a large cutaway drawing of the Shuttle, he proudly pronounced it to be “the Model T” of spaceflight development. He talked as he always talked about his hopes for mankind realizing what he saw as its destiny.

That seems so long ago now. Heinlein passed a decade later, his oft-stated dream of dying on the moon unfulfilled.

The world, it seems, has changed. I grew up in a nation that dreamed of conquering space. We walked on the moon, saw our small ships of metal and electronics sail to nearly every corner of the solar system to send back news and knowledge of how things really were. And now we’re on the verge of retiring our only means of putting men in orbit.

We had dreams.

And then the dreams went away. With it, maybe our future … and our greatness …

We … have lost something …

“…Middle-class Americans really don’t want to hear about sacrifices or trade-offs—except as flattering descriptions about how ready we, as a people, are, or used to be, to accept them.”

There is a growing argument the United States is in a decline as a nation. There is a concurrent argument that humans as a species may possibly be on the way out. From a paleontological perspective, species disappearance is unsurprising – most species die off relatively quickly in terms of geologic time – but ending remains unsettling from the more immediate perspective. Ominously, we should know with relative certainty in the next 30 years if the climate and environment tanks as bad as they are projected to … and then it will be too late to do much about either interrelated problem. The conversation regarding human survival is in relation to our need – and inability – to curb our population growth while seriously working to keep our natural resources self-sustainable. Just to say that is incredible to me; the planet’s bounty seemed limitless as recently as fifty years ago. No more. As we trash the biosphere scientists who study such things are calling this the sixth great die-off – and the first perpetrated by a species.

In both cases – the decline of the U.S. and the decline of global human civilization – it seems the common symptom is an intense, overriding focus on the here and now; the future seems too far away to care about.

Aftermath of Comet Shoemaker-Levy striking Jupiter … the Earth could get lost in any one of those yellow strike areas in the southern hemisphere.

All the gods lost 2-1,
And holes to heaven pointed out to us from light years away;
We’re surrounded by a billion galaxies…

2-1, Imogen Heap

So here we are. On the precipice of the future, roaming the shores of Sagan’s cosmic ocean, and we appear to be allowing our true chance at greatness slip through our collective fingers. Oh, sure, we landed on the Moon. We did great things. And then we didn’t.

We live at – quite possibly – the tail end of what might end up being the most perfect time in human history, a true era of wonders. The ancients would have regarded ours as a world of miracles, but modern viewpoints are jaded by lack of perspective: it’s hard to understand our condition, particularly in the developed world, is the exception to human history. There is still a lot of potential locked up in our species … but it is unclear if we can take advantage of that untapped potential given our increasingly apparent inability to get past the smallness in us. Moving off planet would give us a chance … give our children and their children and succeeding generations a real chance to survive the future we might be bringing on ourselves.

But we don’t see. We can’t see.

And this is what I see:

We’re the builders of the Pyramids. We’re the people who raised up the Parthenon and invented Western Civilization. We conquered Egypt, Persia, India and everything between. We invented, built (and then burnt) the Great Libraries of antiquity. We constructed the Coliseum, Circus Maximus … and ruled the Western World for centuries. We’re the sons and daughters of Discovery, architects of the Enlightenment. We opened the New World to the Old. The sun never set on our Empire. We’re the people that put men on the Moon.

And then we stopped … and we went away …

July 9, 2011 Posted by | Hodgepodge | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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