Sunday, March 20, 2016

Spring hopes eternal...

...and other nonsense and non sequiturs.

Seen in every newspaper office across the land:

Copy editors of the world, untie!

It's been 31 days since I posted here last. Pretty unsatisfactory, eh? I have a long list of excuses. Care to peruse them in list form? I thought not.

Excuses are like arseholes, everybody's got one and they're all full of feces.

Using the British vernacular takes all the vulgarity out of that word, no?

What word? You know, Gilipollas. Mudak. Maladbara. Supak. Zadnik. Chitsiru. Stronzo.

Okay. On to serious business.

At about 10:30 p.m. MDT last night, March 19, our Spaceship Earth reached that point in its orbit which we surface dwellers call the Vernal Equinox. From the Latin vernālis, 'of spring', and aequinoctium, 'the time of equal days and nights'.

There are two of these equinoxes each year, vernal and autumnal, from the Latin (what else?) autumnālis, 'of the season between summer and winter'. Interesting that you've asked the what else question, for if I read my dictionary correctly, the Latin term came from both the Middle French autompne and the Middle English autumpne. Which is neither here nor there, but then. If you take my meaning.
A delightful graphic representation of the whole "sun moves north and south" phenomenon. I stole this image from the interwebs some years ago, and I believe that this may be the original source. 

In looking up a few of the foregoing definitions, I was amazed, delighted, and more than a little chagrined to find that for most of my life, I've incorrectly believed that the term equinox referred to the midpoint of the sun's north-south or south-north journey, which I described in exhausting detail many years ago here. Yes, my flawed assumption was that the term indicated an equal distance from winter solstice to equinox and from equinox to summer solstice (and the reverse, of course). And my long standing assumption was wrong! This is what happens when one is a smug know-it-all and too lazy to check one's assumptions at the door and begin anew with a fresh sheet of paper, as it were.

It's only fair that I take myself to task for making a flawed assumption, for I have never been shy about taking others to task for the same thing. This isn't a matter of one-upmanship, although it can be (and often is) taken that way. It's more about the perils of misunderstanding implicit in the whole "snapping to assumption" milieu (from the French milieux, 'surroundings, especially of a social or cultural nature').

Making assumptions is human nature. Making flawed assumptions is human nature. Being nasty to each other about our shared flawed assumptions is kind of rotten and low and one of the worst aspects of human nature. Sticking doggedly to an incorrect assumption and defending it to the end with meanness, spite, and deception is an even worse aspect of human nature. These modern approaches to intellectual discourse seem to have become coin of the realm.

That bothers me a lot, and it's something I plan to address in the coming days, weeks and months. In my mind, shaped by my betters to be sure, it is the height of folly to get all territorial and aggressive over flawed assumptions. I mean, think of it -- we humans have the ability find the flaws and learn something new. This is exciting! It's also what Richard Feynman, a man I'd never heard of while he lived, called "the pleasure of finding things out."

Such a simple thing. Try to imagine a civilization filled with "oh man, that's cool" rather than "you're wrong and I hate you because you're on the other team, you proservative scumbag."

I'm going to mess around with this blog a bit. My very basic idea is to bring you a taste of "today on the prairie." This will be a dose of daily wonder which will hopefully serve as a baseline of reality against which we can compare, contrast and measure a few different topics and ideas. With any luck I'll find a way to vivisect some of the strange creatures stalking our society and our civilization, revealing the healthy and the cancerous tissues, and do so in a way that's honest, enlightening, and principled.

There's a voice in my head right now muttering, "yeah, right."

We'll see.

But first, a bit of whimsy.

So. First day of spring. It got down to 11 degrees last night. Just now it's 52 and a bit breezy. A fairly pleasant day for the first day of spring. The weather guessers promise a significant winter storm on Tuesday and Wednesday. After an unseasonably warm February, the snow we had two days a go and the predicted storm is more like it!

As I drove through the south unit a few days ago I was reminded of a Christmastime adventure.

Two days before Christmas my phone rang.

“Ah,” said my brother, “We’re stuck down here south of the draw.”

This was not welcome news. I was in town and in the middle of unloading a truck. It was a big chore that needed to be completed and it would take another two hours or so to finish.

More importantly, the “we” referenced in the above report included my Dad, who is not as robust as he once was and who has a pacemaker to keep his heart ticking along regularly. The truck job could wait.

I sped out of town and within 15 minutes was surveying the situation from the county road about half a mile from the scene of the crime. It was pretty clear what had happened. They’d driven in from the north, intending to check stock tanks on the south side of the east-west draw. They’d followed the approximate path of the pasture trail road, but the road itself was invisible beneath a layer of snow. Their course had wandered off track a bit -- no more than 40-50 feet. Unfortunately, that put them in a low spot in the lead into a gully. The smooth, wind-sculpted surface of the snow hid the low spot, where snow depth went from six inches to six feet in only a few dozen yards.

Peering at the stuck pickup through my binoculars I could see that it was well and truly buried. It was deep enough, in fact, to prevent the doors from opening, and was certainly high centered. Sigh.

The most important thing was to get Dad out without requiring a lot of exertion on his part. Deep snow is tough enough for the young and fit, and he was in no shape to wade through the icy quagmire for more than a few feet. Having navigated the snow-choked pasture every day, I had a pretty good idea that I could reach the stranded pair with my trusty 4WD Ranger. It wouldn’t be easy, and I’d have to be careful. But it was doable.

I had to come in from the south. The path was tricky because the snow hid all the low spots, but experience from my hiking gave me a very good idea of the terrain hidden by winter’s blanket. I was able to drive to within about 20 feet of the stuck pickup in snow no more than 6-8 inches deep.

The Ranger is a small pickup, and there was room in the cab for only myself and Dad. Brother and the two dogs would have to ride in back or hike out. They chose to ride. In short order we were back home and thawing out. Extricating Dad’s pickup would wait for another time.

I went back to work unloading the truck. Later I learned that my brother had tried to pull Dad’s pickup put with the hydrabed and very nearly got that one stuck too. In the process he’d lost his cell phone in the snow.

The next day I gave a class in digging out snowbound vehicles. It wasn’t that big a chore, but took some strategic digging and careful driving.

Flash forward to March 15. While scouting grass I drove over to the place Dad’s pickup had been stuck. What a difference 90 days makes! There was no hint of snow, but the winter grass still clearly showed where the vehicle had been mired. I had planned to look for my brother’s lost cell phone and was pretty sure I could find it. I saw it laying in the winter-short grass before I even got out of my pickup.

Mission accomplished!
The scene of the crime, after extraction.
After the digging.
That's the brother's Missus, and not a happy camper.
Wouldja lookit that!

And just a touch more...

Whilst perambulating (I've been visiting with my friends in Herefordshire...) through the spacious aisles of the local junior wally world yesterday I was involved in a midair.

Of course it wasn't a midair; I wasn't in the air or in an airplane. I was in a second rate chain store with my feet firmly planted on the ground. No one was hurt an no metal was bent.

Anyway, I was striding along the southernmost but one front to back aisle of the store, heading roughly 270 en route checkout, shiny new 32GB  thumb drive in my paw, passing out of electronics and into yard and garden to the north, with laundry and cleaning morphing into tasty snack items to the south.

I never saw or heard it coming. Well, that's not right. I did. It just happened so fast that I couldn't avoid it.

One moment I was striding along a perfectly empty aisle, the next moment a small boy appeared from the left, head down and blasting along in full blower. Smash!

At the very last moment, milliseconds before the collision, each of us initiated action to mitigate the physical consequences of the impending crunch.

The boy, a belt-high, tow headed specimen, began to jink right and to duck his head. It wasn't enough, but he gave it the old Kindergarten try.

Sensing the geometry of the impending collision, I shot my left hand down and back and began to turn to the left. As the impact occurred and the boy began to ricochet and spin I was able to stabilize him and prevent a full blown departure from the upright and to redirect his vector toward the center of the aisle and away from a display of shovels, rakes and hoes.

As all violent motion ceased we stood facing each other, about five feet apart.

"Are you okay?"

"Sorry," he said, eyes big as onions.

At that moment the boy's flight lead wheeled her cart out of the cleaning aisle and fixed him with an icy stare. "That's why we walk, Mister!"

The entire episode filled my heart with joy.

Why do you suppose that is?

Life is chock-full of coolness and delight. 


  1. I was starting to wonder if some large carnivorous creature of the night had gotten you!

    1. Ha! We have no large carnivorous creatures of the night here. Except in the bars, which I no longer visit.


  2. Young males tend to operate at "All Ahead Bendix ", don't they?

    1. Yes they do. I know because I once was one, and that's how I rolled.

      I'd love to have an engine telegraph. But then I'd have to get a ship and a crew and start the whole flogging routine...

  3. That was well worth the wait.

    (Just don't do it again, 'kay? We worry. Reminds me of the scene in Dances With Wolves "There's some family back East wondering, 'Why don't he write?'")

    1. Thanks Sarge. I'm gonna try to be on my best bloghaviour.

      "No. Dunbar. Not dumb bear."

      Apologize for the worry.