Freshly Unchanged

Arsia Mons, a Martian volcano last active around 50 million years ago

[Image: The Arsia Mons volcano on Mars; image courtesy of NASA, via Flickr. The original (very complete) page of information at the NASA site itself quotes a researcher, one Jacob Richardson, who says, “We estimate that the peak activity for the volcanic field at the summit of Arsia Mons probably occurred approximately 150 million years ago–the late Jurassic period on Earth–and then died out around the same time as Earth’s dinosaurs.” It built up slowly, very slowly: Richardson says, “Think of it like a slow, leaky faucet of magma… Arsia Mons was creating about one volcanic vent every 1 to 3 million years at the peak, compared to one every 10,000 years or so in similar regions on Earth.” The caldera is about 68 miles (110 kilometers) in diameter, and “deep enough to hold the entire volume of water in Lake Huron, and then some.” (For comparison, the surface area of Lake Huron, per Wikipedia, is about 23,000 miles; the Arsia Mons caldera’s surface area works out to less than 15,000 square miles — the caldera is much deeper than the Great Lake.)]

From whiskey river:

Theory of Memory

Long, long ago, before I was a tormented artist, afflicted with longing yet incapable of forming durable attachments, long before this, I was a glorious ruler uniting all of a divided country—so I was told by the fortune-teller who examined my palm. Great things, she said, are ahead of you, or perhaps behind you; it is difficult to be sure. And yet, she added, what is the difference? Right now you are a child holding hands with a fortune-teller. All the rest is hypothesis and dream.

(Louise Glück [source])


The Ordinary Life

To rise early, reconsider, rise again later
to papers and the news. To smoke a few if time
permits and, second-guessing the weather,

dress. Another day of what we bring to it –
matters unfinished from days before,
regrets over matters we’ve finished poorly.

Just once you’d like to start out early,
free from memory and lighter for it.
Like Adam, on that first day: alone

but cheerful, no fear of the maker,
anything his for the naming; nothing
to shrink from, nothing to shirk,

no lot to carry that wasn’t by choice.
And at night, no voice to keep him awake,
no hurry to rise, no hurry not to.

(Tracy K. Smith [source])


Buddhists say that thoughts are like drops of water on the brain; when you reinforce the same thought, it will etch a new stream into your consciousness, like water eroding the side of a mountain. Scientists confirm this bit of folk wisdom: our neurons break connections and form new pathways all the time.

(Caitlin Doughty [source])


Theoretically there is no absolute proof that one’s awakening in the morning (the finding oneself again in the saddle of one’s personality) is not really a quite unprecedented event, a perfectly original birth.

(Vladimir Nabokov [source])

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Not All, But This Much

'Milky Way & Zodiacal Light over Lake Dumbleyung,' by user 'inefekt69' on Flickr

[Image: “Milky Way & Zodiacal Light over Lake Dumbleyung,” by Trevor Dobson (user inefekt69) on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.) The photographer’s description says, “Lake Dumbleyung is about 215km south east of Perth. It’s famous for hosting Donald Campbell’s successful world water speed record attempt back in 1964. The lake was much fuller then but I was hoping for at least some water to cover the bottom of the many dead trees that line the shores, I wasn’t lucky though.”]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

To Live in This World Requires

To live in this world requires
that you leave your house every morning
and step into the wind
Every morning: with all your memories
on file and the future pinned to some wall
you will have to build and tear down and
build again. If you get there. If. If.

Into the wind: first you walk the dog whose
blessed face belies the beast it is built upon
Millennia behind you, that beast enters a cave
and decides whether or not to kill a child sleeping
by a fire. It does not kill the child
because its heart has been surprised by love
Both softened and sharpened by it, inexplicably
Inexplicably, to this day

And on this day, the wind relents
The morning star lifts itself into a changeable sky
and you, carrying extra weight, wearing
last year’s clothes, start walking towards the train
Seeds that grew from ancient science digest in your stomach;
your bones begin to separate because science did not plan
this length of life; your heart slows down and you feel
the pressure of dragging a million, billion years
behind you. A million, billion lie ahead that you
will know nothing about

Thus, harnessed to time, facing the inevitable,
constructed by science and fed on inexplicable events
taking place somewhere in the middle of history,
your day goes by. Miles away, the ocean
murmurs to its own beloved creatures, a mountain
applies pressure to the weaving of a golden seam
And in your house, the dog wonders
if you will make it home again. And each day,
despite or because the performance of this feat
is both a mystery and a triumph, somehow
you will. You do

(Eleanor Lerman [source])


Knowing you are alive is feeling the planet buck under you, rear, kick, and try to throw you; you hang on to the ring. It is riding the planet like a log downstream, whooping. Or, conversely, you step aside from the dreaming fast loud routine and feel time as a stillness about you, and hear the silent air asking in so thin a voice, Have you noticed yet that you will die? Do you remember, remember, remember? [*] Then you feel your life as a weekend, a weekend you cannot extend, a weekend in the country.

(Annie Dillard [source])

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Revelatory Satisfactions

'Open Wide,' by Flickr user 'Alan L'

[Image: This is apparently not — as I’d thought — an observatory in Chile. Any of them. Rather, it’s atop Mauna Kea, in Hawaii. (More info here.) Duh. Photo by user Alan L, on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons License. (Click image to enlarge.)]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves—
then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness—
and that’s when it happened,

when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree—
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing—
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky—all, all of them

were singing.
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last

for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then—open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

(Mary Oliver [source])


There are times in your life when, despite the steel weight of your memories and the sadness that seems to lie at your feet like a shadow, you suddenly and strangely feel perfectly okay.

(Kevin Brockmeier [source])



We were talking about magic
as we drove along a crowded
Sunday highway

when the whirl of wings
made me turn
and a flock of geese
flew over our car
so low I could see
their feet tucked under them.

For a moment the rustle
of their presence over our heads
obscured everything

and as they disappeared
you said,
“I see what you mean.”

(Jenifer (“Sudie”) Nostrand [source])

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Distant Cool Dark

[Video: “Composition Complete Track – Bossa 1,” by Volkmar Studtrucker. See the note
at the foot of this post for details.]

From whiskey river:

Impermanence is not just of philosophical interest. It’s very personal. Until we accept and deeply understand in our very being that things change from moment to moment, and never stop even for one instant, only then can we let go. And when we really let go inside, the relief is enormous. Ironically this gives release to a whole new dimension of love. People think that if someone is unattached, they are cold. But this isn’t true. Anyone who has met very great spiritual masters who are really unattached is immediately struck by their warmth to all beings, not just to the ones they happen to like or are related to. Non-attachment releases something very profound inside us, because it releases that level of fear. We all have so much fear: fear of losing, fear of change, an inability to just accept.

…It’s like a dance. And we have to give each being space to dance their dance. Everything is dancing; even the molecules inside the cells are dancing. But we make our lives so heavy. We have these incredibly heavy burdens we carry with us like rocks in a big rucksack. We think that carrying this big heavy rucksack is our security; we think it grounds us. We don’t realize the freedom, the lightness of just dropping it off, letting it go. That doesn’t mean giving up relationships; it doesn’t mean giving up one’s profession, or one’s family, or one’s home. It has nothing to do with that; it’s not an external change. It’s an internal change. It’s a change from holding on tightly to holding very lightly.

(Jetsumna Tenzin Palmo [source])


Of Time

Don’t even ask how rapidly the hummingbird
lives his life.
You can’t imagine. A thousand flowers a day,
a little sleep, then the same again, then
he vanishes.
I adore him.

Yet I adore also the drowse of mountains.

And in the human world, what is time?
In my mind there is Rumi, dancing.
There is Li Po drinking from the winter stream.
There is Hafiz strolling through Shiraz, his feet
loving the dust.

(Mary Oliver [source])


The coolness of Buddhism isn’t indifference but the distance one gains on emotions, the quiet place from which to regard the turbulence. From far away you see the pattern, the connections, and the thing as whole, see all the islands and the routes between them. Up close it all dissolves into texture and incoherence and immersion, like a face going out of focus just before a kiss.

(Rebecca Solnit [source])

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“Wipe Your Wheels Before You Come In — You’ll Get Sand All Over!”

Whoa: now that just might be (as Bad Astronomy blogger Dr. Phil Plait calls it) “the single greatest vacation picture ever taken.” The setting: somewhere in Gale Crater, on the surface of Mars. The subject: the Mars Curiosity rover… in a self-portrait. My first thought: the rover must have set up a camera on a tripod, and backed up a bit before triggering the shutter remotely. (Hey, if an engineering team can plan and execute a landing like this one, such a shot would seem to be small potatoes.) But no: the camera which took this photo is actually mounted on a mast arm which can be held out away from the rover’s body and aimed in any old direction — including back at itself.

So where is the mast arm in the photo? It’s there, all right: 55 times. That’s the number of separate images combined into one final shot; the mast has simply been cropped or otherwise edited out of the images wherever it appeared.

(A blogger at the Planetary Society also notes that if you view the full-sized image, you can see reflections of the mast arm camera in a couple of spots — essentially making this one of those classic “this is me, taking a photo of a camera taking a photo of me” gimmick shots.)

You can view or download a larger version of the photo here (1280 x 1780, 599KB) here, or the full-sized monster (5463 x 7595, 7.7MB) here. Either of those will allow you to see much more detail in small areas.

People, people: how cool is it to be alive at a time when we can see such stuff?

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The Propagational Library (2): Kali

[Here by accident? You might want to first read the Introduction and Chapter 1.]

After his next hour with them, Gabe sincerely hoped the Lanes would tell him something to summon up his sense of humor. He wondered if he’d ever laugh again.

Still not moving beyond the entry hall, Gabe asked them to provide one good reason — “Two would be better” — not to show them the door. They looked back and forth at each other, and then quickly dispensed with the formalities of introduction: identifying themselves beyond mere names, and establishing their bona fides. Adrienne went first.

“I’m a trust-fund baby,” she said. “My surname before marrying Eldon was Burghar — yes, with an h and an a.”

“No way. You—”

“Yep. My dad was Matt Burghar. That Matt Burghar.” Like ninety percent of the rest of the world, Gabe didn’t need to be told who that Matt Burghar had been: founder and chief of research for MagBurg Labs. (The “Mag” came from magnetic, popular theory supposed. In fact, it came from Magaziner, the maiden name of Matt’s wife Dolly.) Thirty-some years ago, MagBurg had introduced the world to the MagDrive Engine. Everybody thought it would reverse or at least slow the effects of centuries of hydrocarbon-burning machinery. Everybody was proved wrong, but in the meantime Matt and Dolly and, evidently, little Adrienne had become almost ridiculously wealthy.

“I don’t suppose you can offer me more than just your word of honor on that.”

She smiled, and pulled from the pocket of her coat two laminated-plastic cards. The first was a simple photo ID: a security badge for MagBurg Labs, identifying her as employee number 000003. The second was a standard state-supplied RFID card. “Got a swiper?”

Gabe gestured at a small table against the wall, close to the door. “The vase with the fake flowers there.”

Adrienne waved the RFID past the vase and a display lit up alongside the door jamb. Adrienne Lane, it confirmed, née Burghar, husband Eldon, current address out on the mountainside at the far side of the city, current employer MagBurg Laboratories LLC, date of birth thirty-seven years ago. She moved the card up to her right eye, held it there for a beat, and re-swiped the vase. CONFIRMED, said the display.

Not quite wanting to accept yet that Matt Burghar’s freaking daughter stood before him in his foyer, Gabe tried one more test: “You’re kinda young to be MagBurg employee number 3, aren’t you?”

“Dad’s little joke. It was my seventh-birthday present.”

“‘It’ the card?”

“No, ‘it’ the employee number. The card’s legitimate, don’t worry. It’s always worked there. And so have I.”

“How about you?” Gabe said, turning to Eldon. “You with MagBurg, too?”

Eldon laughed again. “Oh, heck no. I don’t have a job at all, just ride around on my wife’s coattails. A wastrel and a dilettante.”

“Don’t take him seriously,” said Adrienne. “He won’t let you if you try. He’s not—”

“She’s right, I’m sorry, I need to take you seriously — no: I’m not a MagBurg employee. I’m an amateur astronomer. Or let’s say, well, technically not an astronomer. Not so much stars and planets, you know, but galaxies and universes. Nebulas. Quasars, pulsars, black holes. All that.”

He moved to the table and vase before Gabe could ask him. His RFID confirmed his identity, too. Current employer: N/A. His readout, however, included a supplemental affiliation: the International Amateur Cosmological Union.

Now Gabe was really stumped. His rational mind knew that you could find harmless (or not so harmless) nutcases even among the idle (or not so idle) wealthy. But that didn’t quite explain the presence of this couple in his home. He stalled for time.

“My RFID’s upstairs—”

“We don’t need it,” said Eldon. “Full name Gabriel Mazarin Naude, photographer, late wife Carolyn, et cetera, et cetera, am I right?”

Whoa. They could’ve dug up the stuff on photography and Caro from any of dozens of public sources. But the middle name — the Mazarin? That was documented nowhere, not even on the RFID. His family had passed that middle name down for centuries…

“Okay,” he said, “let’s just take it for granted that we’re all who we say we are. Let’s move into the living room and you can tell me what you’re really here for. ‘Cause for the life of me, I can’t imagine what ‘help’ people like you think you can get from a guy like me.”

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What You Miss When You Don’t Look Up… and Don’t Stand Still

At the page at the Popular Science site where I first saw this video, the author says:

The video below was captured by Stephane Guisard and Jose Francisco Salgado at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile’s Atacama Desert. And it might make you cry.

What makes this time lapse particularly amazing — because we’ve all seen plenty of time lapse videos of the night sky — is the four telescopes in the foreground. Watching these instruments work against a black background would be endlessly fascinating on its own. Unfortunately you won’t be able to pay them too much attention. Because damn, what a sky.

Yes. Damn. What a sky.

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