ANGRY BIRDS, WINTRY LIGHT – Marilyn Armstrong

Angry birds, wintry light

Hairy Woodpeckers are the larger of two similar-looking woodpeckers. They aren’t actually related, but somehow, the Downy has copied the feathering and coloration of the Hairy Woodpecker, probably because the Hairy has a notoriously bad temper. The Downy has an equally bad temper, but he’s much smaller. By copying the bigger bird, on a quick look, they look the same.

It’s hard to see the difference unless they are near enough to one another to see the size difference which, despite them often sharing the same piece of forest, they rarely do.

Angry bird 1

Angry bird 2

Angry bird 3

Angry bird 4

Angry bird 5

Angry bird 6

Today I got lucky and for a few seconds (I didn’t get a picture, but I almost got a picture)  they shared the opposite sides of the big feeder. Suddenly, it was easy to tell the difference. The Hairy is obviously bigger. Bigger body, longer beak. They only shared space for a few seconds, then the Downy decided it was time to move on. The Hairy hung around long enough for me to get some pictures and for once, I was sure I knew which bird I was photographing.

Is it me or does this look like one of the original angry birds? Hairy Woodpeckers have a notoriously bad temper. They are permanently in a bad mood. I think it’s because they spend their entire lives banging their head against hardwood trees.

TOO MANY BOOKS TO READ BEFORE I SLEEP – Marilyn Armstrong

Half a dozen times during the past few months, I’ve seen the sunrise and heard the birds wake and sing the morning in.

Another Kindle and the Anker blue-tooth speaker.

I have sometimes gotten up very early to see the sunrise and take pictures. It is the thing I do that is most “me.” I am awake into the early hours because I am in the grip of a good book and can’t put it down.

I’m addicted to books.

Although I go through phases where I read a lot of one genre, I move through many genres over the course of time. I have spent years reading history, indulging my enthusiasm for the middle ages and especially that weirdest of times,  the 14th century. Perhaps I am specifically fascinated by this period because it was a fulcrum of civilization, the emergence of central governments, a free peasantry and what ultimately became the middle class.

There was the Black Death, the schism when two Popes reigned, one in Avignon, the other in Rome: a calamity for the Catholic world. There was an endless war. Brigands roaming throughout the European countryside, burning, raping, despoiling.  Destroying what sad remnants of communities had survived the other catastrophes of those years.

Inflation rendered money worthless. Many regions were entirely depopulated leaving no one to tend fields and grow crops. Famine followed.

I thought the 20th century, with all its horrors, could never top the 14th, but I was wrong. Because the 14th-century didn’t destroy the planet. It merely thinned out humanity. Which might not, on second thought, have been such a bad idea.

In this era, we are busy destroying the actual planet on which we live and which we need to survive as a species. If you’ve been reading too much science fiction, this is a good time to remember that this sphere is the only one we’ve got. We have nascent technology that might eventually take us into the universe where new planets might be waiting, but we aren’t there yet nor will we get there before the bad air and fire destroys everything we care about.

Meanwhile, to keep my sanity, I read thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals, and courtroom dramas. I read about lawyers, district attorneys, victims, criminals, and prisons. Then, when I need to escape even further, I turn to science fiction and fantasy. I immerse myself in other worlds, different realities, and the pursuit of magic.

I am, for the moment, caught between favorite authors. All of my favorite writers are in the writing process, creating their next books, though some are finished and publication dates are set in the near or not too far future.

I thought I’d make a shortlist for you of some of my favorite authors and a few of my favorite books. I encourage you to make suggestions for books I might like. I’m always looking for new authors and genres.

Barbara Tuchman is my favorite writer of history, but Doris Kearns Goodwin is close behind. Favorite history books include A Distant Mirror, The Guns of Augustand Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Team of Rivals which became Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln,” or her equally brilliant work on Franklin Delano Roosevelt No Ordinary Time are masterpieces.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraha...

The entire Hollows series by Kim Harrison for the finest of the urban fantasy genre. She has a new one coming out this summer. I can hardly wait!

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, the Chicago gumshoe who can throw a mean spell, but carries a loaded gun, just in case. He has finally written the final book in the series called Peace Talks.

I hope it isn’t really the final book because I have rarely loved a series as much as I’ve loved Harry Dresden. It’s set to come out in July.

I have been waiting for this book for almost eight years. It is already considered a best-seller even though it hasn’t been published yet. I guess I’m not the only one who has been waiting.

Connie Willis‘ time travel books including The Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, and To Say Nothing of the Dog (the only humorous one in this bunch, but they are all wonderful!) are among the best books of this genre ever written. She has also written some of the most hilarious science fiction stories, especially All Seated on the Ground, and Bellwether, and many more novels and novellas.

Unlike most readers, I read her more serious ambitious books first and was surprised to discover she was best known for her lighter, humorous fiction. Both are wonderful and you can’t go wrong with any of them. I should mention that some of her older books are only available on Kindle and/or audio.

And, speaking of time travel, Stephen King‘s 11-22-63 is exceptional. It’s not a new book, but it is beautifully well-written. Not a horror story, but true time-travel science fiction. The prose is sometimes so beautiful it brings tears to your eyes.

Recently, I discovered Carol Berg. I completed the final of her various series last night … and am now holding my breath in anticipation of her next book. If you want to start with one of her books that aren’t part of a longer series, try Song of the Beast, especially if you like dragons!

I love almost everything written by James Lee Burke and he has written many books, all fiction. If Faulkner had written detective stories, he’d be James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is a long-running favorite, but his other books are great too.

The writing of Anne Golon is an amazing series of historical novels about a fictional woman named Angelique. They take place during the time of Louis XIV. This series is has been one of the most significant influences on my life, not only literary but personally.  Angelique lived the life she chose and never accepted defeat. She gave me an interest in history that I carry with me to this day. She never gave up, she never backed down, no matter how bad things became, she always found a way forward.

The English-language versions of the books are many years out of print, but until her death a couple of years ago, she was still writing. Unfortunately, her recent ones are available only in French (maybe German too, but I’m not sure). I have managed to find many good copies of her books second-hand. I wish I could get her newer books in a language I can read. There was a time when I actually could read French, but that was long ago and far away.

I would be remiss in not mentioning Laurie King whose modern version of Sherlock Holmes, now retired and married to, as Mom used to say “a nice Jewish girl,” is a fantastic series. She writes a few other series too, but her Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series remains my favorite.

Of course, there is my personal favorite author, Gretchen Archer, whose Davis Way Crime Capers are funny, serious, hilarious, tense … all of the things you want in a “curl up and read until your eyes fall out of your head” series of novels. Start with her first novel, Double Whammy and move on from there. You absolutely can’t go wrong!

96-ColdDays-2

I cannot close this without referencing two authors that have given me great joy, the incomparable Douglas Adams, and Jasper Fforde.

I still mourn Douglas Adams. He should have had many more years. Douglas, you died way too soon. Jasper Fforde writes with similar lunacy in a fantasy world where fiction is real and reality isn’t quite. His Thursday Next series is brilliant.

Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series is wonderful and if he ever gets around to it, there should be at least one more book in the series. But he has been writing other books — mostly horror stories which I don’t like as much as his earlier works, movie scripts — as well as Lucifer (a series of brilliant graphic novels which contained the original idea for the TV series “Lucifer”).

This doesn’t even begin to cover everything. It would take me days to begin to remember everything … and way more pages than anyone would have the patience to read … but this is a tickler for you. Maybe you too are searching for something fresh to read,  and new worlds to discover.

These are some of my favorite authors. I’d love to hear about yours!

THIS MORNING’S HEADLINES WITH MORE TO COME – Marilyn Armstrong

From the LA Times and Washington Press come this morning’s headlines:


D.C. attorney general sues Trump inaugural committee over $1 million booking at president’s hotel


Democracy Dies in Darkness


U.N. calls for investigation of Saudi crown prince’s alleged involvement in targeting Jeff Bezos and opponents


Senate adopts ground rules for trial, delaying a decision on witnesses


Chief justice admonishes impeachment lawyers, telling them to ‘remember where they are’


Trump threatens Europe with fresh tariffs in Davos, deepening a rift with longtime U.S. allies


U.S. screenings for the coronavirus expanded to airports in Atlanta and Chicago


Senate rejects Democratic measure to subpoena acting White House chief of staff Mulvaney for testimony in Trump’s impeachment trial


Chinese coronavirus outbreak reaches the U.S. 


These are just this morning’s headlines. Many more will come and they will all be as bad — or worse — than these. No wonder we are stressed!

WINTERLIGHT IS WHITE, BUT BIRDS ARE NOT – Marilyn Armstrong

White winter light and birds of color

These were taken yesterday when it was even colder than today. Considering that early this morning it was several degrees below zero, “even colder” means something.

How do the poor little birds keep their tiny feet from freezing? You’d think they would grow feather stockings or little feathery boots on their tiny feet. I want to take them all in and warm them up!

Flapping wings and changing feathers. One of these Goldfinches looks like he has a black eye, but it’s just a black feather that’s a little out of place.

A Black-eyed Goldfinch and the feathery other …

I look at their tiny little feet and I feel immediately cold. How do they keep from freezing in this deep winter weather?

Junco and stone toad

Two Goldfinches on the finch feeder

Are these little birds ever warm during the winter months? And finally, one special photograph …

Chipper Sparrow in a graphic style

FAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER: THE GULF BREEZE UFO HOAX , REVISITED – Reblog. Sean Munger

Fake me to your leader:
The Gulf Breeze UFO Hoax revisited.

On the evening of November 11, 1987, in the small town of Gulf Breeze, Florida, a sedate suburb of Pensacola, an ordinary suburban house was enveloped in a strange blue light coming from the sky. The owner of the house, a building contractor named Ed Walters, rushed outside and saw a flying saucer hovering above the street. Walters ran back into his house, grabbed a Polaroid camera and took several photos of the craft. The UFO reacted, shooting a blue beam at him that transmitted telepathic images. Then Walters blacked out, waking up later on his front lawn. The photos from the Polaroid camera revealed several spectacular shots of the space vehicle that he claimed he encountered.

This was, anyway, Ed Walters’ story. The photos were his chief corroboration: no one had taken such up-close and personal pictures of a UFO before. The fact that the camera was a Polaroid was significant. To those who have never heard of this device, which was nothing short of miraculous when it appeared on the market in the 1950s, it was a camera that used film that developed itself in a matter of minutes! It was thought (erroneously) that you couldn’t fake Polaroid pictures with the same sort of double exposure tricks that have been going on for as long as photography has existed. Ergo, Walters had to be telling the truth! Right?

One of Walters’s famous photos. Most experts concluded they were pretty crude fakes; a minority insisted they were real. Few believe in them anymore.

The November 11 “sighting” was hardly the end of the incident. After telling his story to a local newspaper–which caused an immediate sensation–Ed Walters began to report and document other encounters he said he had with the mysterious craft, the obvious implication being that they were aliens of some kind. In fact, Walters said he saw one of them on December 2, 1987, a strange robot-like device or perhaps a creature wearing a spacesuit. He also took many more photographs, including a shot of one of the saucers that landed on his street. As the media picked up the story, public interest increased, as it always does about phenomena like UFOs. Other people around Gulf Breeze began saying that they too had seen flying craft. Walters himself went on TV, including the popular show Hard Copyto tell his story. I remember seeing him on one of these shows. The Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), a non-profit that investigates UFO sightings, claimed that Walters was genuine. By mid-1988 the sleepy town of Gulf Breeze was known as one of the world capitals of UFO sightings, mainly for the quality of Walters’s pictures, which far exceeded the typical grainy, indistinct and wobbly pictures taken of previous supposed flying saucers.

Walters became something of a local celebrity. His TV appearances and the interest in his story eventually led to a book deal with William Morrow, which published The Gulf Breeze Sightings, authored by Walters, in 1990. Walters sold his house and bought a new one. The same year as the book’s publication, however, the owner of his old house–one Robert Menzer–was mucking around in the attic, looking for a water pipe, when he discovered a strange object wrapped in old drafting paper hidden behind a flap of insulation. Unwrapping it, Menzer revealed a model of a flying saucer, made of foam plates, cardboard, paper, and colored plastic gel.

Soon the gig was up. Walters insisted that he was framed. Someone, he claimed, had built a model of a flying saucer, broken into his empty house and hid it to discredit him. He did, however, admit that the drafting papers the model was wrapped in–which contained plans for the model–were his, but they must have been stolen from his trash. Then someone else in the town stated that he knew Ed Walters had previously been fooling around with photographic tricks, including double exposures that could be used even to fake the irreproachable Polaroids; among those who believed the Gulf Breeze UFO photos were faked, this was the leading candidate for how it was done.

The house and street where the alleged sightings occurred as they appear today, thanks to Google Street view. An unlikely place for an intergalactic encounter?

At last, Tom Smith, a local teenager, came forward and said that Ed Walters had shown him pictures of the UFO and urged him to go forward to the press with them. Smith had some of the pictures, and was able to show investigators exactly how Walters had faked the pictures–including how he had created a depression in the ground where one of the “saucers” supposedly landed. It was done with an upside-down trampoline. Thus, it was demonstrated pretty conclusively that Ed Walters had faked the incident, and that the amazing spaceship seen in his photos was, in fact, a cardboard and styrofoam mock-up only 9 inches long –- hardly impressive for an intergalactic spaceship.


Continued on: FAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER on the SeanMunger.com Official Site!

A WALK IN THE WOODS: A SYMBOLIC JOURNEY WITH PICTURES – Marilyn Armstrong

There used to be a game we played. Not so much a game as a mental imaging exercise. I originally heard it in the 1960s when I was in college. I was told it wasn’t psychology, but rather drew on symbolism, images out of mythology and folklore. And, of course, our subconscious.

If you feel inclined, come along with me. The meanings, to the degree I understand them, are at the bottom of the page after the photo gallery. I’m pretty sure if you Google this, you’ll find other versions.

1. Imagine you are going to take a walk in the woods. What kind of day is it (sunny, cloudy, raining, warm, cold, summer, winter, autumn, spring)? It can be anything, whatever you see.

2. There is a path ahead of you. Describe the path (open and clear, full of rocks and other hazards, overgrown, etc.).

3. What is the woods like? Pine? Oak? Lots of shrubs? Does the sun filter through the trees??

4. As you walk along the path, you see a structure. What is it? It can be any kind of structure — house, shed, ruin, church, modern — anything. Describe it, please. Does anybody live there? Are they home? Do you go inside? How do you feel about the place?

5. Now it’s time to leave the house. You are back on the path and you come to a body of water. What kind of water (stream, river, ocean, lake, puddle, creek, swamp, etc.). You need to get to the other side. How do you cross the water? (Let your imagination roam free!)

6. Having crossed the water, you rejoin the path. As you stroll or stride along the path, you look down and see a cup. What does it look like? Do you pick it up? Keep it or not?

7. Further down the path, you spy a bear. What is the bear doing? What do you do about the bear?

8. You have passed the bear and you have walked a distance until you come to a wall. What does the wall look like? Can you see over it? Do you know (or can you see) what is on the other side of the wall?

What it means? This is what I learned. If you know another interpretation, you are welcome to tell me about it. I’ve been trying to find out the source of the “walk” for a very long time. Most of my adult life, actually.

1. The walk is life and the day is how you see life — dark or bright, shadowy or sunny. All that you see is part of your vision of life. Whether or not there are obstacles in the path or the path is clear are also parts of it. The nature of the woods is also descriptive of how you see life.

Little house and big maple tree

2. The structure is your childhood. Many people see a storybook house, gingerbread or the woodsman’s cottage out of Hansel and Gretel. Some people find it terrifying. Some people go inside and don’t want to leave.

3. The body of water indicates how you feel about the challenges in your life. The body of water can be just a puddle you step across or an ocean that requires you conjure up an ocean liner to cross. It can be deep and dark, scary or someplace lovely into which you want to wade or swim. How difficult (or easy) it is to cross the water talks about how you feel about overcoming obstacles you {did, are, will} face.

4. The bear equals responsibility. Some people run, others freeze. Some people make friends with the bear and it accompanies them for the rest of the walk. It’s all in your imagination and there are no limits.

5. The wall is death. The most common things to see on the other side are a beautiful mansion (heaven?) … more forest (reincarnation or just a continuation?) … the ocean … One guy saw a burning forest (ouch). What you see is what you see and it may not be what you expect.

I have done this several times at different ages and stages of my life. My answers were different each time, reflecting my current self and shows development. What little I know of this and its origins makes me suspect it was created during the 1800s.

I hope you enjoyed your stroll.

SMILING FACES, SOUR CHERRIES – Marilyn Armstrong

Bad days are like sour cherries. Even in a great batch of fruit, you hit some duds. As you munch, you’re going to get some berries that are overripe, sour, or bitter. You bite into them, make a face, and put them aside. You don’t eat them because they don’t taste good.

Life is like this. Day follows day. Some days suck.

The past couple of years have been difficult. Too many bad days, too many days of feeling helplessly enraged by events far beyond my control. Too much anger in me and in the air and all around. Too many prices going up while our incomes never change.

I suppose I could have smiled on through, but I didn’t want to, any more than I felt like eating sour cherries. I had a right to be angry and saw no reason to pretend otherwise.

Was I wrong?

I don’t think so. People who care about us will cut us some slack. Leave us emotional space to get over what’s bothering us and what’s more, they should. You’d do it for them, wouldn’t you?

The whole “stay positive” thing is out of control. If the proponents of permanent smiles are to be taken seriously, no one will ever frown again. No tears, no sadness, no anger. Ever. There will be one acceptable emotion. Happiness. We will all wear a Happy Face. Happy, happy, happy. No matter what. Has anyone read or seen The Stepford Wives?

Original 1960 George of the Jungle cartoon

So, what’s your problem? Losing your home to foreclosure? Got cancer? Heart Disease? No job? No prospects? Don’t be mad or sad. You’ll be fine. No matter what those doctors are saying, no matter that you don’t have a place to live. Or a life. Or a future.

According to the proponents of Happy Face, no problem is so big it can’t be overcome with a positive attitude and a bright smile. I’m betting most of the people who believe in Happy Face have never confronted an intractable problem. One day, their fake smiles will catch up with them. They will crash and burn. The corners of their mouths will turn down and their faces will shatter on impact.

I’m not suggesting we all walk around sneering, sulking, and grumpy, but we need to be allowed to express what we feel. Otherwise, life becomes a total fake.

WINTER GOLDFINCHES IN THE LIGHT OF RECENT SNOW – Marilyn Armstrong

WINTERING WITH THE GOLDFINCHES

Snow was supposedly on the way, but our forecasts have more like guesswork than science lately. I no longer trust them. But I do trust our birds. They always know when snow is coming. The day before, they had barely bothered to show up at the feeders. Today, there was a flock of Goldfinches and at least one of every bird we normally see.

Two little Goldfinches sitting on a feeder …

Two (of many) Goldfinches on their feeder

Today, again, we also had lots of birds. Whenever they did something interesting, I had my camera pointed in the other direction. Talk about Murphy’s Law!

Goldfinches all over the big feeder, too.

Close up!

This is a classic. Point your camera left and all the action is to the right. Take a picture and half a second later, they are airborne and I missed it again. Moreover, the best shots will always be exactly when my battery goes flat.

 

SHARE MY WORLD – JANUARY 20, 2020 – Marilyn Armstrong

Sharing My World  on 1-20-2020

QUESTIONS:

Where do you get your news?

I have a subscription to the Washington Post. I also read newsletters from the L.A. Times, Newsweek, Huff. And I read The New Yorker and Garry sends me a lot of clippings from the New York Post. We also watch the news to see what’s happening locally. We don’t spend a lot of time watching national and international news. I’d rather read about it. I find reading less depressing than watching.

What ‘old person’ thing do you do?

Go to bed late and get up late. I got up very early and was out of the house every day by 5:30am or 6am for 50 years. Now, I sleep in when I can and stay up until Colbert is over or whatever else I’m watching is finished. Then I go to bed and usually listen to an hour of audiobooks.

A Kindle and a Bluetooth speaker for listening to audiobooks

When was the coldest you’ve ever been?   The warmest?

I think when we used to go sledding when I was a kid, I was always frozen — which didn’t stop me. It didn’t matter how much clothing I wore, either. Also, they didn’t have the same level of warm clothing then that they have now. Fleece boots have really helped me live a better life.

Woods and fence

Back then, my feet were always blocks of ice as were my hands and face. These days, when it’s that cold, I don’t go out, yet I still need a heating pad to defrost my feet at night.

As for warm, we had one summer in Israel where the temperature topped 44 degrees (Celsius). A friend of mine didn’t drink enough water and was in a coma for more than a week from the heat.

None of us had air-conditioned homes.  Usually just getting out of the sun was enough because the air was so dry. That level of heat, though was more than many people could handle.

Do you eat food that’s past its expiration date if it still smells and looks fine?

It depends on what it is and how long past its expiration date. A yogurt a day over is fine. A week over? Not so much. On the other hand, I think a can of peas is permanent and probably will have the same food value in 100 years. I’m not sure it has any now.

LOVING AND HATING THE PHONE WHILE WISHING IT WORKED BETTER – Marilyn Armstrong

Since everyone’s into talking about hating phones, I figured I’d throw my oar in the water too.

I loved the phone right through my teenage years. I and my girlfriends would chat the night away, even though we lived two houses apart. The phone was more intimate. No one else was around. Just us, hidden under the bedclothes.

From the 1910 and 20s (reproduction, original had a dial) …

From then on, it became gradually more of a nuisance. When I was a kid, a telephone call meant someone you knew was calling to say hello. You could talk and laugh. There were occasional wrong numbers, but that was all. Later, it might mean I’d gotten a job I’d applied for or a story had been accepted.

Technology changed everything. At first, subtly, but eventually, it changed the telephone from a communications device to a sales tool. The concept of “cold calling,” trying to drum up business meant fewer than half our incoming calls coming were people you knew, though they might and include calls you wanted. Reminders from the doctor of an upcoming appointment or another pending appointment were useful and usually brief.

Telephones look like this for at least 30 — maybe more — years

By the time I was in my 40s and had recently returned from Israel, most calls were solicitations or surveys and occasionally, a person you knew and actually wanted to talk to. At least those earlier calls were live human beings, but over the years, they became recorded messages. It’s extremely rare to get a human being on any business call.

Thirty-two years later, no live person ever calls except a couple of friends and a few local businesses. All the rest of our calls are medical, hackers, surveys, insurance companies trying to get your business, and my personal favorite, silence.

Making calls inevitably involves waiting and I think I can hum the background music to at least three companies “waiting” mode.

Our local hospital, where most of our medical appointments take place (other than our personal physician) has the longest recorded voice mail call I’ve ever heard. It’s a full five minutes waiting for that final moment when you are allowed to press “1” meaning “Yes, we’re coming.” Instead of giving you the most useful information at the top, they give you the hours of service, a reminder to bring your medical card, and money (can’t forget that now can we!), the address of the building (but never directions to get there), followed by a rambling buildup until, at the very end, you can push “1” (“I’ll be there”) or “2” to rebook — or worse, a different phone number which is read so fast I have to have them repeat the entire recording to get the number written down.

Our own wall phone. It doesn’t work properly anymore, but it lives on that wall anyway.

As a technical writer, I know that no one wants messages like that. The “are you coming?” should be on top followed by “make a new appointment” with a list of options including directions, speak to a human being, talk to a doctor or lab for test results, and finally, “Thank you for calling” so you know you’re done and can hang up. A lot of these calls just leave you wondering if you completed the call or not.

If, for example, you are a long-time patient, you should be able to just press “1” and hang up after that, but they won’t let you. You have to listen to the entire recording. I sometimes fall asleep while they drone on. They first call you a week before your upcoming visit, after which they call every day until you are ready to dive through the phone and beat someone with a handset.

Then there are customer support departments. Clearly, when you finally connect (and hopefully have been disconnected multiple times), one person with a headset in a huge room full of other customer service people are all talking at the same time. The background noise makes it impossible to hear anything. Maybe they can hear you, but all you hear is jabber. All of this following an endless stream of music that becomes an earworm you can’t dispel.

None of this makes calling people fun, especially because when I finally do call a friend, they are never home anyway and I get their answering machines. At least they usually call me back — or email me or something.

Modern phones … for a “landline” and a cell

It’s not hard to learn to hate telephones. It’s much harder to like them. If indeed they ever eliminate solicitations, hackers, and poorly designed recorded messages removed from phone lines, someone might try making a phone call in the hopes of having a conversation.

Of course, it would help if the phone stayed connected long enough to have a conversation, which is entirely another subject! Since getting a real landline is absurdly expensive, everything — even our supposed “landline” is part of your WiFi service with its tendency to glitch or fade in the middle of a call. It’s turn-of-the-century telephoning on the most up-to-date technology.

U.K. phone booth, but where’s Dr. Who?

Often, I realize the issue is not how far we’ve come, but how far we haven’t come. I think we’ve really circled back to about 1917. Now, we can’t hear anything on mobile phones. But hey, you can text, right?

WINTER SCENES – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Winter Scenes


It certainly is winter here and today, it was actually cold. The earlier parts of the month were springlike, sometimes downright summery. Today, cold. Tomorrow? Snow? Sleet? Rain? Cold? Warm? All of the preceding?

NOW you’re talking. our precipitous winter days have mostly been a bit of everything, usually in about 12-hours. Although we have rapidly changing weather, it doesn’t usually all happen in a single day between dawn and the late news.

Junco in a bird’s winter

Waiting to a place at the feeder

Home in the snow – Photo: Garry Armstrong

A bench on the Common with snow – Photo: Garry Armstrong

THE FIRES OF HELL ON EARTH – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #56


This week’s question is taken from Melanie’s “Share Your World” for the week. And my answer is an expansion of what I wrote on that post.

The world is on fire and we will all burn. No need to wait for hell to engulf us. We merely need to wait for the overcooked earth to dry up and burn. I read a post today from NASA and another couple of agencies whose logos I’ve forgotten. It was beyond dismal.

Basically, it said that we have failed to do anything about climate change for far too long and now, only very drastic action will accomplish anything. 2019 was the hottest year on record. Ever. Two entire countries — Switzerland and Khazakstan — have both exceeded the 2-degree-Celsius danger point. Fires swept through much of America’s west and last year was truly terrible, but almost nothing compared to the horror of what has occurred in Australia. Only two entire countries have exceeded the 2-degree-Celsius danger point, but most American cities have reached or exceeded it as have their suburbs.

The ice is melting faster than anyone expected and the sea is rising. The burning of the Amazon rain forest is a manmade tragedy that will help climate change develop faster. The entire world is hotter and where it hasn’t flooded, there are droughts. Flowers are blooming in Switzerland in January and last Friday, it was 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Today it is 50, which is a kind of weather we normally get in late spring. Certainly not in January.

Oh, sure, we might get snow, but we got almost none last year and there has been very little this season. We are getting tick warnings from our local government. I had to put collars on the dogs because ticks and fleas are out there having a great time, bouncing around, injecting diseases in humans and animals.

Forty years ago, I was the English-language editor at the University of Jerusalem’s Environmental Health Laboratory. I worked there for almost five years during which we addressed issues of wastewater, air and soil management. The country was still quite small. I think we had fewer than 7 million people then.

The scientific staff traveled from kibbutz to kibbutz, then to any other area that was under cultivation. The goal was trying to explain why it was so critical we stop using nitrogen-enriched fertilizer and start managing wastewater and figure out safe ways to use it. No one listened. My boss predicted we’d lose our aquifer by 1985. He was wrong. It was dead by 1983.

Flames from the Valley Fire cover a hillside along Highway 29 in Lower Lake, California September 13, 2015. The swiftly spreading wildfire destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of residents to flee as it roared unchecked through the northern California village of Middletown and nearby communities, REUTERS/Noah Berger

The point is not that I knew something important about our climate before most people were up to speed. It is that we have known about the danger to our environment for 100 years and for at least the past 50 have had top-quality scientists warning us again and again while we just went ahead, worrying about whether to buy the bigger SUV or maybe go for something smaller.

Since the 1970s when we officially declared “Earth Day,” many of us have tried to “do the right thing,” when we could figure out what that was. Most of us recycle, even when we know they aren’t doing anything with the trash, just moving it around. We lowered car emissions. We closed down coal-fired plants. We did something, but it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t done everywhere it needed to be done. Many countries have done absolutely nothing, either because they are too poor or in denial. Australia was one of the countries that did nothing much, not because people didn’t want change, but because the government wouldn’t budge.

Nor was enough done anywhere else on earth. The worst part? Even in places where they have been extremely careful, their neighbors are killing them. Like Switzerland.

To expect the nations of the world to get together and repair the planet so our children and grandchildren can live here is one of those great ideas in which I don’t believe. Humans don’t work together. We can’t get a Congress that agrees on anything, much less a planet. We fight, we kill, we destroy collectively, but repair things? Make things better? When has that ever occurred?

The smoke from 1500 miles (2000 km) away turns the skies in New Zealand orange.

We improved car emissions. We knocked out the smog in some major cities. We cleaned up some polluted rivers. Some of us did our best to manage recyclables. Some places did better than others. We didn’t build enough plants to deal with the plastic and paper and we charged extra for products made from recycled materials — which was not what people expected. Reality notwithstanding, we didn’t expect to be charged a premium for recycled goods. A lot of places — like where we live — do not have any recycling plants and we know they just take the recycling and dump it in landfills. Or worse.

WE DID NOT DO ENOUGH.

We are not doing enough now, then, nor are there plans to do what needs doing. We have no firm plans to do much of anything going forward. It’s a lack of interest. It’s a lack of solid plans killing us. We talk about it, but long before Trump got into office and has been doing his utmost to make a dire situation direr, we were busy making minor changes with vague plans for the future. We’ve been permanently at the discussion stage and never at the implementation stage.

Meanwhile, our planet is burning. If the fire hasn’t come to you yet, wait a while. It will come. First the heat, then the drought, then the fire.

The world’s population has grown exponentially everywhere. For every little green area we plow so we can build a condo or mall we don’t need, birds and other small animals die, often forever. In poor countries, you can’t blame them for trying to create farms to feed their people. Large mammals — like elephants — are antithetical to local farming.

LAKE TABOURIE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 04: Residents look on as flames burn through bush on January 04, 2020 in Lake Tabourie, Australia. A state of emergency has been declared across NSW with dangerous fire conditions forecast for Saturday, as more than 140 bushfires continue to burn. There have been eight confirmed deaths in NSW since Monday 30 December. 1365 homes have been lost, while 3.6 million hectares have been burnt this fire season. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

I spent five years surrounded by nothing but environmental scientists. I edited their material, sent it to magazines for publication. I read the papers. I understood how important it was. For all of that, I couldn’t imagine it could happen here. That my reality would change. That my birds would die and insects would arrive bringing diseases to kill us. Meanwhile, our way of stopping the insects — which are the direct result of the climate change we’ve been ignoring — is poisoning everything else. We seem to be helping the disaster, not stopping it.

For all I know, we are beyond help. Maybe we can ameliorate the process. Maybe we can stop building on every piece of ground we find. Maybe we can do something to create food for more people with less destruction to the earth. I don’t have answers.

Meanwhile, I have nightmares of the fires and the death of all the things I love.

If this doesn’t terrify you, what does? I too worry about freedom in this country, healthcare, and all that stuff — but if we can’t breathe, have no water, and the air is full of smoke while the sea rises and sea life dies — how much will freedom matter?

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