Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Stars and Mars


Daylight veils and night-time reveals the most majestic sight of the planet Mars, like a huge red star, rising in the east soon after dark, dominating the sky. It's at its closest to the Sun right now, meaning that it's at its closest to us, and on the 16th was precisely aligned with the Earth and Sun. Oh! I tried so hard to get a photo showing how I felt when this planet appeared in the eastern windows each night, persisting, as if it wanted something. I'll give it! (This is the best my camera could do; there's a more awesome photo here.)

Dominating the southern sky not long ago were the two brilliant planets Jupiter and Saturn, so bright in the bedroom window that after settling in I got back up and went out to look at them. They're headed west, sinking soon after sunset. On December 21 (winter solstice!), look low in the southwest at sunset, and Jupiter and Saturn will be in a rare conjunction at 0 degrees of the sign Aquarius. This is also called "the Great Conjunction" and occurs every 19.6 years. Astronomers say that the star the Magi noticed and followed was a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction.

This 2020 at least the planets are with us and want to entertain us!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Everyone Talks About the Ozarks

 . . . but nobody can agree on where they are, their features and borders, how to define them, what to call them. We know they're there: I just look outside or go walking. But for everyone who needs or loves clarity, I have permission from the original poster, Explore the Ozarks LLC, to publish this pleasing map. Enjoy that chicken and dumpling dinner wherever you find it!


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Sassafras Magic and Lore

Pluck
the mitten-shaped leaves from the sassafras tree, then snap their stems and inhale the warm spicy sweetness. Once a guest here dug up a root and we made sassafras tea and talked about how root beer, made with sassafras, used to be actual alcoholic beer, and that sassafras twigs used to be toothbrushes, and it's good for lots of other stuff. Like what, I wondered today, and looked up all sorts of lore:

  • Every part of the tree is fragrant.
  • A ship, boat, or bed made of sassafras wood will keep evil spirits away.
  • Tuck a leaf in your wallet or business till to stretch the money you already have. I tucked leaves between the checkbook's and account book's pages.
  • It's lucky to carry some dried sassafras root with you when seeking a job.
  • Rub the leaves on wounds or skin eruptions as an antiseptic and anti-bacterial treatment. That'll probably work better if the leaves haven't turned their autumn yellow.
  • Sassafras tea is a "toner," meaning it will enhance health. The U.S. banned it in 1960 but it has been legally available since 1994. The safrole in sassafras was carcinogenic in rats given huge doses. It is now thought that no human can ingest that much safrole even if they tried, and nutmeg contains safrole too. Most store-bought sassafras drinks use artificial flavor.
  • Dried sassafras leaves, ground up, make that "file" stuff without which gumbo is not gumbo.
  • Woodpeckers and wild turkeys like the fruits.
  • There used to be a huge sassafras industry: American sassafras was exported to Europe, where the tree is not native. Europeans liked the wood for ships and furniture. They also used sassafras as a cure for syphilis.
  • Germans used to call it "fennel wood."
  • Sassafras is the "triple goddess" tree because any one plant can have three kinds of leaves: ovate, single-lobed, and multi-lobed.
You read it here first, or second!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Happiness is a Warm Gun

I'll call it guano. Birds at my feeders left several spots on my porch screens, and just as you don't leave guano on a vehicle or your hat you don't leave it on aluminum screening either, for more than a season. The screens are beneath the eaves and rarely washed by rain.

Removing each screen and spray washing each with the hose was too much work. Spray washing the screens while they were in place, from the outside, would force guano inward onto the porch when that was the opposite of the goal. The screen frames are also old and fragile and the screening very delicately sandwiched between their pieces -- can't power-wash. And when the porch walls get wet the paint peels.

Rooting through the garage found me the answer: the old plastic-embedded-with-glitter "Splash" squirtgun, one of two. The pink squirtgun I'd favored got clogged with hard-water residue. This one still worked, and I'd kept it for 10 years thinking someday I might need it, and smack my butt and call me Sally, after filling the squirtgun with warm water I stood inside the porch and with skillful aim squirted water outward through my screens and I was pleased as punch that probably no one else in the county did the exact same thing today.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

That Blue October Sky


Try explaining how blue the October sky is, how it grips even the loneliest spots on Earth and in the mind until they glow and seem meaningful when the rest of the year we don't look twice.

Driving home I saw this sight and could have kept driving but scolded myself, "Time was when you'd turn around, stop, park and stand in the road to take a picture to share with everyone so they could see what you see, feel the reverence, how great it is to live here and now. Is that time gone? Are you old or just lazy? Maybe taking it for granted? What about beauty? What about awe?"

So I found a place to park and backtracked up the road, walking past a field of dead sunflowers on long thick stems much taller than I, with weird little gray birds shooting in and out of them. I stopped and saw they were goldfinches, not lemon-yellow anymore but wearing their duller winter corduroy. High winds roiled the grasses and treetops and filled my ears. If a car were approaching I would have to feel it through my feet. But there was no other car and I got my photo. Happy October.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

You Wouldn't Be the First to Drown Here


Small wedge-shaped park on the Big River now called Rockford Beach, where I had a secret spot for fishing, has a short run of rapids, and despite all the warning signs they have now, people keep drowning in it. Today although I saw no people in the grass the parking lot was full. It so happened that a whole line of like 25 men waist-deep on river's opposite shore were rescue-service workers being trained.

There's barely any "beach," and the wardens say not to eat fish out of the Big, but on hot days families wade there, splash around, and swim across although it's forbidden, aiming to climb the rocks into that eye-socket hollow in the photo -- that's private land -- and they get caught in the current. When I moved here (19 years ago, as of tomorrow) just above the rapids was the remnants of a grain mill. After the floods of '08 -- and the Big River is the first to flood and close the roads here -- the park land was gated and locked for years, I thought forever.

But one day it opened, with all traces of the mill erased. A sandbar "island" in the middle that had attracted too much attention has been replaced by riprap. But it still has, like, the smallest and mildest-looking rip-snorting rapids, for professionals to practice with.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Goofin' Off at the Pharmacy

To build muscle, people my age need more protein, so driving home from the hair place I became roast-beef-sandwich-minded. But first, like most people my age, I stopped at the drive-up pharmacy, where I'm well-known. Charming pharm tech "Tonia" came to the window and microphone. Feeling goofy I said, "I want a roast beef sandwich. . ." and we laughed and she said, "So do I, bring me one, with fries," and we laughed some more.

On the day my hair is cut and styled I am very cute, so I chose this day and hour and really cute earrings to pick up my prescription because I'm flirting with the male pharm tech. As you know, proving your identity at the drug counter requires reciting your birth date. (When waiting in line, I am fascinated by everybody's birthday.) It happened that on one visit, after I told my birth date, the good-looking male tech said, "You're Aquarius? So am I," and we began talking zodiac signs & comets. We banter whenever he waits on me. Last week at the window he asked what I thought about the latest solar flare, adding that he plays trivia online at a local place, and I am thinking: He's cute and he's sweet on me.

Yes, I know that only batty old ladies think the pharmacist is a hot number.

Today he angled Tonia out of the window and said without preamble, "It wasn't our sun that belched, it was Beetlejuice." I was momentarily confused -- I didn't recall having a son with him, but anything is possible. Then he said, "Beetlejuice, the star. Last week I said the sun, and wanted to correct it." He meant Betelgeuse, in the constellation Orion. Recently astronomers saw a very unusual flare erupting from that star. By now I'm like jelly with silliness.

I said Betelgeuse is not in the zodiac so it doesn't affect us.

Tonia, with my bag of goodies, bumped my boyfriend away from the window. It was Aquarius hilarious. She wanted a signature and a form of payment, etc. and I tried not to laugh. As I took my crisp white paper bag she asked -- it's required -- "Do you have any questions for the pharmacist?"

Cracking myself up, I said, "Why was I born?"