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Growing up, I lived out in the country. The only light on warm summer nights came from lightning bugs. I never even heard the words “light pollution”. It was a special kind of paradise, though I didn’t realized it until I grew up, moved away, and looked up into a field of darkness overhead. It was as if the familiar blanket of stars had been covered by a blackout curtain from WWII. Only this one was so all encompassing that it blotted out the entire sky.

Memories of a completely unobstructed night sky are with me still, vivid and personal. From the time when I had grown enough to be outside by myself, chasing butterflies by day and lightning bugs by night only to marvel at their wonders, I would often come to a halt in the driveway, where a big patch of night sky was unobstructed by trees, stand still, look up, and up and up.

I wouldn’t discover science fiction for several more years. Much more time would pass before I even thought of writing…anything. Even so, I was drawn to the stars. Instinctively, I felt a kinship. A sense of belonging to something beyond my house, the farm it was connected to, the greater wide world of continents and oceans. Even the big, blue daytime sky. There was up, and up, higher, higher still, and then there were stars. Oddly, I’ve always been aware of all of that up, up, higher, highest nature of the sky. Even in full daylight, I knew there was more I couldn’t see, but that patience would bring back to me when the sun disappeared and blue turned to black. 

Unfettered starlight seemed like magic to a little child. On a clear night, the entire field of vision available to an up turned face is sprinkled with light that appears along a range from dust to nearly opaque white swaths. Maturity brings with it the understanding that the most dense parts are what we can see of our own Milky Way. Imagine…the miraculous naked human eye can perceive the edge of our galaxy, though our minds can hardly take it in. Glorious is a word I learned to use early in life, just from the simple act of looking skyward.

Though I’m in a place less isolated now, I still find myself pausing after getting out of the car at night. Remembering those childhood hours spent standing still, tilting back my head…staring and staring, drinking in my fill of the knowledge that I was watching outer space, filled with wonder and awe, again I pause to stand beneath the black and silver and gold of the heavens. 

It’s different here, but a dedicated dreamer can use a hand to block out an interfering streetlight and see as much as there is available. Much of the Milky way is lost to me, but Orion is with me still. I’ve seen comets and the occasional meteor. There is enough of vast star filled space to thrill me and rekindle the particular sense of awe borne only of staring long and hard and deeply into the star sprinkled darkness that’s always above us, even when our own personal star shines so brightly that no other light can compete.

I started thinking about those childhood nights of stargazing accompanied only by the sound of my own breathing and the rustle of wind through cornstalks, when I came across this awesome article that gives the best, and certainly most eloquent, directions for stargazing I’ve ever seen. I wanted to share it, so it may help others looking skyward find their way through the outer reaches of our home.

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This Brain Pickings article reminds me how much I love Rainer Maria Rilke. Not only for his formal works, with their distinct rhythms and striking imagery, but also his deep and still timely thoughts on creativity. I read Letters To A Young Poet when I was first learning the ways of my own creative life. It’s different for everyone, but Rilke’s wisdom is timeless and universal.

I struggled to make my way through a maze of combined exhilaration and self doubt, and found the passage quoted here about patience and “ripening like the tree which does not force its sap” more helpful, comforting, and reassuring than anything I’d encountered in the modern world. I have to think. Written words rarely come, until I’ve thought long enough. Sometimes it’s a conscious thinking process, but often it’s spontaneous and lives in the back of my head until it’s ready to become fiction. Poems are different. They tend to burst forth and free, before I even know I’ll be writing a poem. Fiction stays inside my brain, quietly building and forming, and then when it’s ready it commences to be written. This is my way, but when it first started to develop it felt weird and wrong. As if there was a way the words were supposed to come out and I had never been given the key to that way. 

It took me a long time to understand that writers I’d read about had their process and it was perfectly alright that mine was different. As I read Rilke’s letters to that enviable young poet, I felt a calm settle over me. I began to understand that finding and accepting my own, individual creative path would be the start of something wonderful. And it was. Once I became one with Rilke’s concept of the nature and exquisite timing of a tree, its indelible patience and unknowing wisdom, writing became a joy that has sustained me ever since.

Through those letters to Franz Xaver Kappus, Rainer Maria Rilke became my mentor across time. In answer to the ubiquitous question about what one would wish to do if time travel were possible, I always think traveling to sun dappled, long ago Paris to sit beside Rilke in Rodin’s garden, absorbing the glorious light of his thoughtful words, would be a glimmering treasure captured by time itself. If only….

Until time travel becomes reality, his letters will suffice.

This is the family and some friends, gathered for an afternoon of croquet. I can imagine them going enmass, dressed like this, to the medicine show. My mom and Uncle Billy look like they walked straight out of The Little Rascals, which is extremely cool.

Like the last one about Honest John the traveling salesman, my mom’s memories of a traveling medicine show move past quaint right on into historical. Such experiences were certainly long gone by the time I was a child. My mom was born in 1919 and since the area where she grew up was extremely rural, it makes sense that there were still medicine shows in her early lifetime. I imagine they began to fade as more and more people bought Model Ts and did more of their own shopping, with newfound ease. 

She didn’t have a specific story about the medicine show, like the experience with Honest John. She just told me as much as she remembered. I can imagine a little girl, wide eyed with excitement and wonder, going with her entire family to see the show. There wasn’t a lot of entertainment in those days, so it would be thrilling for them all to have an opportunity to gather with their family and friends to find out what the medicine show brought to town.

It was set up in the grassy area beside the railroad tracks at the edge of town. There was the medicine wagon, where the showman would set up his displays. An acompanying Native American performer came out first, to dance to the beat of a drum. This would have been a unique and exciting way to warm up the crowd.

Then the medicine seller extraordanaire would begin his oration that probably somewhat resembled an old time fire and brimstone preacher trying to win reluctant souls, only this fist popper was intent on winning money from reluctant pockets. 

I don’t know everything he said. My mom couldn’t remember after many decades. She did retain one line that I too have never forgotten. The man with what he promised was intense healing elixer, proclaimed at the top of his lungs: 

“It’s good for your blood, liver, and bladder. If you don’t buy some now, you’re gonna wish you hadder!”

I can’t help but wonder how many of the area’s little old ladies didn’t want to wish they hadder and ended up gathered around a piano singing China Town at the top of their tipsy lungs, like Aunt Bea and the teatotaling Mayberry church auxillary ladies, when the Colonel and his elixer paid the quiet little town a visit. My mom didn’t know how much the medicine show man sold, but it seemed he didn’t linger in any one place for long. Of course, one might be able to consult any remaining records of suddenly cured blood, liver and bladder ailments….

Stories like this are priceless to me. They’re part of the history of the time, the community, and connect a thread through both to my family. I suspect that my mom was the last person I’ll ever know with such an experience in their past. So many people nearing a hundred years of age either don’t think anyone would be interested in such memories or they have succumbed to Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, and these kinds of stories are lost forever.

I always loved hearing my mom talk about anything she could think of. Sometimes, when we were under tornado watches, veering toward warnings, we would sit together with the radio volume low so we could know when to dash for her big walkin closet. I would shove back my dread and fear with the words that I knew would begin the process of shunting aside my interior little girl who had always been afraid of tornadoes. “Tell me about a long time ago.”

She would smile away the worst of our fears and tell me her wonderful memories, until a night of danger was turned into a vehicle into her past. A place and time where there was no electricity, the phone on the wall had to be cranked, and a man with a mission to sell a miracle elixer enthralled the entire countryside with a little hope, a little dream, and a bottle full of promises.

Reality and science fiction are in danger of merging…emphasis on danger. When I read this Endgadget article , my “Danger, Will Robinson!” mental alarm went off. When I saw the image of the new kind of robot, my mental hand-wringing Doctor Smith snickered diabolically…knowingly…I feel ill.

But, seriously, folks…we live in amazing, and potentially terrifying, times. I love geekery of all sorts, but there really is a little voice in the back of my head that gasps sometimes at the speed with which we slouch toward Babylon 5. On the one hand it’s all so exciting and presently futuristic. Every day there’s new news about ways we’re beginning to move beyond our dreams, beyond the things we even knew to dream of such a short while ago. 

I read recently that people on Mars will need to be able to 3D print their food. That an EM engine that shouldn’t exist actually does…or may soon. Images of the rings of Saturn have become an everyday Twitter occurance. Voyager, like Elvis, has left the building, only Voyager’s building is the Solar System. And now people, brilliant people, are creating robots that are very much like us. Even to the extent of inperfections in their robotty way. How better to emulate humanity than by being inevitably flawed?

Cool, right? 

So, where does the danger part come in? On the surface, perhaps not at all. But that’s the other hand. If I think too much, just a little, allow my mind to look around its own corners, consider the ubiquitous what ifs that come with scientific advancement…the what ifs become as dominant as the cool factor.

Yes, we all want 3D printed pizza, to have Saturn’s glorious rings photobomb our selfies, and to go out in Voyager’s wake, able to turn around at every planet passed and watch where we came from roll out like a carpet of orbs and stars behind us as we venture forth. But even those desires would be fraught with fear of dangers known and unknown, as Earth faded into our past.

And, back here on Earth, in the almost here and nearly now, we may soon walk a crowded street and not know if the person hurrying along on our periphery is a person at all. Soon, we’ll be worrying about whether even the artificial people among us are actually people too. Does the word artificial make intelligence any less real? Will they be we too, or will life be divided between us and them? How will we know? Who will decide? Will the decision makers be divided equally between our kind and theirs? Mustn’t it? It would be very easy for artificial intelligence to call superiority and subjucate those only intelligent enough to unleash the unthinkable, when all their creators really wanted may have been to outcool all the other kids on the scientific marvel playground. With the great thinkers and inventors of our time groping blindly toward caution, we all need to be a little more cautious in our enthusiasm for innovation at breakneck pace.

Who am I kidding? Those of us who hunger for the stars and all that implies are dreamers. That even scientists can be both pragmatist and dreamer is in itself a miracle. The greatest miracle I know is the way we are held on our planet by gravity as we are hurled through space, yet have no sensation of such a feat. We are all human space ships, with only the exoskeleton of our atmosphere standing between us and ruin every single second of our lives. In that, we are all super heroes. We all fly. All the time. We fly on a grander scale than Superman, past a speeding asteroid here, a powerful comet there. Alas, if we were to become aware of our adventures on a meta scale, pulling back the curtain as it were would most likely lead to mass hysteria, insanity, or perhaps simply a state of permanent abject fear. 

In the face of what life on Earth truly is, maybe the potential danger of all invention is immaterial. For all we know the not us with our face may evolve emotion apace with intelligence. Empathy. Compassion. Love. These things can change the world. The danger of the unknown is very real, but so is the potential of what we just don’t know. Yet.

One of the best things about modern mobile phones is that since the phone is always with us, so is its camera. No more groping in the glove compartment for the digital camera we vowed to always carry, but didn’t. Easy access to a decent camera, means easy access to the constant show put on for us by whatever piece of sky we happen to pass beneath. 

Here are a few moments I’ve captured while out​ in the car:

At first glance I thought this was a single beautiful rainbow’s end. By the time I stopped, grabbed my phone, and got out it became clear that it was double, and possibly becoming triple.The lowering sun made the colors and the winter wheat as well look almost neon. It doesn’t always take absolute sunset to bring vivid color to a late evening sky.

This firey sunset looks more like the skyview of another planet than a mere earthly skyshow. Arresting and irresistible​, it’s one of my favorite inland sunset images I’ve ever encountered.

Here we have one of those cloud formations that looks like an animal. A shark, no less. Beautiful. And a bit scary, once it registers that it looks like it’s on fire…and has wings! The stuff of nightmares, or dreamy dreams, depending on the disposition of the person who looks up to see it.

The almost sunset sky angled light on this contrail for a hint of color. A pale pink javelin, to the imaginationally gifted, instead of an everyday occurance above our heads. 

Sometimes a phone’s camera isn’t quite up to capturing what the discerning eye catches sight of. At first glance this wide view appears to be simply the moon against a cloud scattered blue sky. However, if you enlarge it a bit, you’re rewarded with a vision of Pac Man riding an almost dolphin shaped cloud.

Our sky is filled with wonders. If we’re lucky we can catch random moments to revisit at the tap of an app.

Here’s a lovely article about Virginia Woolf as a photographer. I find it so captivating that she enjoyed capturing moments of her life through photography, as she captured mental snapshots of her characters’ lives. Her writing is so vivid that the imagery it conjurs can be like stills taken from a movie that plays out in the reader’s head. The photographs in the article seem like a continuation of this, only in this venue it is we who must make up our own mental stories to accompany images that only Virginia Woolf knew the true meaning of. What she was thinking as she pressed the shutter, then as she later looked at the developed images…that is a mystery only she knew. For her admirers, however, it’s a book lover’s thrill to be given the privilege of seeing her world through her own discerning gaze..

Last week I heard on the news that a lake not too far away had frozen over. I remembered going to see it during another frigid blast and decided to go again. Not only did I want to refresh my memory about how beautiful it was, I also thought it would be a great opportunity to gain some experience with my new DSLR.

I hadn’t been there often since I was a child. Back then we went every year for a family reunion picnic, and sometimes just to walk around and enjoy the water views. So, of course I took a wrong turn and wound my way around the entire lake, before eventually arriving at the familiar picnic site. I stopped to take pictures of many beautiful spots and intriguing details as they appeared.

Farther out the ice was smooth as glass, as seen in the image above.

Close in it was made up of a giant sheet of circles. The surface of individual circles was concave, which gave large areas a rough textured look.

Along the shore thick ice settled on various types of vegetation. As time passed, it grew brittle and shattered. Shards resettled to make new formations that could look like milk white broken glass.

Trees near the water wore ice dresses that seemed to flow and freeze, according to the direction of the wind, until the rippling mass was captured in place like vertical waves.

Reelfoot Lake was formed during a series of massive earthquakes, in 1811 and 1812, when this huge area of land collapsed. The Mississippi River flowed backwards to fill in the depression and the lake is the result. Cypress trees like the one above are the tops of the original trees jutting out of the water. The cypress knees capture the ice and make a platform for it to build into oddly shaped clumps.

The bases of the cypress trees near the shore look like the feet of some animal not of this world, dipped in ice and frozen in place to await the coming thaw.

I’m very pleased with how my camera performed. It’s a real pleasure to use, though I’m sure I’ll be discovering new aspects for a long time. It was nice of Mother Nature to provide me with such a gorgeous subject to start my DSLR journey.