Saturday, August 17, 2013

White Cat Solar System

Bleary-eyed, I sat on the commode looking out the bathroom window. There was once a screen in the window but the landlord removed it four years ago when I toilet had to be replaced. The screen sits on the porch repelling mosquitoes, moths, and insects, ground-based and with wings, from a spot on the corner near the old gas, electric, and water meters and I have a clear view into the parking lot that encompasses two-thirds of my cottage.

Into this predawn world strolled a white cat and I perked up immediately as I always do when an animal is nearby. I patted the window sill and called to her (it must have been a female with her aloof and silent manner). She cocked her head at me and took a couple of tentative steps. I called again, "Here, kitty, kitty," and patted the window sill. She looked serenely about her and gracefully padded closer, stopping every few steps to glance about and take the lay of the land.

As she came closer, her left eye glowed a brilliant amber and I held my breath. She was lovely with white fur so perfect and clean. I wanted to hold her on my lap and hear her purr as I stroked and caressed her. She moved closer and the gold of her left eye was nearly eclipsed by the brilliance of her right eye, which seemed at a distance to be blue, the purest crystal blue of a South Pacific island lagoon. She moved closer, each step a lithe dance of springtime and youth and slender trees swaying in a soft breeze. Yes, the right eye was blue, but the left eye was like ancient amber, brilliant warm gold.

She came to the edge of the planter box on the side of the house beneath the bathroom window and no further, pausing with tilted head and artful glance before strolling off along the planter to disappear around the corner of the cottage.

At that moment when I saw this glorious little white cat, I smiled and have smiled randomly throughout the day as summer made its presence known. Her cool glance is all the respite I shall have today since the clouds that have come and gone for the past two months have gone, leaving behind gossamer cirrus clouds wafting along in the Colorado blue sky.

I retreated to my bedroom where I cross stitched while watching and listening to travels among the planets to the farthest reaches of the solar system. The marvels above are as beautiful and distant as the white cat this morning and provoke as many smiles as sighs.

To see the pitted iron ball of Mercury molten in the face of the sun and frozen when it turns away its face is stirring. Venus with its corrosive clouds of acids and volcanic landscape is as mysterious as Mars and its red face and volcanoes towering above  even the most devastating sand storm. Jupiter's red spot tantalizes as it swirls around the planet, a storm that would engulf the Earth, but the moons are spectacular and strange. Io's geysers and volcanic eruptions change the landscape every day while Europa sleeps beneath a watery ice covering that hides the possibility of life. Ganymede generates it's own magnetic field and Callisto sleeps in ancient dream beneath a pitted surface of meteor strikes and sleeping volcanoes that may never rouse again.

Saturn's rings are the remains of dozens of moons while the rest dodge collisions among the numerous rings of ice and rock shepherded by smaller moons. Among the rings of Uranus the moons have an easier go and with the incomplete rings standing above the planet. Miranda may have been smashed and reformed like a jigsaw puzzle, but the moons of Ariel, Umbriel, and Oberon keep company with the shepherd moons of Cordelia and Ophelia that keep a swarm of eight smaller moons from crashing into or increasing the size of Uranus's ten rings.

Neptune, watery Neptune, far from the sun and more beautiful that the sea. Neptune has waked from its icy sleep long enough to capture Triton, a moon so cold it freezes a thought before it's born, but Triton still has its way since it circles Neptune retrograde, moving closer and closer as gravity pulls it in for a final kiss that in billions of years will spin Triton's remains into another ring of debris and ice. Nereid, Proteus, and the remaining moons keep close to Neptune's side, mere shadows in orbit.

Beyond where Neptune holds sway as the guardian of the inner planets lurks Pluto, once a planet and now deemed lesser than its companions in spite of capturing its own move with the force of its embrace. Charon circles Pluto in a close dance, but not until Voyager went by was it possible to see that this downgraded planet has four more chaperons in its journey through the universe: Nix, Styx, Hydra, and Kerberos.

As much as we see and think we know, there is always more to learn, more to see, more to experience. Satellites and orbiting satellites show us so much of our neighbors and the vastness of the universe, but how can ignore the yearning to see with our own eyes the wonders before and around us?

Like the white cat with her mesmerizing eyes of blue and green I enticed closer this morning, I long to push out among the stars and planets and moons and touch the face of the Universe. I may not hold it on my lap or caress it while it purrs, but I can get close enough to see the bright spots of possibility among the black void in between.

NOTE:  The photo is called White cat on a cushion is by Rebecca Korpita

Friday, August 16, 2013

In Memory

It is inevitable when you get to a certain age that death comes quicker for people you know. I didn't expect this one.

Shelby was in the 1974 graduating class at West High School in Columbus, Ohio and I knew her mostly through other people, like her first husband, Rob, who was close to my best friend, Connie. Rob was in band and so was Connie's first husband, Tom.

I saw Shelby at the 15th reunion with Rob and we chatted briefly. I think she knew Hoity-Toity better than she knew me, but that is to be expected since they were in the same graduating class. I got to know Shelby better on Facebook over the past year and she seemed happy and contented with her life. She posted pictures of her children and grandchildren and of her husband and she shared thoughts, quotes, and pictures that were special to her and demonstrated her faith.

This year marked the 40th anniversary of the class of 1973 graduating from WHS. The reunion was held at a casino in Columbus on the west side of town. Shelby had been diagnosed with cancer a few weeks before the reunion and was in a lot of pain. She handled it the best way she could, but I think being invited to join our class reunion helped a lot. Many of my classmates knew Shelby very well and inviting her to the reunion made perfect sense. Shelby didn't plan to go since she was in the class behind us, but at the last minute (the day of the reunion) she decided to go and was welcomed with laughter and open arms.

When I woke up this morning and checked Facebook, the first thing I saw was that classmates were asking for prayers for Shelby's family's loss. I didn't expect that. She had just started chemotherapy and would get better. Except she didn't. Shelby is gone and she leaves a hold in so many lives she touched with her smile and her generous heart.

I didn't know her well and I regret that now. What I have learned of her since we became friends on Facebook is that she is someone I would have enjoyed knowing better. She was a rare person, a woman of faith and family, and a person of depth and strength. She is missed by all that knew her. I miss her, too.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Puppet Masters by Robert. A. Heinlein

When Robert A. Heinlein wrote The Puppet Masters the world was a very different place. The Cold War between the U.S. and Russia was still going on and the Iron Curtain (The Wall) had not yet come down. Heinlein envisioned a world were war had taken out sections of the United States in nuclear attacks and the threat of a final blast was still on the agenda.

Into this armed and ready world came the slugs, or Titans as they were called because they came from Titan, one of Saturn's moons 12 light years away. A landing in Iowa was billed as a hoax a day or so after the event and agent Elihu Nivens, the narrator of the story, remembers that most of the UFO sightings during the 1940s and 1950s were hoaxes. The only difference is that this UFO sighting was the real thing pretending to be a hoax so the Masters, sluglike creatures that fasten to a person's back at the base of the neck and sink tendrils into the spine spine and brain to control people.

Elihu, named Sam for the mission to Iowa, his boss and a beautiful young woman named Mary, pretending to be his sister (blast his luck), pose as tourists to check out the situation. They even got as far as the mayor's office and saw that many people, including the mayor, had humps on their back at the shoulders. It didn't take long to figure out the UFO wasn't a hoax and invaders from space were taking over.

The Masters moved silently using the knowledge in people's minds to make their takeover swift and silent. One Master rode Elihu and nearly took over Washington D.C. It was Mary and the boss of the agency, who just happened to be Elihu's father, that caught Elihu and rid him of his Master. Convincing the President and Congress that measures needed to be taken immediately took longer and didn't happen until they saw it personally.

Heinlein didn't predict the sate of the world as we know it now. He didn't accurately predict the future. There are no cell phones, world wide Internet communication, or any of the social situations we live in today. He did, however, think we would have flying cars by now, which we obviously do not, and Russia is no longer a threat, except in more capitalistic terms, since the Wall came down. Heinlein wasn't clairvoyant, but he did know people and psychology and how people react. That is where The Puppet Masters excels.

In Heinlein's eyes, Venus isn't a hell planet with a surface covered by exploding volcanoes and poisonous fumes for air but a lush jungle hothouse capable of sustaining life and we have gone to the stars and colonized Mars and many other moons, including our own. Heinlein knew how we would react and how our democratic system of government would take its time to vote on whether or not to believe in the danger from the stars and deal with it. There is where I find Heinlein's vision of the future accurate.

I read The Puppet Masters about 20 years ago and reading it again was a revelation. I didn't remember all the details, but I do remember the sense of wonder that came as I turned the pages and dove into the America on the page. Heinlein's belief in mankind and his strengths -- and weaknesses -- was nothing less than miraculous. I cheered as the lights in the Red Zone began to go out even though getting rid of the Masters was borrowed from H. G. Wells's defeat of the Martins in War of the Worlds, and too easy. Although the virus that kills the Titan Masters was effective and Elihu and his wife Mary, who held the key to the Masters' defeat, were on their way to Titan to free the moon's native population and kill every last slug, the sense of hope and the promise to take down any species that presumes to eradicate humans before we can do it ourselves is quite stunning.

The Puppet Masters has its failings, but science fiction isn't an exact science. It is the possibility based on one writer's visions and dreams. Heinlein's work is always about the people, the characters of any given situation, and not about predicting the future. People are endlessly fascinating and frustrating but, even after all these years, Heinlein's writing, in spite of its lack of accurate fortune telling, is worth reading, not for the facts, but for what he leaves behind. The very real and flawed characters of the Old Man, Elihu/Sam, and Mary (to a lesser degree). The relationships between the Old Man and Sam is priceless and shows, even before it is revealed, that this is father and son.

One thing more Heinlein reminds us is that special confidence people have that when the excrement hits the revolving blades there is still hope and we, the human race, will still be standing -- and fighting. I rather enjoy Heinlein's vision of the future as I ride around in my flying car en route to the launching station that will take me to new worlds, moons, and planets.