Neolithic research

September 3, 2019

This trip, I spent about five days driving around and looking at piles of stones.

They’re really great piles of stones.  This one is Pulnabrone, probably the most famous of the Irish portal tombs and the one most tourists see.

Longtime readers of the blog will remember when I visited Newgrange five years ago and it kind of took over my brain. This is an era and culture we know very little about, but their ruins are everywhere. These structures hint at a complex, well-organized society. You need free time and abundant resources and intricate knowledge of things like astronomy and physics to build megalithic tombs and monuments. I’ve spent a lot of time imagining what such a society might be like, and why so few stories — even entirely fictionalized stories — get told about it, given how interesting it must have been. I wrote a short story, “Sun, Stone, Spear,” my first delving into what that fiction might look like.

This trip, I was determined to immerse myself. There are hundreds and hundreds of these sites in Ireland. I didn’t even scratch the surface.

This is Lough Gur Wedge Tomb. There is a story that two hundred years ago a local woman lived here. There’s a bit of shelter inside, but not much, so I can’t imagine what that must have been like. It must have felt solid and isolated. I bet people left her alone.

A lot of researchers who work on these sites feel that the traditional Irish stories of fairies and underhill and ancient dangers helped protect these sites. Cairns were left undisturbed, the tombs remained intact, because everyone stayed away from them. Even now, only a tiny percentage have been excavated and studied.

Archeologists are pretty sure how these got built, that isn’t really a mystery:  ropes and rollers, earthen mounds and basic man power. What I’m interested in is how these sites must have looked five thousand years ago, when they were new. Or not new, but maybe a hundred or two hundred years old, when they would have become part of the landscape and the fabric of society, when the culture that built them was still at its peak but had been around long enough that its own history was no longer part of memory. Ireland was mostly forested then, so the landscape would have looked very different than it does now and I tried to image that. Many of these tombs would have had cairns covering them. One site, Carrowmore, is a complex of a dozen or so tombs in a shallow valley. The hilltops surrounding it all have tombs on them, and once you know what to look for, you can see them, the symmetrical lumps of the cairns.

Imagine what that must have looked like, what it meant to the people for whom this was part of their lives, to stand there and be part of this landscape.

I was on a couple of “post-apocalyptic technology” panels at Worldcon — i.e., what would survive after an apocalypse, how would society function, etc. See, this is what happens when you write a couple of post-apocalyptic novels. On one of them, another panelist said something about technology regressing to a really primitive level, “with nothing but stone tools,” or something along those lines.

And I pointed out:  people with stone tools built Newgrange. People with stone tools had a complex, symbolically rich society where they spent a lot of time thinking about the past, the future, and their place in the world.

I managed to pack my brain full of stuff this trip. It’s going to take awhile to process it, and even longer for the stories to come out I’m afraid. I’m a bit daunted. It’s a big idea, and I want to do it right.

 

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First off, this is an old, old emergency room story, almost 30 years old at this point.  I was reminded of it recently and wanted to tell it.  So, do not worry for me.  I am fine.  My loved ones are fine.  Nothing to see here, move along…

When I was sixteen, I fell off the horse I was riding.  Landed on my shoulder.  And something went crack.  So there I was, an hour later, in the Air Force Academy Hospital emergency room.  Observation #1:  In my experience, military emergency rooms are extremely efficient.  Very capable folks there.  Observation #2:  In this particular emergency room, on a weekday afternoon, it was a very slow day.  I was the only patient.

I got x-rays, came back to the emergency room so the doctor could look at them.  I was sitting on an exam bed looking bedraggled and forlorn.  Across the room, the doctor took the x-rays into a little dark side room so he could look at them on the light box. (Ah, the days before digital…) He looked at them.  Then he looked over at me.  Then he looked at the x-rays.  Then he looked at me.  Pretty soon, every other doctor in the place crammed into the room to look at the x-rays.  Did I mention it was a slow day?  Then, all the nurses crammed into the room.  Then, all the orderlies.  So at this point there were like 8-10 people crowded around looking at this x-ray.  And glancing out at me.  And shaking their heads.  Finally, this young orderly in the back pipes up, “Wow, even I can see that one.”

We had to ask to see the x-ray ourselves. The collarbone was snapped in half a like a pencil. It was hideous. A month later the orthopedist was impressed at how well it had healed, but to this day the bone isn’t quite straight and has a big calcified lump on it. I’m very proud of it. It’s my best scar.

Observation #3:  Military emergency rooms are efficient but the bedside manner with dependent children isn’t always ideal. At least it wasn’t 30 years ago…

 

latest research trip

June 24, 2019

A bit of silence there, I forgot to post on the road. Because what’s the point of being self-employed if you can’t drop everything and drive 400 miles to check on some things for a story? The story is a Cormac and Amelia adventure. We’ll see if I can pull it all together.

The trip was to the Black Hills area of South Dakota, with a bit of a detour to the Badlands. I packed a lot into a few days, did some hiking even though the weather was cool and cloudy and I could have used a bit of sun. Visited Deadwood, and the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Swung by Sturgis just to say I did. Did not go to Mt. Rushmore, believe it or not. I saw it as a kid and I just didn’t want to deal with the crowds this time. The region is beautiful, but very touristy. Deadwood is all casinos, and I had to hunt for the Old West bones of the place. But I saw lots of deer, pronghorns, the bison herd at Custer State Park, and did some birdwatching (I got a lifer:  vesper sparrow). Wore myself out a bit.

Now I’m home, and it’s time to work on this story.

 

intermediate yoga

March 12, 2018

One of the things I’ve done this year in an effort to push myself is to start going to the intermediate yoga class. The basic one was starting to get a bit boring, which was a really good sign that I was ready to move up. The intermediate class is not boring. No, it’s more like, “Holy cow slow down just a sec wait a minute how are you doing that?!”

Which was what I thought when I first started the basic class, so there ya go.

Today, I had one of those moments where I did a pose that I didn’t think I would ever be able to do. Standing, holding one’s leg straight to the side. I didn’t get it quite straight, but I also didn’t fall over. That felt really good.

There’s an advanced class. I’m not too sure about that. Yet.

 

My Big Day #2

May 17, 2017

As I mentioned, last Saturday was eBird’s Global Big Day of birding, where birders all over the world head out to see how many species they can log in one day. This year’s stats: over 6500 species. That’s a lot of birds. My goal was to get over 50. Didn’t quite get there. I got just at 50, the same I did last year. Would have gotten more if I were better at IDing hawks in flight, but I’m not. Well, now I know what I need to practice at. But it is fun being part of a big project like this. I logged all my sightings.

Oddly enough, the rainy weather might have helped me last year. The best time for birding is the hour or so after dawn. Trouble is, I’m not a morning person. Last year, the gloomy weather fooled the birds into thinking dawn was later, so I got some really good sightings even with the late start. This year was bright, sunny, and beautiful, and I missed ’em. I’m going to have to figure out how to get started earlier.

Also, there were a ton more birders out, which led to situations like this:

Other, better birders: “Oh yeah, we’re seeing lots! Like *lists of ten species, half of which I’ve never seen before*.”

Me: “I saw a robin. It’s right there.”

So yeah. A little bit of a failure of confidence there. And then there were NO DUCKS on Barr Lake. Like, none. If I’d seen half the ducks I normally see at Barr and Walden, I’d have made 60 species, easy. Where the hell were the ducks?

Ah, birding.

So at Walden I thought about walking the upper ponds to try to find ducks, but I was so tired and lazy I just got out the spotting scope and parked it and stayed put for half an hour.

And that was when I got my one lifer for the day. A Wilson’s pharalope, which I would not have seen without the scope. (Also spotted with scope: American avocets and long-billed dowitcher.) Even better: if you’re good and steady, you can take pictures through a spotting scope. So I got out my little point-and-shoot digital, and I did. Not a great picture. But I did it. My last 3 birds of the day:

three waders

So, a nice end to a really long day. Next year, I’m considering only hitting one location, Walden Ponds, and really for real getting up at the crack of dawn this time, and just seeing how many birds I can spot in one place. No goal, just a good day. Yeah, that sounds good.

Big Day 2017!

May 12, 2017

Tomorrow, Saturday, is birding’s Global Big Day 2017! You may remember I participated last year, and found it to be a fun mini-challenge, a real spur to take my birding to the next level, visit some sites I’d never been to before, and be more diligent about recording my observations.

I learned a ton last year, and I’m going to try to apply some of that this year. In the first place, the weather is supposed to be a ton better, so I’m hoping my stamina will hold out longer. I’m also going to pack plenty of food and sodas and things. (Seems like a no-brainer, right? You’d be surprised…)  I’m going to try to use the spotting scope this year. I usually like to walk while I’m watching, but I have a couple of spots in mind where I can park with the scope and still see some cool things. I’m also going to make more of an effort to go after sightings of common birds that I just missed last year, like pigeons and crows, and record what I see in transit, driving out to the sites, which I didn’t do last year.

Other than those changes, I’m going to visit the same spots I did last year, because I really want to compare this year with last year. Both to see what a difference the weather makes, and also to see if maybe I really have become a better birder in the meantime. Last year’s goal was 50 birds, and I got right to 50. Let’s see if I can get past 50 this year.

Happy Birding!

 

protest

April 24, 2017

I’ve been to four protest marches/rallies so far this year.  This is four more than I’ve ever done at all since college. So yeah, I’m one of those you read about in the news who’s been particularly inspired by recent political events.

(This was at the Women’s March in Denver, January 21, 2017. Near as I can figure I was smack in the middle of that crowd of 150,000.)

It’s been fun, I gotta say. It’s inspiring to be around so many people who are also motivated to get out and be counted. If these marches do nothing else, they tell me that at least I’m not alone in how I’m feeling.

They’ve also all had a different feel and energy to them. The Women’s March was the most intense, probably because we were all hyper aware of our message, and because it was just so immense.  The Tax March was an entirely different crowd, and attracted more than just the usual progressives, it seemed. A lot of government transparency activists, and so on. Also:  a couple of actual white-supremacist fascists showed up trying to pick fights. No one took them up on it. Everybody kept an eye on them, though.

 

(This was the rally in support of Planned Parenthood outside Senator Cory Gardner’s office, February 11, 2017. This was also right after Senator Gardner very publicly stated that he was sure all those people calling into his office are paid protestors. A friend of mine has been wearing a T-shirt that says “Colorado Voter, Not a Paid Protestor” to every single rally since then.)

The March for Science was just plain fun. Lots of local science organizations came out and set up booths to run activities, demos for kids, hand out flyers, etc. It makes me think we need to have giant science fairs every single month forever.

Two of these marches, I went to local science fiction conventions the next day. (“Sorry, I can only come on Sunday,” I told them both.) And I loved being able to go to the conventions and say, “Yes, I marched.”

I think these are great for getting publicity and for showing that opposition to the current administration isn’t going away.  They’re not disruptive. They have permits, the streets have been shut down beforehand, and so on.  They also feel very safe.  A truly disruptive protest would be one that doesn’t have permits, one where crowds come out and stop traffic themselves. A truly disruptive strike is one that doesn’t last a day, but goes on for weeks.  Maybe we won’t need to go there. Maybe this’ll be enough.

I’ve been joking that we’re all very bourgeois protestors, counting steps on Fitbits and going out for a glass of wine after. Only partly joking, there.  I don’t know where this is all going to lead.

But that’s part of why I’m marching.